Israel is Guilty of Playing the Partisan Politics Game

by Kathleen Taylor

With staunch Republican support and waning Democratic backing, Israel is attempting to turn the United States into a battleground of partisan politics and force President Obama to abandon the pending nuclear deal with Iran.


Historically, support for Israel was one of the few issues on which Democrats and Republicans agreed almost completely; however, now the poignant question in Washington is whether support for Israel has, in fact, become a partisan issue, especially considering the possibility that Israel may have lost the Democratic Party

Speaker of the House, Republican John Boehner, invited Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to speak in a joint meeting of Congress in late January, without consulting the White House. Mr. Netanyahu jumped at the chance to explain to both chambers of Congress that the nuclear deal with Iran is a poor policy choice. He argued that the agreement would actually ensure Iran develops a nuclear weapon instead of preventing it from acquiring one. He told U.S. lawmakers that the United States should just walk away.

Through his speech, it is evident that Mr. Netanyahu’s worldview aligns closely with Republican foreign policy. The Israeli prime minister foolishly used the address to Congress as a way to get a message through to the White House, knowing it could damage relations with U.S. President Barack Obama. The Israeli leader determined the potential rift was worth it to achieve his ultimate goal: halting the Iran nuclear deal. By accepting the invitation and giving the address, Netanyahu tried, and continues to try, to exploit party differences and turn the United States into a battleground of partisan politics. Mr. Netanyahu is trying to divide the United States so that Mr. Obama has no other option but to to abandon the deal.

Mr. Netanyahu’s speech received an enthusiastic and welcome reaction from Republican lawmakers, causing one House Republican to exclaim, “Wooh, baby! That was awesome!” Many of the Congressional Republicans “wholeheartedly” agreed with Mr. Netanyahu’s critique, calling for further sanctions against Iran. Republicans have even criticized Mr. Obama’s response to Mr. Netanyahu’s reelection, saying that he is “letting his personal problems with Netanyahu get in the way of policy.” Kevin McCarthy, a California Republican, “dinged” Obama on this topic, saying, “It is not about him, it’s not about the administration. This is about the mutual concern we have for Iran obtaining a nuclear weapon.” Thus, Republicans remain adamant against Iran acquiring a nuclear weapon and have essentially endorsed the Israeli approach to the diplomatic talks.

Mr. Netanyahu’s speech “sparked backlash among Democrat lawmakers.” Mr. Obama, in accordance with most Democrats, has adopted a more hardline response to the speech and his reelection. Joe Manchin, a West Virginia Democrat, said Mr. Netanyahu’s address was a “breach of protocol” because it was not approved by the White House. Dianne Feinstein, a prominent Democrat and chair on the Select Committee of Intelligence, said she would oppose any legislation allowing Congress to vote down an agreement, while Nancy Pelosi called the speech “an insult to the intelligence of the United States.”

Further obscuring the speech and Mr. Netanyahu’s credibility among Democrats was his failure to discuss the Palestinian peace process, as noted by Oregon Representative Earl Blumenauer. This is an issue that Chief of Staff Dennis McDonough has promised President Obama will not let fade into the background, since Mr. Netanyahu was quick to retract these statements as if he never said them.

President Obama and the Democrats seek to avoid further sanctions on Iran for fear they could scare Iran away from the negotiating table or provoke an unnecessary military confrontation. They also recognize that the Palestinian peace process is connected to the Iranian deal and partly responsible for worsening tensions between the United States and Israel. According to the president and his Democratic supporters, the solution is to continue talks with Iran. This is the only way of ensuring Iran does not acquire nuclear weapons.

The division within the U.S. government not only shows the internal division on an important foreign policy issue between the Democrats and Republicans, it also highlights the tensions between Israel and the United States. Democrats strive for a two-state solution in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and a deal with Iran all while supporting Israel. Republicans, conversely, offer unconditional, sometimes blind, support of Israel and want to impose further, stiffer sanctions on Iran.

While the United States will always provide tacit, unwavering support to Israel, trust has been breached. Israel has used the address to Congress and U.S. partisan politics to its own advantage, and was willing to exploit the divide and risk its relationship with the United States in order to fulfill its ultimate objective: preventing Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon. Ultimately, though, Iran will not be successful in achieving this goal as President Obama is intent on securing a diplomatic agreement with Iran on its nuclear program.

Photo: Peter Stevens/Flickr

Kathleen Taylor is a staff writer for Charged Affairs with Young Professionals in Foreign Policy. She is based in the Washington, DC Metro Area

The opinions expressed in this article are the author's own and do not reflect the views of their employer or Young Professionals in Foreign Policy.

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  • commented 2015-03-31 18:13:20 -0400
    Claiming the PM’s foreign policy “aligns” with that of the GOP is a bit presumptuous. Republican politics in foreign policy has become highly fractured as of late. Proof of this exists in the recent open letter from Sen. Cotton which had a major omission: Sen. Corker, the man in charge of the Foreign Relations Committee who authored a bill which would give Congress oversight on any deal with Iran. Sens. Flake and Paul have also been noticeably absent on this supposed “blind support” of Israel.

    And what exactly does the two state solution have to do with the existential threat of Iran? Why is this at all a requirement for the speech? It is a non sequitur when it comes to matters with Iran. That aside though, this piece shows a lack of empathy for the alternative viewpoint: what exactly is PM Netanyahu supposed to do? His country has been consistently targeted by Iran’s proxy group Hezbollah for decades as well as the target of Iranian leadership who threaten Israel’s destruction on the world stage quite often. Israel is not party to the P5+1 talks yet is a consistent first target for Iran. They, as well as the rest of the US Middle Eastern allies, are not being given any say whatsoever in these negotiations, much less any pertinent information on what is going on. The President may have said he will not tolerate a nuclear Iran, but where is the evidence? Nearly two years of talks and increased Iranian influence in Iraq, Yemen, and elsewhere hardly gives any Middle Eastern ally hope for the future.

    This article seems to be comfortable making broad accusations of partisanship, yet it completely buys into the White House’s policy by assuming Iran will not get a nuclear weapon in the future because the President says so. Making such grand criticisms without acknowledging this massive flaw is highly questionable. There is always room to criticize any political leader’s foreign policy, but painting a wide stroke by accusing a foreign leader of being completely aligned with a US political party is sophomoric when one offers nothing more than an assumption to back up the opposing viewpoint.