August 19, 2015 21:14
Netanyahu at screening of Sabena movie

Netanyahu at screening of Sabena movie. (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)

Arabs and their supporters should put pictures of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on the east-facing walls of their homes and mosques so that when they turn toward Mecca five times a day to pray they can thank the man who has done more damage to US-Israel relations than they dreamed possible.

The bitter and divisive battle being led by Netanyahu will likely fail to block the Iran nuclear agreement but it could well succeed in doing irreparable damage to Israel and the American Jewish community.

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Much of the community leadership here is marching in lock-step behind Netanyahu and his Republican allies, leaving far behind a rank and file that doesn’t share their opposition to the deal or their vehement disdain for President Barack Obama.

What Netanyahu has achieved is to divide the American Jewish community more deeply than ever, and more bitterly, and to accelerate the drift away from commitment by so many Jews in the political center.

Iran is not the only reason, just the latest. There is a growing communal disappointment with an Israeli government that talks about peace but has shown far greater interest in building settlements than reconciliation with the Palestinians.

Just this week Netanyahu named as his ambassador to the United Nations a far-right member of his Likud Party, Danny Danon, who is opposed to the two-state solution that the prime minister sometimes says he supports, advocates annexing most of the West Bank and calls for cutting off electricity and water supplies to the Gaza Strip.

This appointment comes at a time when Israel is increasingly isolated at the UN and globally. One retired Israeli ambassador compared sending Danon to waving a red flag in the face of an angry bull.

If the Iran agreement fails, Obama will be the first to crow “I told you so” and Israel will be blamed for raising the risk of nuclear confrontation in the region and embarrassing the United States.

Irresponsible and dangerous attacks on Obama by right-wing Jews as anti-Israel and anti-Semitic because he pursues policies Netanyahu opposes and because he insists the Iran deal is good for the US and for Israel – a view shared by many in the Israeli defense and intelligence community – will do far more damage to Israel than to the president.

Many of the president’s critics accused him of appeasing the ayatollahs and compared him to pre-war British prime minister Neville Chamberlain, but former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee and 2016 GOP presidential contender went further and likened Obama to Hitler when he said the president “will take the Israelis and march them to the door of the oven.”

Even Ambassador Ron Dermer, who is running Netanyahu’s anti-Obama campaign, criticized the use of such an extreme Holocaust comparison, although he praised Huckabee’s support.

Huckabee, an ordained Southern Baptist minister and evangelical preacher, claimed an “overwhelmingly positive... response from Jewish people,” but the only example I could find was Morton Klein, president of the far right Zionist Organization of America.

“The ZOA agrees with Governor Huckabee that this Iran deal could lead to a Holocaust-like massacre of the Jews,” the group said in a statement. “A Holocaust analogy such as Governor Huckabee used is acceptable and not out of place.”

Netanyahu himself frequently uses Holocaust analogies, particularly in reference to the Iranians and the nuclear agreement.

But it is the long-running and vituperative war against Obama that is doing the most harm. Netanyahu’s claims to speak for the Jewish people – not just the government of the Jewish state – raises charges of dual loyalty against American Jewish politicians and leaders who side with him.

Netanyahu once said Iran’s nuclear ambitions were a global problem, not just a Jewish or Israeli issue, and he was right. But in his zeal he violated his own warning and not only made it what J. J. Goldberg in the Forward called a global battle of the Jewish people against the great world powers,” but also a personal one between him and President Obama.

Along the way he has done great damage to Israel’s relationship with its best – and often – only friend and ally.

Professors Todd Gitlin and Steven M. Cohen wrote in The Washington Post this week that most American Jews – 63 percent – support the Iran nuclear deal – more than Americans generally – contrary to what the louder and well-financed groups known as “the Jewish leadership” and “major Jewish organizations” would have us believe.

“The conflict over the Iran deal has exposed a substantial rift between American Jews” and Jewish leaders and organizations, which are “defying” “American Jewish opinion on the Iran deal,” Gitlin and Cohen wrote.

The Washington Post reported Monday that the bulk of the funding for the opposition to the Iran deal is coming from Jewish billionaires Sheldon Adelson, Paul Singer and Haim Saban.

The rift is also widening between American Jews and an Israel, which is seen as driving the high-profile campaign by the Jewish establishment.

A poll by the Jerusalem-based Jewish People Policy Institute showed “Diaspora Jewry is increasingly critical of Israel and young Diaspora Jews are growing more alienated from the Jewish state,” reported the Jewish Telegraphic Agency.

Diaspora Jews are not convinced Israel is doing enough to make peace with the Palestinians and to prevent military conflicts or prevent civilian Palestinian casualties when conflicts occur, the poll noted. They also are becoming uneasier about discussing Israel in their own communities.

Netanyahu’s bitter war of words is also undercutting the traditional bipartisan backing for the Jewish state.

Democratic support for Israel is weakening because of the highly personal attacks on their president and as Republicans, with Netanyahu’s help, are trying to turn Israel into a political wedge issue not only in the fight over the Iran nuclear deal but for the 2016 presidential election.

Jews tend to vote about 70% Democrat. Netanyahu’s close ties to the GOP – he once told an interviewer “I speak Republican” – his congressional speech last March, and his endorsement of Mitt Romney in 2012 are contributing to the problem of drift.

The net result of Netanyahu’s efforts will be deeper splits within the American Jewish community and an acceleration of the drift away from commitment to Israel, a weakening of the traditional bipartisan support for the Jewish state, still more international isolation for Israel and serious injury to US-Israel ties.

And if he does succeed in blocking the pact, Israel may find itself faced with a nuclear Iran sooner than his more dire predictions.

Not exactly a legacy to be proud of.

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