On Bended Knee to Netanyahu

Despite Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu’s in-your-face attempts to sabotage President Obama’s foreign policy, Official Washington’s liberal establishment is on bended knee in an obsequious show of obeisance, apparently in line with Hillary Clinton’s political wishes, writes ex-CIA analyst Paul R. Pillar.

By Paul R. Pillar

On the eve of a visit by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to Washington, we have gotten yet another of the statements from members of his government that are sufficiently unrestrained or unhinged to cause a flap both in the United States and Israel.

While Netanyahu’s own comment about the Holocaust being a Palestinian idea is still fresh in our minds, the latest ear-catching remarks come from Ran Baratz, an inhabitant of a West Bank settlement whom Netanyahu has chosen to be chief of hasbara, the selling of Israeli policies overseas. Baratz has posted a trail of entries on Facebook that have insulted, among others, President Rivlin of Israel, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, whom Baratz says has the mental capacity of a 12-year-old, and President Barack Obama, whom he accuses of being anti-Semitic.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

Netanyahu has reacted to the flap by saying that these postings do not represent the views of his government and that he will be reviewing the appointment of Baratz. But whether Baratz keeps or loses the job of chief propagandist doesn’t really matter. The backtracking that customarily follows these sorts of Israeli comments (including Netanyahu’s sort-of retraction of his assertion about the origin of the Holocaust) are less representative of what this Israeli government is about than were the original comments.

The government’s insulting or embarrassing of senior U.S. officials is nothing new and has happened repeatedly in the past, such as when it announced new construction of settlements in East Jerusalem while Vice President Joe Biden was visiting Israel. The playing of the anti-Semitism card as a response to criticism of Israeli government policy is habitual, on the part of not only the Israeli government but also some of its most loyal supporters in the United States.

Throughout the history of Netanyahu occasionally being pushed into saying something that could be interpreted as support for a Palestinian state, his more genuine statements, as indicated by their consistency with his actual policies, have come when he has not been pushed, such as his statement most recently that he intended to “control all of the territory” and “live forever by the sword.”

Rather than seeking a meaningless retraction or apology or mouthing of words we would like to hear, we should accept the original statements for what they are and not try to pretend that they were some sort of slip of the tongue.

Statements that denigrate others may not be a slip at all but rather part of a pattern of shifting blame, even when a particular accusation is patently false. There is the pattern of placing all blame for the violence and endless continuation of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict on Palestinians, even when this includes asserting that Palestinians in general have genocidal aspirations. There is the pattern of attributing opposition to Israeli policies to ethnic bias, even when this includes calling Barack Obama an anti-Jewish bigot.

Statements that refer to Israel’s own intentions should be taken as truthful and not as a slip when they reflect Israel’s actual policies and practices on the ground. This certainly is true of a statement by the Israeli prime minister expressing his intention to cling forever to the occupied territories, using military force as necessary to do so.

There will be much evaluation of Netanyahu’s meetings in Washington in terms of whether frictions between the two governments have been smoothed over, at least as far as the public face that they present is concerned. There already has been much commentary ahead of the visit that has essentially adopted that standard for assessing the meetings. But the kumbaya scale is not the right means for measuring success or failure of the visit. And harmonious U.S.-Israeli relations per se do not have value; harmony is valuable only if it advances U.S. interests.

Pretending there is more harmony of interests than there really is only obscures and confuses the diplomatic work that can and should be done. Such pretending also carries the additional disadvantage for the United States of associating it all the more closely with the actions of the other party in the relationship, including actions that are contrary to U.S. interests and that the rest of the world understandably condemns.

As with any bilateral relationship, being honest about differing interests and objectives provides an accurate basis on which to address problems that need to be addressed. It also clarifies where there are truly convergent interests that can be the basis of mutually beneficial cooperation.

Major, substantial differences exist between U.S. interests and Israeli interests, at least given how the latter are defined by the current Israeli government. The differences were in full display with the strenuous efforts by Netanyahu’s government to sabotage a major U.S. foreign policy priority: the multilateral agreement to restrict Iran’s nuclear program.

The underlying difference on that issue was between on one hand the U.S. interest in using all available diplomatic tools to pursue nonproliferation and other goals consistent with improving regional stability, and on the other hand the Netanyahu government’s objective of keeping a competitor for regional influence isolated and maintaining conflict with Iran as a bête noire in perpetuity.

Certainly major differences of interest also persist regarding the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. More generally, the gulf between the United States and Israel has grown even wider insofar as Israel (including the territory it occupies) has become an increasingly intolerant place in which civil and political rights are apportioned according to ethnicity and religious belief.

About the best outcome from the U.S. standpoint, which is the standpoint that ought to matter to Americans, of Netanyahu’s meetings that could reasonably be expected given the circumstances would be for the two sides to issue a communiqué saying that they had a “frank, businesslike exchange of views.”

That is the sort of language that typically describes dialogue between governments with major differences that nonetheless are willing to talk honestly about those differences and to explore ways of possibly reducing them.

The public statements that actually will come out of the meetings probably will sound much more kumbaya-like than that. Netanyahu has a strong interest in making it appear that, despite all the attempted sabotage of U.S. policy and the pokes in U.S. eyes, his government is in good graces in Washington.

We all are familiar with the realities of U.S. politics that lead players in the United States to go along with him in maintaining such an appearance. With this month’s visit even a paragon of the liberal establishment such as the Center for American Progress is welcoming Netanyahu into its spaces, despite all his blatant interference in U.S. politics in a direction opposed to what CAP stands for.

That decision probably has mostly to do with how Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign sees its near-term interests. But that is distinctly different from the interests of the United States, and even, over the long term and looking beyond the current government, the interests of Israel.

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.)

16 comments for “On Bended Knee to Netanyahu

  1. Mortimer
    November 9, 2015 at 21:01

    The Zi0nist in our midst have control of this… .

    unannounced missile tests over the city of Los Angeles- after dark???

    are we being played…?

  2. bobzz
    November 9, 2015 at 16:52
  3. Steve Miller
    November 9, 2015 at 07:55

    Sort of amazed me when Netanyahu showed up demanding more foreign aid money after he just got done mucking around in our internal politics. Lotta nerve.

  4. Peter Loeb
    November 9, 2015 at 06:39


    Many of the views of commenters are well-intentioned
    (most are), but they fail to describe the world not only
    as it is now but as it undoubtedly will be in the forseeable

    It is a temporary but ultimately unproductive lamest to
    focus on Benjamin Netanyahu. He is the most recent
    of a history of revisionist colonial views and of Zionism
    as a whole’s colonial enterprise.

    All US politicians have been sold to the deep commitment
    of the US to Israel’s “security” etc. etc. We should be
    prepared to face the present world dominated by
    Jewish money (political pressure) and Jewish claims of
    victimhood. (See Norman Finkelstein’s “THE HOLOCAUST
    INDUSTRY” especially,…… on claims of “anti-semitism”
    and the desperate need for Israelis to see THEMSELVES
    as the victims. Which, of course, they are not at all…
    they are in fact the oppressors. And a major part of
    their PR for many decades has been their claim to
    represent Jewry…There are many other sources.)

    Enough on history. The tragic reality is that whoever
    becomes US President these policies and their
    unfounded views will continue and intensify.

    The basic point is that a recent intolerant speech
    by the present Israeli PM will become more
    and more “mainstream”. The passage of H.Con. Res. 493
    using the Zionist buzzwords such as “inciters” etc represent
    our political landscape of the day. (Meanwhile more Palestinian
    homes are demolished, more men women and children.
    murdered etc.

    [Note: 18th century revolutionaries against the British Empire
    (eg dropping tea to Boston Harbor) were definitely the “inciters”
    of another era. Those “inciters” have become—not always
    with justice—American icons.]

    Personally, while the BDS focus on the US-Israeli
    defense contractors is a good place to begin it
    may or may not be “the silver bullet” (excuse).

    Who amongst you is prepared today—NOW–to gather
    en masse and inform our politicians on all sides
    that their policies will not receive our support at
    the polls? While we scream, protest etc., politicians
    want votes.They also assume that in the end the
    protestors will indeed vote for them…”There is
    no one else,” they say. For years and years, this
    has been so. Labor unions have forgotten declarations
    for single-payer health care, for Palestinian “rights”.
    As a chief organizer Emannuel for W. Clinton put it:
    “The liberals have no where else to go.” He was
    correct. The liberals just folded.

    Dear fellow so-called “anti-semites”: Be prepared
    for more of the same by all politicians !!

    —Peter Loeb, Boston, MA, USA

    the polls. Not now, not ever.

  5. Abbybwood
    November 8, 2015 at 23:15

    Shouldn’t that headline read, “On Bended KNEES to Netanyahu”?

    Kinda like Monica saying she went to The White House to earn her presidential “knee pads”?

    Cause that is what the United States is doing to Israel.

    The question is, “WHY”??????

  6. Bruce
    November 8, 2015 at 23:11

    U卐rael Uber ALLEϟ, ϟieg Hitlery!

  7. Joe Tedesky
    November 8, 2015 at 17:41

    When the next time comes, as some American State suffers from a devastating natural disaster, and then some teabagger politicians want to shut down the government before they sign off on a financial aid disaster relief fund to help struggling Americans, will we all remember the 50 billion dollar defense package we Americans so readily gave to Israel? This is why Netanyahu is coming to visit his Washington minions, and for nothing more, or nothing less. As far as these anti-Semitic accusations go, why not accuse Israeli politicos of their being anti-American, or anti-gentile? Normally, I would never suggest that we Americans get down to their level, but since there are Israeli’s who feel quite at home throwing such remarks around, then what else is left. I know there are many Jews who are good people, and I also know there are many good Jews who are not on board with the Zionist, so with that said, now I just want to go hug a good Jew.

  8. Deborah Carroll
    November 8, 2015 at 14:46

    I had read Greenwald’s article last week and immediately cancelled my subscription to ThinkProgess (which it certainly is not).
    Netanyahu (as I wrote to CAP), is a bigoted, fear-mongering right-wing catastrophe for Israel and the Middle East.
    That CAP would prefer firing honest journalists on behalf of AIPAC is quite disturbing, since these censured journalists understood and were willing to confront Netanyahu‘s villany.
    And that such actions were designed by Podesta (who is running Clinton,Inc’s campaign) is just as alarming.
    In the end, this CAP farce and Clinton’s involvement in Netanyahu‘s visit are just a few of the many reasons Clinton, Inc should lose the 2016 presidential election.
    As Harper’s Magazine article exhorted earlier this year: Stop Hillary.

    • ltr
      November 8, 2015 at 15:56

      Meticulous and disheartening article.

    • bobzz
      November 8, 2015 at 23:58

      The only candidate that addresses the concerns of the CN readers and commenters is Jill Stein. She gets zero coverage and has zero chance.

  9. Mortimer
    November 8, 2015 at 13:28

    Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu has announced his plan to control “all of the territory” and “live forever by the sword.”


  10. dahoit
    November 8, 2015 at 13:02

    This just reveals the absolute death grip of Zion on America,where foreign scumbags,spies and provocateurs are treated as royalty.
    We’ve reached the outer limits.

  11. ltr
    November 8, 2015 at 12:52


    November 5, 2015

    Leaked Emails From Pro-Clinton Group Reveal Censorship of Staff on Israel, AIPAC Pandering, Warped Militarism
    By Glenn Greenwald

    • Joe Tedesky
      November 8, 2015 at 17:58

      Your provided link, is more proof of how some Americans are way more beholden to Netanyahu’s Israel, than they are to their own government of the United States of America. AIPAC, has certainly done a good job of buying the American government, but when it comes to the average American, will they sing, as the song goes, ‘money can’t buy you love’.

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