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The Netanyahu coup against an American president

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s plan to speak to Congress without White House approval may lead Americans to re-examine US-Israel relations

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has managed to stage a coup of sorts, albeit a clumsy and irresponsible manoeuvre, against US President Barack Obama. Netanyahu’s plan to address Congress without White House approval - a brazen affront to the protocols and parliamentary procedures demanded of US democracy - has caused outrage. This unwelcome address compromises the delicate balance of the separation of powers vital to America’s democracy.

Netanyahu used the Israeli lobby’s considerable power in Congress to demand of the Speaker of the House, John Boehner, that he be invited to speak to a joint session of Congress. Netanyahu’s arrogance and monumental egocentricity allows him to believe that his is a messianic mission to save the State of Israel from destruction. He has said as much.

The Israeli prime minister means to circumvent Obama by encouraging the Congress to effect punitive legislation to prevent Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons, which he believes would be used to destroy Israel. Netanyahu is in direct conflict with the president’s policy of negotiation with Iran to bring about a resolution. He is maliciously intruding in the good order and conduct of the US government, which should not be tolerated. 

Netanyahu knows the US Congress to be firmly in the hands of the Israeli lobby. Members of the House of Representatives and the Senate are both funded and otherwise supported by the Israeli lobby. Congressional funding to Israel amounts to billions of dollars annually, and a good deal of that money is hidden from public scrutiny. There are millions given to resettle Orthodox Jews in Israel. There are millions given to establish trade- and tax-free zones throughout the US for Israeli-produced goods.

Literally untold billions are given to provide weapons and equipment to the Israeli military. There are billions given in funding through the CIA’s black budget for covert operations. The actual amount of American taxpayer money given to Israel is kept hidden from the American public.   

Meanwhile, members of Congress who allow generous aid to Israel also benefit themselves. A portion of that money is returned to them by a reciprocal flow of contributions and support for their re-elections - and other equally selfish ends - from the Israeli lobby.

Many of the members of the Congress will boycott Netanyahu’s address on 3 March. Vice President Joe Biden will be absent, as well as a number of Democratic members of the House and Senate.  Those who do not have a significant number of Jewish or Tea Party members among their particular electorate will choose to be absent. Those members who do have significant numbers of Israel’s supporters, including the Democratic members, will not dare to boycott the address. Their re-elections are far more important than principle.

Obama apparently finds Netanyahu personally repugnant. On his previous visit Obama met with him briefly, presented a list of demands to Netanyahu, including the halting of new settlement construction, then abruptly left without inviting him to share dinner with him and his family. The failure to invite Netanyahu to dine was considered a pointed insult.

The president has now announced he will not meet with Netanyahu during his visit to address the joint session. This is yet another demonstration of the low regard, and apparent enmity, in which Obama holds Netanyahu.

Netanyahu is a venal man of astonishing arrogance and clearly apparent contempt for the institutions of the American government, including the president. However, he can count on a Congress that is bought and paid for. The American public is outraged that Netanyahu was invited by Boehner to address a joint session of the Congress. Most Americans support the president in opposing the Speaker’s invitation.

The Israel lobby in the United States is greatly distressed that Netanyahu chose to publicly demonstrate the near total influence that Israel holds over the venal members of the US Congress. They would greatly prefer that this power be held as secret. Revealing Israel’s power and extraordinary influence might raise considerable public curiosity regarding US policy in the Middle East.

Netanyahu also counts on the more radically conservative Tea Party members of Congress and their supporters. The Tea Party is composed largely of evangelical Christians whose delusional beliefs insist that a reconstructed Israel, as in the Old Testament Kingdom of David, is necessary for the re-appearance of Jesus the Messiah. The Messiah will at once reward the evangelicals finally with eternal bliss. However eternal bliss only follows the destruction of Israel and most of the world’s Jews. A small price to pay for an eternity of blissful rewards awaiting the evangelicals.

This combination of the Tea Party and the number of evangelicals accounts for 30 percent of the votes in some states, an extraordinary electoral force, and not one to be trifled with or enraged.

Netanyahu is a curious paradox of dubious repute, while nonetheless remaining, according to polling data, widely admired by the Israeli public. He demands to be regarded as the saviour of Israel while continuing to engage in excesses of personal extravagance, diminishing his reputation and trustworthiness, both in Israel and the US.

A recent report by Israel’s state comptroller shows that Netanyahu and his wife spent lavishly on a variety of personal goods and services between 2009 and 2012. This excessive spending while in office has created some outrage in Israel. The comptroller’s recent report revealed that Netanyahu and his wife Sara spent $68,000 in personal grooming expenses - more than $100 a day. There is also the expense of maintenance for two official residences. One of the residences is Netanyahu’s private oceanside villa in Caesarea, though the villa is mostly unoccupied by the couple. The cost for maintenance, including new furnishings, reached nearly $1 million a year for both.

Food and hosting expenses reached $125,000 in 2011 - double the expenses of Netanyahu’s predecessor. There was an additional $20,000 paid for “takeout meals”, despite paying a salary for an in-house chef.

And then there is “Bottlegate.” Sara Netanyahu ordered the return of bottles carrying deposits, bought for the household and paid for by the state, and pocketed the money. She did return $1,000 in deposit refunds to the state, but is said to have kept nearly $6,000 in bottle deposit money. 

Netanyahu has also been investigated previously for corruption. In 1997, his first year in office, police recommended he be indicted on corruption charges in an influence-peddling scandal. In March of 2000 it was again recommended by Israel’s police, following a seventh long investigation, that he and his wife Sara be indicted on criminal charges. The charges came from allegations that Netanyahu and his wife illegally kept 700 state gifts worth $100,000. Neither of the recommended indictments were ever enforced, and the couple remained out of prison. A sad commentary for the messianic vision Netanyahu holds of himself.

The Israel lobby in the US is justifiably concerned that this upcoming speech will severely damage the American public’s perception and unwavering support of Israel. If nothing else Netanyahu’s ego has created an opportunity for an examination of the relationship, which is decidedly out of balance and truly compromising to American interests in the Middle East.

- Morgan Strong is a former professor of Middle Eastern History, and was an advisor to CBS News' Sixty Minutes on the Middle East.
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Eye.
Photo: Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu means to circumvent US President Barack Obama by encouraging Congress to pass punitive legislation to prevent Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons, which he believes would be used to destroy Israel (AFP)

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