Doth Netanyahu protest too much about bipartisan US ties?

Netanyahu addressed the criticism that he is undermining bipartisan support for Israel seriously.

Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu stands with US President Donald Trump after signing the Abraham Accords. September 15, 2020. (photo credit: REUTERS/TOM BRENNER)
Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu stands with US President Donald Trump after signing the Abraham Accords. September 15, 2020.
(photo credit: REUTERS/TOM BRENNER)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu put up his most thorough public defense against the accusation that he favors Republicans to the point of harming US-Israel ties, in his remarks to the Knesset on Tuesday.
Netanyahu addressed the criticism that he is undermining bipartisan support for Israel seriously. He provided the Knesset with a list of all the Democratic senators and members of the House of Representatives he has met with in recent years, including Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi four times since 2017, and Vice President-elect Kamala Harris during a visit to Israel three years ago.
He pointed out that in all his years as prime minister, his policy has been to meet with the leadership of both parties when he’s on Capitol Hill, and to meet with every member of Congress coming to Israel, regardless of party.
“For 38 years, I have been investing nonstop efforts into strengthening our relations with the US with both parties, with presidents, members of the House, the Senate, public opinion, with hundreds of interviews on television and radio for the Right and Left,” Netanyahu said.
At the same time, Netanyahu said his job is to stand up for Israel’s interests without “bowing his head or [behaving] obsequiously,” and defended the disagreements he had with former US president Barack Obama as being matters of Israel’s security.
Despite those sharp, public disagreements, Netanyahu said the alliance with the US remains strong, demonstrated by the fact that it has signed an agreement with Israel to provide its largest military aid package ever.
And Netanyahu touted his “warm,” decades-long relationship with Biden, speaking of the calls they made to one another when they were grieving the loss of their father and son, respectively.
All of this took up a significant chunk of his speech, which opened what was supposed to be a discussion of normalization between Israel and Bahrain.
IF SHAKESPEARE were watching, he may have said “the prime minister doth protest too much, methinks.” Opposition leader Yair Lapid certainly thought so, calling the speech “embarrassing” and saying Netanyahu is “disconnected from what is happening in the US in recent years.”
There certainly is some merit to the argument Lapid, Defense Minister Benny Gantz and others have made.
Netanyahu went head-to-head against Obama in ways that infuriated many Democrats, especially when he spoke out against the Iran Deal before both houses of Congress at the invitation of a Republican speaker of the House.
Then, when US President Donald Trump was elected, he and Netanyahu were best buddies. Netanyahu lavished Trump with praise and superlatives and named a town after him, even as the president was a deeply divisive figure in the US.
In Netanyahu’s defense, the Obama administration was panned by most of the Israeli political spectrum, not just Netanyahu and his allies, for giving the ayatollahs' regime a path to developing a nuclear weapon. Netanyahu’s mission was to do anything he could to stop that from happening, because it would be an existential threat to Israel and a danger to the world.
Netanyahu also saw the steps that the Obama administration pushed Israel to take in the Palestinian matter as endangering Israel’s security as well.
Trump, however, was almost perfectly in line with Netanyahu’s views on Israel’s security and America’s role in bolstering it. And when they weren’t aligned – like how close Israel should be with China, or the US role in Syria – they were careful not to speak publicly or make a big fuss about it, which was the opposite of the Obama administration’s tactic of creating “daylight” between Washington and Jerusalem.
ALSO, THE idea that Netanyahu should have distanced himself from Trump because half the country didn’t like him does not hold water. Netanyahu doesn’t choose the president of the United States, and it would be a dereliction of duty for any Israeli prime minister not to be as close as possible to the president in order to promote Israel’s interests and protect its security. And for Netanyahu, to be “as close as possible” to Trump turned out to be extremely close.
And finally, Netanyahu can hardly be blamed for parts of the growing progressive wing of the Democratic party turning on Israel when its most famous member, Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, pulled out of a memorial event for Netanyahu’s formal left-wing rival Yitzhak Rabin because he was too hawkish. Netanyahu is an easy target for them, but no Israeli leader will ever be acceptable to the “squad” and its fellow travelers, not even the one who sacrificed the most in pursuit of peace with the Palestinians.
Regardless of the justifications, with Joe Biden on the way to the Oval Office, Netanyahu is coming out of more than a decade in which he heavily favored Republicans, and he needs to make up for it. Netanyahu’s Knesset speech makes it clear that he realizes he has some work to do on that front, in that he’s highlighting his ties to Democrats in a positive light.
Netanyahu is not protesting too much about complaints that he hurt the bipartisan relationship: He’s sending the message that he wants to be friends with the new Biden administration and build on his efforts of the past – to protect Israel’s interests.