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“Things Could Get Complicated”: If Netanyahu Loses, Will Republicans Still Be ‘Pro-Israel’?

The Israeli election takes place tomorrow, and there is a real possibility that Benjamin Netanyahu will lose. While the election will be close and the intricate coalition system the country uses leaves lots of room for uncertainty, the final election polls showed Netanyahu’s Likud Party trailing the Labor-led Zionist Union; Netanyahu is even telling his own supporters he could be headed for defeat, which is not something one ordinarily hears from a politician on the eve of an election.

Here in the United States, that raises an interesting question. In recent years, the Republican Party has elevated “support for Israel” to a level of passion and consensus usually reserved for things such as tax cuts and opposition to abortion rights. But that happened during a string of conservative Israeli governments. If Israel is led by a Labor Party prime minister and begins to change some of its policies, will Republicans decide that “support” is more complicated than they used to think?

It may be hard to remember now, but Israel became a Republican fetish object relatively recently. At times in the past, support for Israel was seen as a liberal cause, but as the Labor Party’s long dominance of the country’s politics faded and policy toward the Palestinians hardened, Republicans became more and more devoted to the country. The real shift probably started in 2001, when Ariel Sharon took over for the last Labor prime minister, Ehud Barak. Since then, the opinions of Democrats and Republicans about Israel have diverged, and the Republican evangelical base has grown intensely interested in the country. These days, one of the first things a freshman Republican member of Congress does is book a trip to the Holy Land (lots of Democrats go, too, it should be said). Mike Huckabee leads regular tours there. Sarah Palin used to brag that she displayed an Israeli flag in her office during her brief tenure as governor of Alaska. Given the rapturous reception he got from GOP members when he came at John Boehner’s invitation to address Congress, Netanyahu could become the 2016 Republican nominee for president in a landslide, if it were possible.

But what you don’t find within the Republican Party when it comes to Israel is anything resembling a debate. As far as Republicans are concerned, Israel is just right; whatever Israel wants to do is right; and whatever Israel asks of the United States is precisely what we should do. The only question is whether you’re “supporting” the country with the proper zeal. Republicans don’t concern themselves much with the lively debates over policy within Israel, because the government is controlled by conservatives (Netanyahu’s Likud Party has ruled since 2001, with an interregnum of control by Kadima, a Likud offshoot). “Support for Israel” just means support for the current Israeli government.

But tomorrow, Republicans could learn that by the standard they’ve been using, most Israelis are insufficiently pro-Israel. And then what? What if a Labor-led government moves toward a two-state solution, or a curtailing of Jewish settlement in the West Bank? And what if those changes are enthusiastically supported by President Obama and Hillary Clinton? “Support for Israel” sounds great when the country’s prime minister and a Democratic president regard each other with barely disguised contempt, but things could get complicated.

That might actually force Republicans to think about Israel, and America’s relationship to it, with a little more nuance. They’d have to admit that when they used to say “I support Israel,” what they actually meant was that they support the Likud and its vision for Israel’s future. More broadly, they’d have to acknowledge that one can disagree with what the Israeli government does and still support the country, since that’s the position they would find themselves in. They might even realize that you can take a one-week trip to the country during which you climb Masada and go for a dip in the Sea of Galilee and still not know everything there is to know about the Middle East.

Maybe expecting Republican politicians to arrive at a complex understanding of an important foreign policy concern is a little too much to ask. But there’s always hope.

 

By: Paul Waldman, Senior Writer, The American Prospect; The Plum Line Blog, The Washington Post, March 16, 2015

March 17, 2015 Posted by | Benjamin Netanyahu, Israel, Republicans | , , , , , , | 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

“One Step Too Far”: Bibi Netanyahu — aka ‘The Republican Senator From Israel’ — May Have Made A Fatal Political Mistake

Set aside, for the moment, the diplomatic row being sparked by Speaker of the House John Boehner as he seeks to create two conflicting foreign policies for the United States—one pursued by the President and the other pursued by the Congress.

Boehner’s hubris, in conjunction with Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu’s desire to interfere with American policy while seeking to bolster his re-election campaign, may turn out to be the very political screw-up that will allow the joint ticket forged by the Labor-Hatnuah political parties to bring an end to Netanyahu’s long reign atop the Israeli government.

According to a Channel 10 poll out this past Thursday in Israel, the joint ticket offered by the Labor-Hatnuah coalition currently stands to grab 24 seats in the Israeli Knesset in the coming election—up one seat from the previous poll—while Netanyahu’s Likud Party is holding steady with just 20 seats.

The poll also projects that the party leaders atop the Labor-Hatnuah ticket, Issac Herzog and Tzipi Livni, have an increasingly good chance of forming the next Israeli government by assembling a coalition of between 61 and 68 seats in support of their government.

It turns out that there are no shortage of Israeli voters who don’t care for the idea of their Prime Minister jumping into the middle of America’s internal disagreements over foreign policy and further understand that, at the end of the day, Israel remains deeply dependent upon the United States for critical assistance in the never-ending battle to preserve and protect their nation.

According to Hatnuah leader, Tzipi Livni, Netanyahu is sabotaging israel’s critical relationship with Washington.

“A responsible prime minister who first thinks of the good of his country’s citizens does not do such a thing,” Livni said, adding, “A responsible prime minister would know to work with the president of the United States — with any president — and protect our most important interests.”

If the polls are to be believed, there are quite a few Israelis who share Livni’s take on the subject.

So, how did all this happen?

It turns out, the plan to have the Israeli Prime Minister speak to Congress, without first discussing with the White House, was the brainchild of Israeli Ambassador to the U.S. Ron Dermer who has, for weeks now, been endorsing the re-election of Bibi Netanyahu on American television programs despite explicit Israeli Civil Service regulations prohibiting him from doing so.

An example of Dermer’s breaking his nation’s rules to play politics?

As reported by Israli newspaper Haaretz, Dermer broke those rules while being interviewed by Jorge Ramos on American cable network, Fusion.

During the discussion, Dermer said, “I have no doubt that when they [the Israeli public] look at all the people that stand for the leadership of the country, that they will have confidence in the leadership of prime minister Netanyahu.”

Dermer’s words came despite an admonition issued by Israel Civil Service Commissioner Moshe Dyan noting that, “A state employee must be careful that his actions or behavior cannot be interpreted as being aimed at promoting the interest of any particular party or candidate.” Anyone violating these instructions, Dyan said, “will face criminal or disciplinary proceedings in accordance with the law.”

In addition to Dermer’s apparent violation of Israeli law, he also revealed his penchant for duplicitous behavior by meeting with US Secretary of State John Kerry just one day before Speaker Boehner announced his invitation to Prime Minister Netanyahu, yet never once mentioned to Kerry what was about to happen.

Making it all the more offensive, the White House has explicitly gone out of its way, since the announcement of the Israeli elections, to avoid saying or doing anything that could be interpreted as support for the Herzog/Livni ticket.

At least the American President had the good sense not to further endanger his relationship with Netanyahu and the Israeli people.

In reviewing Netanyahu’s political ploy, and his ambassador’s duplicitous behavior, it seems fair to ask whether this is really how friends treat friends?

While you may entirely agree with Boehner’s decision to invite Netanyahu to address the Congress, can you possibly not be disturbed that the Israeli ambassador to our country went out of his way to not tell our Secretary of State of his plan to interfere with our foreign policy and seek to embarrass our president in the process?

Israeli voters know these details and, by many accounts, are not all that happy with the way Netanyahu is inserting himself into the politics of the United States. What’s more, Israelis understand that, should Netanyahu win re-election, they are now looking at two years—if not more should a Democrat take the White House in 2016—of a very cold relationship with the White House at a time when this is likely not in the best interest of Israel.

Of course, just as Netanyahu has already pushed the date of his speech—originally scheduled for February 11—to a date in March just two weeks before the election, my prediction is that Netanyahu will realize his mistake (or take note of the polls) and seek to push the speech well past election day.

By then, it may be too late as this latest insult to the American President may prove to be one step too far for the man many Israelis have dubbed “the Republican Senator from the great State of Israel.”

As for Boehner’s behavior, I’ll have more on this later.

For the moment, suffice it to say that using the Israeli Prime Minister in an attempt to embarrass the President of the United States is beyond shameful.

I get that the Speaker doesn’t like the President or his policies. I get that many readers of this piece will have snarky responses about how this President already embarrasses himself and our nation, etc., etc., etc.

But what neither the Speaker, nor those who cannot manage to think beyond their distaste for this president, understand is the truly unprecedented step Boehner has taken by joining with the leader of a foreign nation against his own president.

Presidents come and go. However, respect for the office of the presidency, particularly on the part of the man who is second in the line of succession to the presidency, should not.

Through his actions, Boehner may have scored some points for his party and for his preferred policy option vis-à-vis the Iranian nuclear negotiations. But in the process, the Speaker of the American House of Representatives has succeeded in embarrassing the Office of the President.

Considering that Speaker Boehner has failed to accomplish anything of note during his Speakership, I can only wonder how it must feel to have his legacy be his effort to disgrace the American President in the effort to bolster the political chances of a foreign leader.

I can’t imagine it would feel very good, unless Boehner has now become so consumed by party politics that he no longer can be bothered to consider what is best for his country in the long run.

While I have often disagreed with Speaker Boehner, I have always kind of liked him in the belief that, while our solutions might be at odds, he wanted to do what he believes is best for America.

It would be a struggle for me to harbor such positive feelings going forward.

Seeking to damage any American President by helping a foreign leader embarrass our own leader can never be considered something that is best for the nation. And that is simply the truth no matter what your political persuasion or your feelings about the current occupant of the Oval Office.

 

By: Rick Ungar, Contributor, Forbes, January 25, 2015

January 27, 2015 Posted by | Benjamin Netanyahu, Foreign Policy, John Boehner | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

   

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