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“The Bibi-Boehner Coalition”: Inviting The Leader Of Another Nation To Criticize Our Own President, And Netanyahu’s Decision To Accept

It was disconcerting to watch Congress cheer wildly as a foreign leader, the prime minister of one of America’s closest allies, trashed an American president’s foreign policy. It was equally strange that the Speaker of our House of Representatives interjected the United States Congress into an Israeli political campaign.

It fell to Isaac Herzog, Benjamin Netanyahu’s leading opponent in Israel’s March 17 election, to make the essential point: that Tuesday’s speech was “a very harsh wound to Israel-U.S. relations” and “will only widen the rift with Israel’s greatest ally and strategic partner.”

The rapturous greeting Congress bequeathed on Netanyahu for his attack on President Obama’s approach to negotiations with Iran no doubt created great footage for television ads back home and won him some votes at the right end of Israel’s electorate.

But Herzog’s observation stands: John Boehner’s unprecedented act of inviting the leader of another nation to criticize our own president, and Netanyahu’s decision to accept, threaten to damage the bipartisan and trans-ideological coalition that has always come together on behalf of Israel’s survival.

Netanyahu may have spoken the words, “We appreciate all that President Obama has done for Israel,” but the rest of his speech painted the president as foolish and on the verge of being duped on a nuclear deal by the mullahs in Tehran.

The Israeli leader reached for the most devastating metaphor available to him, the appeasement of the Nazis that led to the Holocaust. He urged the United States “not to sacrifice the future for the present” and “not to ignore aggression in the hopes of gaining an illusory peace.” This is what he was accusing Obama of doing. No wonder House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi described herself as “near tears” over Netanyahu’s “condescension toward our knowledge of the threat posed by Iran.”

Pelosi was on to something here because the differences between Obama and Netanyahu are not over whether the Iranian regime in its current form is trustworthy. Nobody believes it is. At stake is a balance of risks, a choice between two imperfect outcomes.

On one side is a deal that buys at least a decade in which Iran will not be able to produce a nuclear weapon and will be subjected to inspections and other limitations. On the other side is a decision to blow up the current negotiations because the guarantees of any likely accord would not be sufficiently airtight.

Yes, the emerging deal does carry the risk that down the road, Iran could get nuclear weapons. But failing to reach an agreement will not necessarily stop Tehran from going nuclear, and an end to negotiations would in no way ensure that the rest of the world would return to effective sanctions. Netanyahu’s rhetoric pointed toward his real goal, which is regime change, but how exactly could that happen without armed conflict?

Netanyahu evaded this by offering a thoroughly rosy scenario. “Now, if Iran threatens to walk away from the table — and this often happens in a Persian bazaar — call their bluff,” he said. “They’ll be back, because they need the deal a lot more than you do.” Really? If the Iranian regime is as horrible as Netanyahu says it is, why does he expect its leaders to be as flexible as if they were haggling over the price of a carpet?

The crux of the difference between Obama and Netanyahu is about a bet on the future. The Israeli prime minister argued that “the ideology of Iran’s revolutionary regime is deeply rooted in militant Islam, and that’s why this regime will always be an enemy of America.” He added, “I don’t believe that Iran’s radical regime will change for the better after this deal.”

Obama’s bet, by contrast, is that a deal opening up space and time provides the best chance we have of encouraging political evolution in Iran. Of course there is no guarantee of this, but it’s a reasonable assumption that ending the negotiations would set back the forces of change.

Skeptics of an agreement, Netanyahu included, can usefully push Obama to get the longest timeline and the toughest guarantees he can, and American negotiators can try to use the threat of opposition in Congress to strengthen the final terms.

But Netanyahu never gave a satisfactory answer to the most important question: What is the alternative? As for Netanyahu’s provocative and divisive intervention in American politics and Boehner’s meddling in Israel’s election, the voters of our friend and ally will render a judgment soon.

 

By: E. J. Dionne, Jr., Opinion Writer, The Washington Post; Featured Post, The National Memo, March 5, 2015

March 6, 2015 Posted by | Benjamin Netanyahu, Foreign Policy, John Boehner | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Far Exceeding Necessity, Formal Budgets And Good Taste”: Report Blasts Israel’s Netanyahu For Lavish Personal Spending

In a scathing report with potential political and criminal repercussions, Israel’s state comptroller sharply criticized Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Tuesday for excessive spending of public funds in his official and private residences.

The highly anticipated report, which came just four weeks before Israeli elections, faulted Netanyahu and his wife, Sara, for using public funds to spend lavishly on a variety of personal goods and services, including cleaning, clothing, water and grooming, between 2009 and 2012. The spending dropped after that.

Netanyahu defended his behavior, but political opponents seized on the report. Labor Party leader Isaac Herzog said he found the findings infuriating.

“But it is not because of how you conduct yourself in your homes that the public wants to replace you, but because you have destroyed our home,” Herzog wrote on Facebook. “We will replace you because on your shift, Hamas grows stronger … young couples cannot buy a house … because you eat a $5,000 breakfast when every third child in Israel goes to bed hungry.”

The Netanyahus live and work in the official prime minister’s residence in Jerusalem and keep a private home in Caesarea, one of the country’s priciest spots. According to the report by Comptroller Joseph Shapira, spending on both often far exceeded necessity, formal budgets and good taste. In addition, the report pointed to improprieties in management of finances, human resources and external contractors.

When Netanyahu took office in 2009, expenses at both residences totaled roughly a half-million dollars a year. By 2011, that had roughly doubled before dropping to about $600,000 in 2013. Food and hosting expenses alone started out at about $55,000 and more than doubled to about $125,000 in 2011. After a modest cut in expenses the following year, expenses for 2013 dropped to near the 2009 level.

Cleaning both residences came with a particularly high price tag: a monthly average of about $20,000 between 2009 and 2013, including more than $2,000 a month for the Caesarea house, which was usually empty. Shapira found this spending “significantly exaggerated.”

About $20,000 a year was spent to order meal deliveries, despite employing an in-house cook. These and other expenses, Shapira wrote, were “not compatible with the basic principles of proportionality, reasonability, economy and efficiency.”

Personal grooming expenses for the prime minister and his wife totaled well over $100 a day, which Shapira found to be more than double the budgeted amount.

Some of the findings could lead to criminal proceedings. According to the report, Sara Netanyahu finagled employing an electrician who was barred by protocol because he was a personal friend and a member of the prime minister’s political party, Likud.

Justice authorities will have to decide how to address other breaches, including money kept temporarily from recycling bottles from the official residence several years ago and a set of patio furniture bought for the official residence but transferred to the private one. While these were noted in the report, they were not officially investigated.

“Public trust in government institutions is a cornerstone of every democracy,” Shapira wrote, adding that such institutions must gain this trust by adhering to both law and “moral norms.” While he welcomed the apparent cost-cutting after 2012, the comptroller said “one would expect an elected public official to demonstrate extra sensitivity … and serve as an exemplary model of saving public funds.”

Netanyahu was well-prepared for the report, as his attorneys and aides responded swiftly with a press conference, stressing there were no grounds for criminal concerns. The prime minister, said his spokesman, Nir Hefetz, respects the report and has instructed his staff to act on its recommendations.

A statement from Netanyahu’s Likud party accused the news media of pushing the issue for weeks in a “clear effort to remove the prime minister from office … through a focus on irrelevant minutia.”

The statement added that the uproar was distracting from “the real issue at hand,” which is “who will defend Israel in the face of the real security threats and pressure from the international community” — Netanyahu or rivals Herzog and Tzipi Livni.

But for others, money matters are a real issue, and the prime minister’s spending has struck a nerve with some voters who are concerned about the high cost of living and are demanding what they consider a more just distribution of resources.

Housing prices have soared since Netanyahu took office, and with 1.6 million people below the poverty line, Israel has the third highest poverty rate in the 34-nation Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development.

 

By: Batsheva Sobelman, Special Correspondent, Los Angeles Times (TNS); The National Memo, February 17, 2015

 

February 18, 2015 Posted by | Benjamin Netanyahu, Israel, Poverty | , , , , , | Leave a comment

   

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