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Current, Former Israeli Ambassadors Disagree on Netanyahu Visit

January 26, 2015

When Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu delivers his address to Congress, his objectives will be two-fold. While President Obama is trying to avoid a U.S. war with Iran, Bibi wants to start one. (As his Defense Minister Moshe Ya'alon put it last year, "The one who should lead the campaign against Iran is the U.S.") Less cataclysmic but more cynical, Netanyahu also wants to use his American platform to help secure victory in his tough reelection battle back home.

That unprecedented and wholly inappropriate agenda has even raised eyebrows among some of Netanyahu's biggest cheerleaders. As Chris Wallace of Fox News put it on Sunday:

And to make you get a sense of really how, forgive me, wicked, this whole thing is, the Secretary of State John Kerry met with the Israeli Ambassador to the United States for two hours on Tuesday, Ron Dermer. The ambassador, never mentioned the fact that Netanyahu was in negotiations and finally agreed to come to Washington, not to see the president, but to go to Capitol Hill, speak to a joint session of congress and criticize the president's policy. I have to say I'm shocked.

Probably not as shocked as Netanyahu and Dermer were when the latter's predecessor as Israel's man in Washington agreed. Michael Oren, like Dermer both American-born and a hardliner on the peace process, denounced Bibi's meddlesome visit. As Haaretz explained, Oren urged Bibi to cancel his speech to Congress:

Oren, an American-born Israeli who served as envoy to Washington under Netanyahu from 2009 to 2013, reportedly said House Speaker John Boehner's invitation to the Israeli premier and the subsequent behavior involved "created the impression of a cynical political move, and it could hurt out attempts to act against Iran."
"It's advisable to cancel the speech to Congress so as not to cause a rift with the American government," Oren added. "Much responsibility and reasoned political behavior are needed to guard interests in the White House."

Unfortunately, Oren's successor can be counted on for neither responsibility or reasoned political behavior. Before Ron Dermer became the Israeli Ambassador to the United States, he was Netanyahu jack-of-all-trades, including hatchet man. But before he was "Bibi's Brain," Dermer worked with GOP word master Frank Luntz, the man who brought you the "death tax" and "a government takeover of health care." As Ben Smith wrote in Politico, "Ron Dermer's many American friends say that if he'd stayed in America, where he was born, he'd probably be political director of the Republican National Committee or managing a GOP presidential campaign." And as Haaretz also reported, Dermer is in trouble back home for being a political hack on two continents:

Israeli Ambassador to Washington Ron Dermer was reprimanded last Thursday for violating the Civil Service Commission rules and taking part in forbidden political campaigning on behalf of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in interviews he gave to the American media.

Undeterred, in an address last night to would-be buyers of Israeli bonds in him home state of Florida, Ambassador Dermer gave a preview of Prime Minister Netanyahu upcoming U.S. road show. "Today, the international community stands at the precipice of forging an agreement with Iran over its nuclear program," Dermer warned, "an agreement that could endanger the very existence of the State of Israel."

Now there may be some people who believe that the Prime Minister of Israel should have declined an invitation to speak before the most powerful parliament in the world on an issue that concerns the future and survival of Israel.
But we have learned from our history that the world becomes a more dangerous place for the Jewish people when the Jewish people are silent.
That is why the Prime Minister feels the deepest moral obligation to appear before the Congress to speak about an existential issue facing the one and only Jewish state.
This is not just the right of the Prime Minister of Israel. It is his most sacred duty -- to do whatever he can to prevent Iran from ever developing nuclear weapons that can be aimed at Israel.

As the man some call "Republican Senator from Israel" sees it, the Israeli Prime Minister who rejected U.S. calls to limit settlement expansion, who has ramped up building in Jerusalem, who snubbed Joe Biden and mocked John Kerry, who demanded the U.S. block Palestinian moves at the United Nations and the International Criminal Court, now has a right to come to the United States Congress and blow up the policy of the American president, and with it, the region. That, as Michele Bachmann would say, is "chootzpah."
Michael Oren and Shep Smith are right. Bibi should stay home.


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Jon Perr
Jon Perr is a technology marketing consultant and product strategist who writes about American politics and public policy.

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