Tuesday night, PBS broadcast a “Frontline” documentary on Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s career, entitled “Netanyahu at War.” Writing in Forward, J. J. Goldberg described the film as featuring “the fairly transparent liberal leanings of the filmmakers and most of their on-screen interviewees,” where “any doubts about where the filmmakers are coming from are dispelled within the first half-minute,” as a solemn voice narrates “over a grim-faced close-up of Netanyahu.” Coming from Goldberg -- a liberal writing in a liberal journal -– it is a fairly damning description.
Goldberg nevertheless describes the film as “balanced,” because it was “hard to say who comes off worse from the telling –- Netanyahu with his stubborn pessimism or Obama and his sometimes shocking naivete.” The difference is that the film stacks the deck against Netanyahu, while Obama -- even with a sympathetic dealer often palming him a few cards -- loses the game. Obama will leave office having lost the confidence not only of Israel but the Palestinians, and all of America’s Arab allies as well. Netanyahu's pessimism about both the Palestinians and the Iran deal has been born out over time.
The final segment of the film is devoted to Netanyahu’s March 2015 address to Congress, which Goldberg describes as “an almost Shakespearean tragedy.” The conventional wisdom is that Netanyahu crossed a line in giving the speech -– a reaction that was overblown at the time and that in retrospect is even less valid. It is worth re-reading the speech one year later, in light of what has happened over the past year. The speech was even more Churchillian than Congress realized at the time, as Belladonna Rogers described in her erudite article, “Echoes of Churchill Pervade Netanyahu Speech”:
If Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu sounded Churchillian in his speech to the Congress on Tuesday, one reason is that he echoed several of the most memorable phrases in Winston Churchill’s 1941 address to the Canadian House of Commons, a speech still celebrated by Canadians as rallying their nation at a crucial moment in World War II.
Those phrases deserve attention because of the message they convey to the United States in 2015. Alas, most members of Congress are insufficiently aware of one of the greatest speeches of the 20th century to have taken notice. A line that should have had them on their feet left them in their seats. …
Churchill only had to rally his listeners; Netanyahu had to educate his. The address to the Canadian Parliament was one of the greatest in the history of western civilization, and one of the most consequential in World War II. … In his subtle but unmistakable reference to Churchill’s “Chicken Speech,” the Israeli prime minister sought to persuade the United States to stand with its allies in the Middle East … Churchill’s address to the Canadian Parliament was a crucial part of the message he so urgently conveyed.
My review of Dennis Ross's new book on U.S.-Israel relations, Doomed to Succeed, is in the January issue of COMMENTARY. Here is the first paragraph of the review:
Having served in five administrations over the course of four decades and having worked with six Israeli prime ministers, Dennis Ross has unparalleled experience and a unique vantage point with respect to the U.S.–Israel relationship. His history of the 12 presidencies since 1948 is an important one for policymakers, politicians, scholars, and students. It deserves a wide readership, even though—or even because—the history he recounts does not support the title of the book.
The emerging agreement with Iran that President Obama sees as his legacy will give Iran three paths to a bomb: it can break out, wait out, or sneak out of the agreement. Iran will pocket its huge signing bonus; take reversible steps toward “compliance”; then either break out (perhaps after a dispute about implementation, or while the U.S. is involved in some other crisis), or wait out (after which, President Obama concedes, Iran will face no further barrier to a bomb), or sneak out (using secret sites and undetectable methods). In an important new paper entitled “Deterring an Iranian Nuclear Breakout,” Michael Eisenstadt, director of the Military and Security Studies Program at The Washington Institute for Near East Policy, writes that “the most likely scenario” is “an Iranian breakout using undeclared facilities” (emphasis in original). Congress should read the paper carefully before it signs onto ObamaPeace in our time.
Sen. Bob Corker (R-TN), chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, wrote to President Obama yesterday, citing reports that the administration plans to take its nuclear agreement with Iran to the UN Security Council for a vote, and would veto any legislation allowing Congress to vote on it first. Corker asked the president to “advise us as to whether you are considering going to the [UN] Security Council without coming to Congress.” As it happens, Dr. Mohammad Javad Zarif, Iran’s foreign minister, answered Sen. Corker’s question in his response to the “open letter” to Iran by 47 senators.
Zarif informed the senators that “if the current negotiation with the P5+1 results in a Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, it will not be a bilateral agreement between Iran and the US, but rather one that will be concluded with … all permanent members of the Security Council [the P5], and will be endorsed by a Security Council resolution.” [Emphasis added.]
So the plan is to transform existing UN resolutions, which ban Iran’s enrichment and related nuclear activities, into a brand-new resolution that allows them. The foreign minister added that he hoped his comments would “enrich” the senators’ knowledge of international law: he took it upon himself to instruct the senators that the U.S. will be bound by the new UN resolution.
The administration’s plan is apparently, as Jonathan Tobin wrote earlier, to assert that the Iranian deal is not legally binding–and thus is not a “treaty” requiring a vote by the Senate–and then present it to the UN for incorporation into a “binding” UN resolution. At yesterday’s State Department press conference, spokesperson Jen Psaki was, understandably, having trouble explaining the administration’s strategy:
From my post at COMMENTARY on the reliability of presidential commitments:
The White House “outrage” at the “open letter” to Iran signed by 47 senators, led by Sen. Tom Cotton, was reinforced by Vice President Biden’s formal statement, which intoned that “America’s influence depends on its ability to honor its commitments,” including those made by a president without a vote of Congress.
Perhaps we should welcome Biden’s belated insight. As Jonathan Tobin notes, on taking office in 2009, President Obama refused to be bound by the 2004 Gaza disengagement deal in the letters exchanged between President George W. Bush and Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon. His secretary of state, Hillary Clinton, announced that such commitments were “unenforceable” –- not binding on the new administration. In 2009, Obama disregarded previous commitments not only to Israel but to Poland, the Czech Republic, and Georgia; he “fundamentally transformed” America’s previous commitments ...
The Gaza disengagement deal was (1) approved by Congress; (2) included in the Gaza disengagement plan presented to the Israeli Knesset, and (3) relied on by Israel in withdrawing from Gaza later in 2005. The history of the deal (which the current secretary of state endorsed at the time as a U.S. “commitment”) is set forth here, and the reason Obama sought to undo it is discussed here. In 2009, the Obama administration refused at least 22 times to answer whether it considered itself bound by the deal, and in 2011 it reneged on key aspects of it.
Prime Minister Netanyahu received a bust of Churchill from Speaker of the House Boehner on the occasion of Netanyahu’s third address to Congress on March 3. Netanyahu’s speech contained an unspoken message, hidden in a subtle but unmistakable allusion to Churchill’s 1941 address to the Canadian Parliament popularly known as the “Chicken Speech.”
He recalled that in 2002, when a petition circulated among the Harvard and MIT faculty and students, calling on universities to divest from companies doing business in Israel, he labeled the initiative “anti-Semitic in effect if not intent.”
Last week, he said his 2002 assertion “seems to me to have stood up rather well,” and warned that the situation has gotten even worse: “It is my impression that there are more grounds for concern today than at any point since the Second World War”:
'We live in a world where there are nations in which the penalty for homosexuality is death, in which women are stoned for adultery, in which torture is pervasive, in which governments are killing tens of thousands of their own people each year. But the proponents of Israeli boycotts, divestiture, and sanctions do not favor any form of pressure against countries other than Israel.'
Four killed in terror attack in Jerusalem synagogue - Update from the Israel Foreign Ministry
The victims: Rabbis Moshe Twersky, 59, Aryeh Kupinsky, 43, Avraham Shmuel Goldberg, 68, and Kalman Levine, 55.
PM Netanyahu: "This is the direct result of the incitement being led by Hamas and Abu Mazen."
Scene of terror attack in Jerusalem synagogue Copyright: Israel Police
At 7: 00 on Tuesday morning, 18 November 2014, two terrorists entered the Kehillat Bnei Torah building on Harav Shimon Agassi Street in the ultra-Orthodox Har Nof neighborhood in Jerusalem, which includes a synagogue and yeshiva, wielding a gun and butcher knives. They began attacking worshipers, stabbing them before opening fire. About 30 worshipers were in the midst of the morning prayers, wearing prayer shawls and phylacteries.
Police who arrived at the scene shortly after the attack began shot and killed the two terrorists.
Police confirm that four people were killed in the terror attack and eight wounded, three seriously and one critically. Two of the wounded are policemen, one in critical condition as doctors fight for his life.
Following security consultations, Prime Minister Netanyahu ordered the demolition of the homes of the terrorists who perpetrated the recent attacks and directed that enforcement against those who incite toward terrorist attacks be significantly increased. A series of additional decisions have been made to strengthen security throughout the country.
Hamas said on its official Al-Aqsa TV: "The attack in Jerusalem is a reaction to the crime and execution of the martyr al-Ramouni and a reaction to the crimes of the occupation. The Hamas movement is calling for more revenge attacks." Yusuf Hassan al-Ramouni, employed as a driver by the Egged bus company in Jerusalem, was found hanged at a bus terminal on Sunday night. Contrary to claims published in the Palestinian media that al-Ramouni was murdered, official autopsy results confirmed the police's suspicion of suicide.
"People who had come to worship God in the sanctuary of a synagogue were hatcheted and hacked and murdered in that holy place in an act of pure terror and senseless brutality and murder. I call on the Palestinian leadership at every single level to condemn this in the most powerful terms. This violence has no place anywhere.” "To have this kind of act, which a pure result of incitement,” is unacceptable, Kerry said, adding that Palestinian leaders “must begin to take serious steps to restrain any kind of incitement that comes from their language, other people’s language and exhibit the kind of leadership that is necessary to put this region on a different path."
The White House liason with the Jewish community has just emailed me President Obama's statement regarding the terror attack, issued just now. It reads, in its entirety, as follows:
"I strongly condemn today’s terrorist attack on worshipers at a synagogue in Jerusalem, which killed four innocent people, including U.S. citizens Aryeh Kupinsky, Cary William Levine, and Mosheh Twersky, and injured several more. There is and can be no justification for such attacks against innocent civilians. The thoughts and prayers of the American people are with the victims and families of all those who were killed and injured in this horrific attack and in other recent violence. At this sensitive moment in Jerusalem, it is all the more important for Israeli and Palestinian leaders and ordinary citizens to work cooperatively together to lower tensions, reject violence, and seek a path forward towards peace."
I was just on the phone to Prime Minister Netanyahu of Israel. This morning, today in Jerusalem, Palestinians attacked Jews who were praying in a synagogue. And people who had come to worship God in the sanctuary of a synagogue were hatcheted and hacked and murdered in that holy place in an act of pure terror and senseless brutality and murder.
I call on the Palestinian leadership at every single level to condemn this in the most powerful terms. This violence has no place anywhere, and particularly after a discussion that we had just the other day in Amman, where the prime minister of Israel flew to Amman, sat down with the Custodian of the al-Aqsa Mosque, King Abdullah of Jordan, and went to the extent of restoring in absolute terms the status quo with respect to the management of that mount, including lowering the age, taking away any age limits on people who could visit, guaranteeing that there were peaceful, completely uninterrupted visits over the weekend. And to have this kind of act, which is a pure result of incitement of calls for days of rage, of just an irresponsibility, is unacceptable.
So the Palestinian leadership must condemn this and they must begin to take serious steps to restrain any kind of incitement that comes from their language, from other people’s language, and exhibit the kind of leadership that is necessary to put this region on a different path. Our hearts go out to all Israelis for the atrocity of this event and for all the reminders of history that come with it. This is – simply has no place in human behavior, and we need to hear from leaders who are going to lead – lead their people to a different place.
From Omri Ceren at The Israel Project:
Some more links and background on recent Abbas statements, in case you're following the incitement debate:
Nov 2: "Abbas says Glick shooter will go to heaven as martyr" (you'll be hearing more about this stmt - Glick is an activist for expanded Jewish access to the Temple Mount; he's also a rabbi and when he was shot earlier this month Abbas hailed the terrorist as a hero; today 2 other terrorists walked into a synagogue and started murdering other rabbis) http://www.timesofisrael.com/abbas-says-glick-shooter-will-go-to-heaven-as-martyr/