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The Netanyahu Speech: Kumen, Kvetching, Kibitzing

Uploaded: Mar 5, 2015

On Tuesday, Israeli Prime Minister Bibi Netanyahu did what he does: he came, he complained and he offered unsolicited advice.

In a controversial speech to the US Congress, Netanyahu inveighed against a long-term nuclear arms deal among six countries (The so-called I-5 plus one, I'll use I-6) with Iran, saying that it "paved the way for the Teheran regime to get The Bomb." Predictably, his complaints were two: that the world did not get enough concessions from Iran, and the deal only lasts ten years.

Netanyahu faces an election challenge later this month. When you look at this situation in context, it's easy to agree with Meet the Press moderator Chuck Todd, and conclude that this media event was all about that re-election campaign, and not a serious attempt to affect the nearly-concluded arms talks. As Todd noted at a CityArts lecture in SF Tuesday evening, the PM does well when playing Tough Guy: when Israel stirs the pot and skirmishes with various enemies, his poll numbers jump; in more placid interludes, they sink. This speech to Congress was scheduled months ago, to coincide with the run-up to the March 17 election. There are several reasons to go with Todd's characterization.

First, this was an event, not a process. A serious attempt to intercede or advise these negotiations would involve all six world-side nations, not just the US. It would have included various gestures to curry favor with those countries, especially England, France and Germany. It would also have attempted to sway public opinion (as it is, more than 60% of both Republican and Dem voters in this country favor the Iran process underway). Each of those European negotiators (and the US) has fundamental difficulties with important aspects of current Israeli policy ? most notably the continuing land-grab settlements on the West Bank. Israel under Netanyahu has rejected those concerns and aggressively continued building. Bargaining is a matter of give-and-take; a serious attempt to ante-in to this process would've had a lot more 'give' on issues of concern to the I-6.

Second, Netanyahu's complaints clearly miscast these negotiations. The concessions he indicated ought to have been included went far beyond the purpose of forestalling The Bomb ? they included Iran's destroying all enriching capacity (including to produce much lower grades of fuel useful in other purposes) and renouncing support of Hezbollah. Ultimate World Peace was not on the table ? forestalling Iran's nuclear ambitions is quite enough.

Those further topics were simply not achievable without bellicosity and bluffing that would have been beyond the capacity of the I-6 to carry-off. It amounts to saying "Shmuck! With better cards you might have won a bigger pot." Thanks for the insight. Further, the charge that ten years is too few is too easy to make: had it been twelve, it should have been fifteen, and fifteen could have been twenty. A lot can happen in a decade, even on Middle East standard time.

Third, he offered no different approach to substitute for these negotiations. While that absence might not have bothered his GOP admirers, it's a very incomplete answer. If you are arguing that ten years is too brief, you have to answer for the fact that a 'no agreement' outcome is ten years briefer. He offered no alternative, other than continued tough-guy sanctions and military posturing that got us here in the first place.

Moreover, Netanyahu has a credibility problem on this issue that dates to the early 1990s. Then he warned that Iran was a year away from a Bomb. Later he contradicted both the CIA and his own Mossad to again proclaim the imminence of the threat. He also has a habit of charging that the opposition will surely cheat ? but there's pretty good empirical and intelligence evidence that they have complied with the interim accord. Inspections are an important element in any longer term accord.

There is no question that the stakes are high, here. If Iran does produce a Bomb (which Israel has had for many years), even if they don't use it, they will set off an arms race among various other actors in that tinderbox, whose regimes are less stable than Plutonium. As columnist Tom Friedman wrote, pithily: "There are actors in the Middle East for whom 'mutual assured destruction' is an invitation to a party ? not a system of mutual deterrence." That's a crisis for the whole globe, but an existential threat to the Jewish State. It is easy to see why Israel wants back on the varsity ? they rightly see their very survival as intimately woven into this process.

That said, Netanyahu's approach, including the political theater in the Capitol yesterday, just doesn't have much to do with that bigger picture. Nobody likes a kibitzer, and kvetching doesn't get you a seat at the table ? but it might get you re-elected.
What is it worth to you?


Posted by Jake, a resident of Alamo,
on Mar 5, 2015 at 4:08 pm

Political theater at its best; first we spend a lot of time arguing should he have been invited then we get "The Speech".
I watched the speech twice; once with sound off! From other sources than US news media it seems that the other side has agreed to just about everything that is directly related to enrichment and production. They seem to have concluded that the ambiguity re their nuclear program combined with sanctions and drop in oil prices has created enough incentive to make a deal.
The West has more affinity toward Israel than Middle East since they perceive that their cultures and values are more aligned with Israel, even if you discount the influence of AIPAC. Through a set of fortunate events! all of Israel's enemies that have in the past attacked it have been neutralized: Iraq war and Arab Spring pretty much accomplished it and when it looked like Egyptian Islamic Brotherhood was going to go in the wrong direction it was taken out. Syria is in struggling to survive1 so it is no threat to Israel and it does not even retaliates against their intrusions and bombings. So Arabs are done! Iran government makes a good enemy and every country needs a good enemy to influence their own population first and others if the opportunity arises. The argument of "Existential threat" has worked well for Israel so it is understandable that not having an enemy would undermine it.
I happen to agree with Nancy Pelosi, which I seldom do, that the speech was an insult to the intelligence......
Watching the speech without the sound was very entertaining in that it looked like a contest as to who would jump up first and applaud the longest!
They all tried to outdo each other! God bless America, what a country!

Posted by Michael Austin, a resident of Pleasanton Meadows,
on Mar 5, 2015 at 4:14 pm

Michael Austin is a registered user.

What or whom, has determined that Iran does not have the bomb?

Posted by American, a resident of Danville,
on Mar 6, 2015 at 10:44 am

Tom: Your first sentence alone shows your bias and refusal to be open minded about Prime Minister Netanyahu speech. Why is it that the liberals love free speech except when they disagree with the content of the speech? This is similar to UC Berkeley, the self proclaimed home of the free speech movement, attempting to vacate their invitation to John Stewart to speak at graduation because they did not like the content of his pro-Israel speech.

As to "unsolicited advice", he was invited by Congress to speak. You make it sound like he pulled a Kanye West and suddenly grabbed the microphone and started rambling.

He is the Prime Minister of a country that even the Democrats(well during the election campaign at least) claim is a key ally and friend of the U.S. Watching Obama argue during the campaign debates that "he stands with Israeli" was similar to watching Clinton swear "he did not have sex with that woman". Netanyahu, at least, is honest with his thoughts and opinions, and you know where you stand with him.

Tom, if you are going to be honest, you have to admit you were going to slam whatever he said during his speech(even if he supported rescue dogs and our beloved Oakland A's).

We all have opinions. Some are based on facts. Some are based on bias.

Liberals want us to start having relations with Cuba, to normalize relations, to let their dictator meet and talk with Obama. They have no problem with that. But God forbid we let the Prime Minister of a long time friend and ally of the US speak.

Posted by Tom Cushing, a resident of Alamo,
on Mar 6, 2015 at 12:13 pm

Am, while I appreciate that your efforts are ever intended to make me a better human being, that straw man you're poking isn't me. My post wasn't about whether he should speak -- it's about what he said, and why. Let me suggest that you may have come into this thread pre-loaded for bias.

But way too much about me, as usual -- what do You think about what he said? And BTW, the Obama administration has been an excellent friend to Israel, if not to Bibi. I would argue, rightly, that this I-6 agreement with Iran, if it succeeds, will be one case-in-point, among many.

Posted by Avi Rosenthall, a resident of Alamo,
on Mar 7, 2015 at 9:43 pm

aaaand he shows his true antisemitic colors. History is always on the wrong side of Cushing. Look at every column this blowhard has ever written regarding foreign policy, the history is not kind to his foolish Woodrow Wilson style inept views. He is a buffoon and a blowhard that loves to disturb people. Don't bother to read his dribble. Frankly, the publication should fire his write for free butt. He is bad for business and despised in town for being a smug jerk, oh I am sorry retired lawyer who couldn't cut it. Oh, forget it, it's the same thing. Hey Cushing, why not actually get some credentials if you want to write about foreign policy. You are a total amateur that spews dribble and you are the reason uneducated and uniformed people fail to comprehend the most important issue facing the free wold since 1938. Have another cheese burger and stick to helping the animals, you are out of your league.

This is single hardheartedly the most stupid piece of garbage ever published by this site. Gai in drerde, [anatomical reference]..

Posted by Tom Cushing, a resident of Alamo,
on Mar 8, 2015 at 8:25 am

So, Avi -- you didn't like the column?

Fan mail is just one of the perks of these commentaries, but I'd advise being a Lot more careful about tossing-off the 'anti-semite' card. You're entitled to your opinion, of course; I can, and do disagree with that characterization -- emphatically. But it's a very serious charge -- a nuclear option, if you will, and it needs a great deal more foundation than you've laid for it.

In that regard, I'd invite your consideration of a column that appeared in the NYT a day after mine, above. Web Link It makes many of the same points, and is written by Roger Cohen -- who has 'credentials' out the [anatomical reference]. Web Link

Of course, Netanyahu's positions are controversial in Israel, too, where he stands for re-election later this month. That outcome is currently uncertain, which Mr. Todd (another self-hater?) and I think is why he chose this time to make that speech.

Posted by Harvey Stein, a resident of San Ramon,
on Mar 8, 2015 at 10:27 pm

I am disgusted by this piece of garbage and yes, I am a Jew. Blogger is definitely an anti-Semite. I am done reading this blog for good; in fact, as long as the publisher prints this blog, I will boycott the advertisers that support the publishing of such obvious anti-Israel propaganda. My maternal grandparents did not survive the Holocaust and once again fascists want to kill Jews and Cushing has the nerve to criticize a nation's leader who simply wants to insure survival and protect his people. "Wipe Israel off the map, " Iran supreme leader. We negotiates with these radical racist ideologues? Fools! Here here Bibi!!!!! Bibi will easily get reelected and Cushing will once again we be proven wrong. Shalom putz!

Posted by Tom Cushing, a resident of Alamo,
on Mar 9, 2015 at 8:36 am

Well fellas, it's easy to see why Netanyahu's your guy. Bellicose invective, demonizing the opposition and bullying threats are straight out of the Bibi playbook. But what do you say to all those Jews who likewise oppose him and Likud on policy bases similar to mine? Netanyahu currently trails in the polls, as his speech failed to provide the bump he sought from it. There was a huge rally in Tel Aviv against him yesterday Web Link -- all anti-semites?

Playing the anti-semite card so freely, as if being a Jew conveys a license to squelch public debate, does a great disservice to your Faith. IT stands resolutely for free expression as a crucial underwriter of liberty.

Here's a thoughtful essay on that tactic from the Middle East Policy Journal Web Link It was written in 2009, mostly regarding the anti-semite card as played in the context of Palestinian/Israeli issues. It's also relevant here, and includes the following from Joel Beinin, a professor of history at Stanford:

"Why discredit, defame and silence those with opposing viewpoints? I believe it is because the Zionist lobby knows it cannot win based on facts. ... We need an open debate and the freedom to discuss uncomfortable facts and explore the full range of policy options. Only then can we adopt a foreign policy that serves American interests and one that could actually bring a just peace to Palestinians and Israelis."


One of the ongoing disappointments of crafting these blogs for comment has been the coarseness of the internet discourse that comes back -- your devoid-of-content blusterings are classic cases-in-point. Tell me WHY I'm wrong, but don't try to tell me what I Am, especially to avoid engagement on the issues.

So, go ahead and stop reading, abandon this publication and organize a boycott against free expression -- all things you've said you intend -- do your worst. I don't think you'll do any of that, but be my guest. I won't be bullied into silence on these issues, and I may well write about the election outcome, possibly with approval if Bibi loses, depending on what the replacement coalition stands-for.

Posted by DirkaDirkaBakala, a resident of San Ramon,
on Mar 9, 2015 at 11:46 am

Mr. Cushing you are on the side of placating evil. Putz sums it up pretty well. Netanyahu will go down in the history books as the Churchill of these times and well deserved. The man is a hero. Let us not forget that he was invited to speak before congress and the reality is that he was incredibly well received. Israel does not fund terror. Iran does, this is pure fact. show us one example where Israel has every done so. Israel has always defended herself well, but only when attacked. They are a people of enormous restraint.

You are a soft man with no idea what it takes to stand up to evil. If ISIS and Iran were on the outskirts of your little dog pen you would be dropping the cheese burgers and chardonnay and skirting for the comfort of those with some testicular fortitude.

You point a few sour oranges within a truckload perfect specimens, ignoring the fundamental truth with semantics. Your goat poop Hegelian dialect is old and tired. Jihad Johnny could easily get his hands on some Nukes, if not dirty bomb material. Benj. is right on the money with his concern and thank god congress is not as foolish as our commander idiot and chief nontransparent liar. Time is going to be very unkind to Obama, for his legacy is nothing but failure and lies. Time will also be quite unkind to you too. Looking back at you geopolitical stance you have been wrong, not just some of the time, all of the time.

Web Link
"after I win reelection, i will be more flexible"

I do not miss Dirka Dirkastan one bit.

Back to the goats. Again Tommy, Dirka offers you the free goat milk with active cultures to cure that bug you have up your plump bottom. It will help you digest the cheeseburgers and Chardonnay better too!

Dirka Dirka Bakala Get me some chevre and pitas!!

Posted by DirkaDirka, a resident of San Ramon,
on Mar 9, 2015 at 11:49 am

Correction, meant wrong side and with those who are placating evil. Damn the ipad auto correct in the pasture.

Posted by Herman Glates, a resident of Danville,
on Mar 9, 2015 at 12:37 pm

Herman Glates is a registered user.

I love watching a guy like Tom getting pulled over by the PC Police.

Posted by A guy like Tom , a resident of Alamo,
on Mar 9, 2015 at 1:24 pm

Glates: Funny. Nonsense, too, but funny nonetheless. Good work!

Posted by Tom Cushing, a resident of Alamo,
on Mar 19, 2015 at 1:44 pm

To whom it concerns -- Israel result was entirely as predicted in later blog. Try to keep up, but don't bother posting your personal crap -- only you will see it.

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