Journalist Max Blumenthal says Netanyahu’s March visit to Congress is nothing more than posturing before the upcoming Israeli election and signals the Israeli leaders further embrace of the Republican party


Story Transcript

JAISAL NOOR, TRNN PRODUCER: Welcome to The Real News Network. I’m Jaisal Noor in Baltimore. U.S.-Israeli relations were in the spotlight this week after House Majority Leader John Boehner went behind President Obama’s back and invited Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to address Congress on the needs for expanding sanctions against Iran. The White House responded by saying Obama will not meet Netanyahu during his visit in March. It takes place just two weeks before the Israeli elections. Now joining us to discuss this from Tucson, Arizona, is Max Blumenthal. Max is an award-winning journalist, bestselling author. His latest book is Goliath: Life and Loading in Greater Israel. Thanks so much for joining us again, Max. MAX BLUMENTHAL, AUTHOR, GOLIATH: LIFE AND LOATHING IN GREATER ISRAEL: Thanks for having me. NOOR: So, Max, this move by John Boehner, Netanyahu just comes the same week as Obama’s State of the Union, where he reiterated that he’s going to veto any congressional plans, any Republican plans to expand sanctions. There’s a lot to talk about here, but let’s just start off by talking about the timing of this happening with the Republicans in control of Congress and Obama, who–he has access to all the intelligence, and he’s saying Iran is not an immediate threat. How does this impact Netanyahu’s chances in this upcoming election in March? BLUMENTHAL: Well, it’s a great campaign stop for Netanyahu. For Netanyahu, his only interest is in himself and his own political campaign. And this also coincides with an attack in [Syria], in Quneitra, on a Hezbollah convoy that deliberately targeted a leading member of the IRGC, an Iranian general, and top Hezbollah leadership. That was a politically motivated strike that aimed to enhance Netanyahu’s standing for the Israeli public, and even inspire violent backlash from Hezbollah, because war always helps the right wing in Israel, as we saw during this summer when the far-right party surged in popularity during Operation Protective Edge in Gaza. So Netanyahu’s coming to Washington without the permission or knowledge of Barack Obama. It’s a violation of diplomatic protocol, as the White House pointed out. It’s possibly a violation of the Logan Act on the part of John Boehner, which forbids Americans from conducting diplomacy without the approval of the executive branch and the State Department. And from Boehner’s perspective and the Republicans’ perspective, it’s an effort to portray Obama as weak on terror ahead of election time because of the forthcoming deal with Iran, or the hopefully forthcoming deal. And from Netanyahu’s perspective, it’s an effort to undermine Obama. Netanyahu himself is a card-carrying Republican who’s worked closely with neoconservative elements in the U.S., someone who was raised in the U.S. and sees the U.S. from a very right-wing perspective. He’s hostile to immigrants. He has written in his first book that if Palestinians are given a state, that Latinos in Arizona and New Mexico and California will secede from the U.S. and demand a state of their own. So Netanyahu’s perspective is of a part with the most extreme elements in the Tea Party and the Republican Party. This visit was coordinated by Netanyahu’s ambassador to the U.S., Ron Dermer, whose own father is the former mayor of Miami Beach, a Republican who helped elect George W. Bush in 2000. Ron Dermer, when he meets with Netanyahu, they speak English. He’s basically another American neoconservative Republican. And Dermer arranged this visit without the knowledge, as I said, of Obama or Secretary of State John Kerry. In fact, last week Dermer met with Kerry and didn’t even tell them that Netanyahu is coming. So it’s a brazen campaign visit by Netanyahu. He’ll receive anywhere from 23 to 36 standing ovations from Congress, who will be told by their top donors to get up and cheer every time Netanyahu coughs and burps. And it will be relayed back to the Israeli public as another diplomatic triumph of Netanyahu, who faces elections in a few weeks in one of the most decisive elections in Israeli history that could potentially consolidate the control of the right wing and deal the final blow to the moribund peace process. NOOR: And, Max, talk more about–I mean, so the purpose of this visit will be to lobby Congress on passing these sanctions against Iran. And we know that Netanyahu sees Iran as this existential threat, in which he continues to sort of fearmonger around. But people from Israeli intelligence have spoken out and warned against increasing sanctions at this time. BLUMENTHAL: Well, I don’t think Netanyahu’s really–I laid out the reasons why I thought Netanyahu is coming, and I don’t think that he will bolster lobbying efforts anymore than he already can. Congress is largely–is already heavily influenced by AIPAC, the key arm of the Israeli lobby. I mean, we saw Bob Menendez, the Democratic senator from New Jersey, actually attack Obama for condemning Netanyahu’s visit. So what Netanyahu is actually doing, from a domestic American perspective, is damaging to the Israel lobby, in my opinion. It’s part of a trend in which the right-wing governments in Israel are driving support for Israel disproportionately to the right in the U.S. and into the Republican Party, to the point where the Republican Party is on the verge of becoming the exclusive base of support for Israel. Look at opinion polls of grassroots Democrats. They’re almost divided on Israel, and a majority do not support Israel anymore. That’s a direct effect of Netanyahu being in office for so many years and the right-wing in Israel being in control since the Second Intifada. You have Christian Zionists effecting enormous influence in the Republican Party. And the nightmare of the Israel lobby is to lose bipartisan support. What you’re seeing within the Democratic Party and what you’re going to see this election is a clash within the party on this issue between grassroots Democrats, progressive activists at the base, and figures at the top, the candidates who were paid off by the Israel lobby. And we’ve already seen Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders under enormous pressure. So that’s what Netanyahu’s visit represents to me is Israel becoming a partisan wedge issue that will be used in the campaigns in the same way that gay marriage and abortion are. And that’s deeply damaging for the Israel lobby. NOOR: And, Max, how is this connected to Netanyahu’s visit to Paris? BLUMENTHAL: Well, we saw Netanyahu recently travel uninvited to Paris, just as he is arriving in Washington uninvited, to influence the national discourse, the national discussion, in a very similar way. Netanyahu announced that he would march at the head of the “Je Suis Charlie” parade. He was not wanted by François Hollande. And Mahmoud Abbas, the Palestinian Authority president, had to be invited to balance out Netanyahu’s deeply divisive and polarizing presence. Netanyahu’s politics, just as they align with those of the Tea Party in the U.S., are of a part of the far-right parties in Europe, the party of Geert Wilders in the Netherlands, the National Front of Marine Le Pen in France, the Swedish Democrats in Sweden, who are simultaneously anti-Semitic and pro-Israel. All of these parties align on the issue of Islamophobia. And Netanyahu’s Israel, to them, represents a Fort Apache on the front lines of the clash of civilizations. So Netanyahu, by his or through his arrival of France, is aiming to undermine French liberalism, to undermine small-r French republicanism, and to advance the hopes of these anti-E.U. far-right parties, which are now completely aligned behind the Likud around Israel. Netanyahu’s presence, everywhere he goes, is deeply divisive. He represents Israel as the ethnocratic apartheid state it is. And his natural allies are those who support Israel for that reason and because they would like to advance those same values in their own countries. NOOR: Well, Max Blumenthal, thanks so much for joining us. BLUMENTHAL: Thanks for having me. NOOR: Thank you for joining us at The Real News Network.

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Max Blumenthal

Max Blumenthal is an award-winning journalist and bestselling author whose articles and video documentaries have appeared in The New York Times, The Los Angeles Times, The Daily Beast, The Nation, The Guardian, The Independent Film Channel, The Huffington Post, Salon.com, Al Jazeera English and many other publications. His book, Republican Gomorrah: Inside The Movement That Shattered The Party, is a New York Times and Los Angeles Times bestseller.