Netanyahu Uses US Congress as Prop

By addressing the U.S. Congress for a third time, Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu will again demonstrate his mastery of the American political process, using the backdrop of repeated standing ovations to keep Israelis from thinking too much about economic troubles, writes ex-CIA analyst Paul R. Pillar.

By Paul R. Pillar

A recent poll confirmed what other polls and many observers have noted about concerns of the Israeli public as Israel’s general election next month approaches. Presented with a list of six subjects and asked which is the most important one for the government of Israel to address, 48 percent of all likely voters picked “economic issues.” Nineteen percent said it was relations with the Palestinians, 14 percent picked education, and only 10 percent chose “the Iranian threat.” Instability in the region, enlisting ultra-Orthodox, “other,” and “don’t know” collectively got 11 percent.

Compared with a poll that asked the same question two years ago, “economic issues” went up five percentage points and “the Iranian threat” went down two. Given how much the incumbent government unceasingly pounds away in its rhetoric on the Iranian issue and how dire a threat it portrays it to be, it may be remarkable how few respondents chose that subject.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at the United Nations in 2012, drawing his own "red line" on how far he will let Iran go in refining nuclear fuel.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at the United Nations in 2012, drawing his own “red line” on how far he will let Iran go in refining nuclear fuel.

Two salient facts about the Israeli economy provide the background to the views and concerns of Israeli citizens. First, Israel is a prosperous state with an economy that, looked at in a macro way, is admirably dynamic. Don’t let that $3 billion in annual aid from the United States fool you into thinking that Israel needs that money; Israel is in the top 25 countries of the world in GDP per capita.

But second, and perhaps not surprisingly given that Israel has been ruled by a right-wing government for the last several years, Israel has some of the worst economic inequality among the developed countries that belong to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development.

Israel’s high-tech success has not trickled down to much of the rest of the economy. Despite the nation’s overall prosperity, a good many ordinary Israelis strain to make do. This is especially true of young adults of the millennial generation, particularly with regard to finding affordable housing.

A demonstration of these patterns that was more dramatic than opinion polls came in huge street demonstrations in the summer of 2011, when many Israelis marched and chanted, “we demand social justice.” The hundreds of thousands of participants, bearing in mind the size of the Israeli population, represented a far bigger display than anything the Occupy Wall Street people were able to mount in the United States.

There is a genuine opening here for the Israeli Center-Left. The Israeli public, compared to the American public, is more positively inclined toward a welfare state and more tolerant of government deficits and public sector spending.

The way Likud and the rest of the political Right counters this vulnerability is to keep trying to shift the focus by hammering away on what it presents as national security issues, keeping the Israeli public scared, notwithstanding the overwhelming regional military superiority that Israel enjoys at all levels, and portraying itself as best able to protect Israelis from what is scary.

For Benjamin Netanyahu, the specter of Iran and especially its nuclear program has been central to this political strategy. When Netanyahu comes to Washington and makes his Congressional appearance that Republican/Likud political operative Ron Dermer (aka the Israeli ambassador) arranged for him, he bolsters his domestic political standing in a couple of ways.

One is that, insofar as he is successful in sabotaging any agreement to restrict the Iranian program, he can continue to fulminate about the Iranian bogeyman in as unrestrained fashion as he always has. If he can kill an agreement, he puts off the day when scaremongering about Iran gets even less of a rise out of the Israeli electorate than what the recent poll measured.

In the meantime, the speech itself enables Netanyahu to show the U.S. Congress again eating out of his hand, reassuring his voters that he has everything under control as far as U.S. politics are concerned, notwithstanding any unpleasantness with the current U.S. president.

Lest there be any doubt about Netanyahu’s use of Congress as an electoral prop in this way, in the last previous Israeli election in 2013, Netanyahu’s political coalition broadcast a campaign ad that used footage from an earlier Congressional appearance of his, replete with several of those standing ovations from the members (and also used a clip of Netanyahu’s display of his cartoon bomb before the U.N. General Assembly). The ad conveyed the message, “When Netanyahu speaks, the world listens.”

The structure of the Israeli economy thus does more harm besides making it hard for some Israelis to find housing and pay bills. It also provides an added political incentive for their government to undermine U.S. foreign policy, to constrain U.S. freedom of action in the Middle East, and to destroy the best chance the world has had to ensure that the Iranian nuclear program stays peaceful.

Paul R. Pillar, in his 28 years at the Central Intelligence Agency, rose to be one of the agency’s top analysts. He is now a visiting professor at Georgetown University for security studies. (This article first appeared as a blog post at The National Interest’s Web site. Reprinted with author’s permission.)

10 comments for “Netanyahu Uses US Congress as Prop

  1. Zachary Smith
    February 17, 2015 at 21:44

    It’s a pity I can’t edit my previous post and add the current link to that one. Israel is ALWAYS trying to frighten Jews to go to Israel. This story is from 2004.

    Following the advice of Hitler’s Propaganda Minister Joseph Goebbels—“Lie, and keep on lying, some of your lies shall no doubt take roots in the people’s minds”—Western media eagerly reports incidents of “anti-Semitic attacks.” In France, such attacks very often are blamed on Muslim-Arab youths, and linked to Middle East tensions.

    Recently, for example, as 17-year-old Yeshiva student Yisrael Yiftah was heading toward a local grocery store in a northern Paris suburb, “a large man described as of North African origin sprang upon him with a knife. The man screamed, ”˜God is great’ in Arabic and plunged the knife into Yiftah’s chest,” according to French press reports.

    The media and government officials described the attack as anti Semitic—even though that night the same man carried out additional knife attacks against non-Jewish targets, including an Algerian man, and turned out to be psychologically disturbed.

    In another incident, after alarming the French public and alerting the world to the dangers of Arab/North African-looking men and their propensity to “violent and irrational” acts, the alleged July attack on a “Jewish-looking” woman and her baby on a commuter train near Paris turned out to be sheer fabrication.

    The publicists for Holy Israel lie – a lot. But if necessary, they’ll make sure some real threats exist. Even if they have to ‘assist’ in the creation of those threats.

  2. Zachary Smith
    February 17, 2015 at 14:00

    Israel is milking the “evil Europe” theme to the hilt. Latest is a story of a Jewish Newsman walking through Paris – mostly Muslim sections – wearing one of the beanie things called a Kippah.

    The ten-hours of filming has been edited down into 96 seconds. Klein has denied that he sought out negative comments by going to predominantly Muslim neighbourhoods.

    Ten hours edited to 96 seconds!

    The project appears to have been a project by the billionaire Sheldon Adelson. This fellow has boosted Netanyahu’s political fortunes by giving away free newspapers in Israel. Oh, and he’s also a big funder of the Tea Bag party in the US.

  3. Joe Tedesky
    February 17, 2015 at 02:26

    As exceptional as we are, it would be prudent to have a plan B. Counting the U.S. and it’s allies (Israel, Saudi Araba, London along with Australia, Canada,) it is long overdue to hand over the reins to the rational sane leaders who will guide us through our geopolitical straits.

    The world is down to 3 minutes to 12 o’clock hour. WW 1 (the Great War) was to last only 6 to 8 weeks. At that time I am sure the average person would have had issue with where their world was going in their time. Ask yourself, what drives events to retiring the Champerlains towards hiring the Churchills? The one thing I am hoping is that the Internet may help this modern generation, as opposed to our Great Grandparents (or Grandparents depending upon your age).

    The Netanyahu’s will have you building Araham tanks, when you could have afforded just as well to manufacture the energy efficient fancy newest Catapillar Bull Dozer. Seriously, we have a New World Order Corpoarte run Government at the helm, and all these smart corporate types can come with …is making weapons. Aren’t they suppose to be business people? With all the misery in the world, wouldn’t it serve us to appoint leaders who will truly mange it. With all we have learned through our science and technology, weapons is what we come up with!

    Sorry, for my rant. I do come here to read the articles….and especially all of your comments. You are all very well informed, and smart too. I just wanted to unload. I will bet many of you are the quiet ones at the Thanksgiving Table!!!

  4. Joe Tedesky
    February 17, 2015 at 00:43

    As much as I wish for the Israeli voters to vote in a better government, I can’t help but wish for a much better American group of politicians. Between gerrymandering, and bought for elections, (not to mention a terrible mass media) we Americans are losing out in a very big way. If only we in the U.S. could vote in the right people, who would do the right things, then and only then we could change the world. Instead our country does Netanyahu’s bidding. So, if I may add to what is stated here in Mr Pillar’s article, we Americans should get off our couches and steer our government in the right directions.

  5. Chet Roman
    February 16, 2015 at 22:09

    While I understand and agree with Paul Pillar’s view of the concentration of wealth and inequality in Israel and Netanyahoo’s warmongering for political benefit, however, I don’t believe that another party will have any effect on the continued colonialization of Palestinian land, the willful slaughter of innocent Palestinian civilians or a just peace.

    Remember, Netanyahoo had an approval rating of about 95% of all Israelis while he was slaughtering women and children by the hundreds last year during “Operation Strong Cliff”. Israelis were entertaining themselves sitting eating popcorn watching the bombs drop and cheering. It’s only when Netanyahoo stopped that bombing that his ratings plunged because he didn’t implement the final solution.

    The “left”, in Israel is actually far right when it comes to Palestinian issues. It was the left that not only supported the slaughter during Cast Lead but cheered it on and used it for their political gain. You can never kill too many Palestinians in the Israeli public’s view and it’s always a career enhancer (just look at Ariel Sharon’s career). The “liberal” Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni said, “Israel demonstrated real hooliganism during the course of the recent operation, which I demanded.”

  6. JWalters
    February 16, 2015 at 20:41

    Very interesting that Netanyahu’s focus on war is not shared by Israel’s population at large. It’s similar to the way the National Rifle [Manufacturer’s] Association disregards their own members on policies that might diminish gun or ammo sales. First things first.

  7. Zachary Smith
    February 16, 2015 at 16:13

    But second — and perhaps not surprisingly given that Israel has been ruled by a right-wing government for the last several years — Israel has some of the worst economic inequality among the developed countries that belong to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development.

    Israel’s high-tech success has not trickled down to much of the rest of the economy.

    Good point. Israel is not a nice place to make a living if you’re not already wealthy. Lots of good people are quietly leaving.

    Now finishing his doctoral dissertation on the political attitudes of immigrants, he is an expert on the voting patterns of immigrants from the former Soviet Union in Israel. He therefore decided to investigate where his Russian friends from the reserves all disappeared to. He was hardly surprised by what he found. Almost all of them had left Israel, mainly for Canada, after discovering that they could not support themselves with even a modicum of dignity, even though they had all been trained in highly desirable professions. In other words, Russians’ social protest is not expressed in street rallies. It is a silent, subdued protest: They simply leave the country.


    Replacing these folks is becoming difficult. Putting on my tin foil hat – I suspect that Israel is behind the uproar in France and Denmark. No fingerprints, of course, but quietly encouraging not-too-bright young Muslims to do their dirty work. Ditto for Ukraine. Notice all the calls for the Jews in those countries to come to Mother Israel!

    This isn’t new.

    After 750,000 Palestinians were uprooted and their lands confiscated in 1948-49, Ben Gurion had to look to the Islamic countries for Jews who could fill the resultant cheap labor market. “Emissaries” were smuggled into these countries to “convince” Jews to leave either by trickery or fear.

    In the case of Iraq, both methods were used: uneducated Jews were told of a Messianic Israel in which the blind see, the lame walk, and onions grow as big as melons; educated Jews had bombs thrown at them.

    Why tinker with what works? Two hundred years ago in the US the settlers murdered the Indians, and replaced them with enslaved Africans. Israel is murdering the Palestinians, and replacing them with 1)breeding-like-flies settlers and 2) gullible/frightened foreign Jews.

    Unfortunately, Netanyahu has both houses of Congress in his pocket, and BHO is passively playing along too.

    • Joe Tedesky
      February 17, 2015 at 02:43

      Zachary, after reading what you posted here, you made me think of how all this MSM controversial stuff about Netanyahu’s visit isn’t all just theatre. Netanyahu, will get something after his appearance I suspect, and he will probably be re-elected. If he isn’t put back in office then there will be hell to pay – per Sheldom Adelson!

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