How does one say “lame duck” in Hebrew? Actually, we don’t need to know, because Benjamin Netanyahu made the point clear as day in his latest visit to the US. The Israeli prime minister is making the rounds on the Left on this trip, hoping to salve the wounds caused by past few rocky years in the Israeli-US relationship. Netanyahu appeared at an event hosted by the Center for American Progress to reach out to American progressives, hoping to build a bridge for the soon-to-come post-Obama era and strengthen the traditional bipartisan support for Israel in the US. (Jazz covered the freak-out on the Left yesterday.)
At CAP, Netanyahu stressed the “progressive” nature of Israel, especially in contrast with others in the region:
Americans tend to miss the mark on Israeli politics by assuming that liberal and conservative labels there correlate with what those mean here. The center of Israeli politics is noticeably left of our center in the US (which is true of Canada and to a lesser extent the UK, too). The extremes in Israel tend to be farther out than our extremes on the political spectrum as well, but the broad consensus part of the spectrum in Israel goes more to the Left here, especially regarding domestic politics. Moreover, Netanyahu is more of an Israeli centrist than a deep conservative, except when it comes to national security, which is — hardly surprising — a big issue for Israelis.
Therefore, Netanyahu isn’t snowing CAP when he makes this argument, but it’s more of a way of changing the subject. The clash between Netanyahu and Barack Obama came over the national security policies Netanyahu employs and the foreign-policy failures of Obama, especially with Iran. It didn’t damage Netanyahu’s standing in Israel, as his re-election demonstrated, but that may be because Israelis see Obama as the problem for the same reason. Once Obama is gone, they will expect Netanyahu to rebuild the relationship, and Netanyahu is laying the groundwork for that effort now.
The audience at CAP gave him a polite, and perhaps warm, reception. Democratic Senators were a different story, the Washington Post’s Karoun Demirjian suggests:
The visit, leading Democrats said, was an important and “positive” step toward smoothing things over. But, they added, more needs to be done.
“This was an important step back into a bipartisan relationship,” Sen. Richard Durbin (D-Ill.) said Tuesday following the meeting between Netanyahu, Senate party and committee leaders, and a few rank-and-file members from both sides of the aisle. “But I think it needs to be an ongoing effort, particularly for the prime minister, to reach out on the Democratic side to many members who want to restore that relationship as I do.” …
But one powerful Democrat –New York Sen. Charles E. Schumer, the likely next Senate Democratic leader — was concerned enough about the state of relations between the Israeli premier and Democrats that he requested a special, one-on-one meeting with Netanyahu to stress there was healing work that needed to be done.
Schumer was one of four Democratic senators to vote against the Iran pact. As an opponent of the deal, Schumer wasn’t as direct or as constant a recipient of censure from Israel and groups aligned with its lobbying position. But several Democrats complained about the tactics used by AIPAC and Israeli Ambassador to the U.S. Ron Dermer.
Perhaps their ire should be more directed to Obama and the deal he cut with Iran that all but endorses their pursuit of nuclear weapons — if not now, then in 10-15 years. That’s just a tactical pause for the Iranians, and the Israelis know it. Obama and some or all of these Senators will all be in retirement by that time, and it will be the Israelis who pay for that policy.
Still, Netanyahu knows that Israel needs bipartisan support from the US, if for no other reason than to avoid having another Obama emerge from the progressive ranks to sell them out for a cheap attempt at a “legacy.” He’s just getting a head start on that effort.