Dems feeling more leftist pressure on Israel than they publicly admit – The Forward

Former Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu writes in a latest book that President Joe Biden pushed him last May to finish the heavy airstrikes within the Gaza strip in response to 4,000 rockets fired at Israel because he was facing pressure from congressional Democrats. In accordance with the Gaza health ministry, 243 Palestinians, including 66 children, and 12 Israelis were killed within the 11 days of intense fighting between Hamas and Israel. 

“Bibi, I gotta let you know, I’m coming under plenty of pressure back here,” Netanyahu quotes Biden as saying during considered one of the six phone calls the 2 leaders held that week that led to a ceasefire. The conversation, as reported by Netanyahu in his memoir, “Bibi: My story,” slated for publication on Tuesday, belies the president’s newer dismissal of Democratic voices critical of Israel as relatively insignificant. A sophisticated copy of the book was obtained by the Forward. 

“This isn’t Scoop Jackson’s Democratic Party,” Biden reportedly continued, referring to the hawkish Democratic Senator from Washington who died in 1983. “I’m getting squeezed here to place an end to this as soon as possible.” 

Biden’s aggressive attempts to achieve a ceasefire underscored a generational divide on Israel amongst Democrats, with those on the left led by Reps. Alexandra Ocasio-Cortez, Rashida Tlaib, Ilhan Omar and Ayanna Pressley — who formed “The Squad” after their election in 2018. Last yr, eight Democrats voted against funding for the replenishment of Israel’s anti-missile Iron Dome defense system, though some supported it in a subsequent vote. And 16 opposed a resolution condemning the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement against Israel. A recent Pew Research survey showed that 53% of Americans who discover themselves as Democrats hold a negative view of Israel. 


Earlier this yr, in his first interview with the Israeli media ahead of his tenth trip to the Jewish state, Biden said he isn’t apprehensive about anti-Israel sentiment in Congress. “There’s no possibility, I feel, of the Democratic Party or perhaps a significant slice of the Republican Party, walking away from Israel,” he said.

Netanyahu had a stronger relationship with former President Donald Trump than along with his Democratic predecessors, but the connection frayed Israeli ties with Democrats. 

‘You’re going right into a political tinderbox’

However the book also shares behind-the-scenes details of an episode through which Netanyahu risked Democratic support for Israel well before the rise of The Squad.

At the peak of tensions with former President Barack Obama over the Iran nuclear deal in March 2015, the prime minister accepted an invite from then-Republican House Speaker John Boehner to handle a joint session of Congress. Sixty members boycotted the speech. No Obama administration officials attended. 

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaking on the joint Congress Session on March 3, 2015. Photo by GPO/Amos Ben Gershom

Netanyahu writes that he needed a majority in Congress to oppose the deal, and wouldn’t be dissuaded from making the address, despite stern warnings from Jewish Democrats and senior cabinet members about rupturing relations with Israel’s most significant ally. A longtime friend, Mort Zuckerman, then publisher of U.S. News & World Report, advised him to no less than be as respectful as possible to Obama. “You’re going right into a political tinderbox,” Zuckerman told the prime minister. “Democratic sensibilities are at their height. I’ve never seen anything like this tension.”  


Netanyahu writes that he took that advice and it served him well. Sen. Chuck Schumer, then Senate minority leader and an opponent of the deal, approached him after the speech and said it moved six Democrats to support a Republican-led bill that will give Congress a task to review and eventually vote on the deal. “I used to be relieved,” Netanyahu writes.

The deal, nevertheless, eventually passed Congress: 98-1 within the Senate and 400-25 within the House.  

Even when  Democrats couldn’t derail the speech, Netanyahu apprehensive that his own sinuses would. He reveals that the night before he couldn’t go to sleep, due to a severe cold. During a practice run, he couldn’t make it through a sentence. “I can’t consider this is going on to me,” he told his wife Sara. “An important speech of my life and I’m going to be foiled by this?” The assorted remedies he tried all failed. But the subsequent morning as he entered the Capitol, “the miracle of miracles” happened, he writes. His sinuses cleared. 

Throughout the speech, Netanyahu continued, he noticed that Nancy Pelosi, the Democratic House leader, turned her back on him. “When speakers spot indifferent or hostile members in an audience, they often get dejected,” he writes. “Not me. Nothing energizes me more.” 

“Back within the hotel, I used to be drained of energy, like a boxer after a bruising fight,” he added. 

Details on the peace process, Iran 

Netanyahu dedicates several chapters to his strained relationship with Obama, including an in depth description of their first White House meeting, through which Obama told him to relinquish settlements within the occupied West Bank. He writes that his clash with Obama was not “personal” but ideological. And he criticizes Obama officials who attacked him as narrow-minded, describing them as “individuals who never risked their lives on a battlefield.” 

The book claims that Obama refused to commit to vetoing a United Nations Security Council resolution against Israel six years before the U.S. abstained on UNSC 2334 that condemned Israeli settlements. It was after the May 31, 2010 IDF raid on the Mavi Marmara flotilla from Turkey through which nine Turkish passengers, including one U.S. citizen, were killed in clashes with Israeli commandos because the ship attempted to interrupt Israel’s maritime blockade of Gaza. “If I try this, America will likely be isolated,” Obama told Netanyahu, who asked the U.S. to make use of its veto power if the UN body rushes to judgment against Israel.  The veto was not needed after U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon promised to appoint an impartial commission that later confirmed the blockade was legal.

Though the pair often feuded in public over the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, Netanyahu writes that in late 2009 he privately sought to ease the strain with the president by agreeing to impose a 10-month freeze on settlements, and that he later proposed a peace summit at Camp David. The strategy was to purchase more time to develop Israel’s military capabilities and to ease international pressure within the wake of a strike on Iran’s nuclear facilities. 

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and President Barack Obama on the White House on Jan. 9, 2010. Photo by Moshe Milner/GPO

But his try and get the U.S. to greenlight military motion failed. In a 2012 Oval Office meeting, Obama warned Netanyahu that the Israeli move would “be a mistake” and lead to the collapse of the sanctions regime against Iran. He later dispatched numerous administration officials to frustrate Israeli preparations for an attack. 

During Obama’s visit to Israel in 2013, Netanyahu met even greater resistance as he lobbied for a U.S. strike on Iran. “No one likes Goliath,” Obama said, in line with Netanyahu. “I don’t wish to be an eight-hundred-pound gorilla strutting on the world stage. For too long we acted that way.” 

Years later, initially of his first meeting with Trump on the White House, the brand new president asked Netanyahu, “Why didn’t you bomb them?” Netanyahu said he replied, “Because I didn’t have the votes on the time. But it surely’s still an option.” 

The ‘best’ years for the alliance

When Trump was elected, Netanyahu saw great opportunity, and set 4 goals for the American president’s first term: Move the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem, recognize Israel’s control over the Golan Heights, withdraw from the Iran deal and make peace with the Arab world. All 4 of them, Netanyahu writes, were achieved before Trump left office. 

“Despite bumps within the road, our years together were the very best ever for the Israeli-American alliance,” Netanyahu writes on the conclusion of his memoir, calling Trump a “true trailblazer.” 

President Donald Trump participates in a bilateral meeting with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu within the Oval Office on Jan. 27, 2020 Photo by Official White House Photo by Shealah Craighead

But the beginning of the Trump-Netanyahu relationship was not auspicious. Netanyahu was dejected by an early call from Jared Kushner, Trump’s son-in-law and point person on Middle East peace, to Israel’s Ambassador Ron Dermer, suggesting Israel should freeze construction within the settlements “for a few years” to pave the way in which for a peace deal. “Normally, I don’t give in to despondency. But I did now,” Netanyahu writes about his response on the time. Pointing to the pressure he got from former President Bill Clinton and Obama, Netanyahu asks, “Was I now condemned to a different 4 years of this nonsense?” 

Netanyahu also blamed Ron Lauder, president of the World Jewish Congress and a longtime friend and adviser to Trump, for driving a wedge between him and the U.S. president. Lauder badmouthed him, he writes, and pushed his own peace take care of the Palestinians. In a recent book, Latest York Times reporter Maggie Haberman revealed that Lauder had pitched a Middle East peace plan built on the two-state solution that Trump was “enthusiastic” about.  

When Trump visited Israel later that yr, he complained to President Reuven Rivlin that “Bibi doesn’t want peace.” In response, Netanyahu and U.S. Ambassador to Israel David Friedman produced a video which showed Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas calling for the destruction of Israel and glorifying terrorists in Arabic. They hoped Trump would “adjust his considering” concerning the Palestinian leader. “I could see that the video registered with Trump, no less than momentarily,” Netanyahu writes.

He also showed Trump a slide presentation that compared the gap between Tel Aviv and the occupied West Bank, to the gap between Trump Tower on Fifth Avenue and the George Washington Bridge. “‘Mr. President,’ I said, ‘would you let a regime that desires to annihilate you arrange a state on the George Washington Bridge? After all not. Neither would we,’” Netanyahu writes. 

Netanyahu also posits that without interference from Lauder — though he doesn’t mention him explicitly by name — the Abraham Accords would have been signed at first of Trump’s term moderately than the tip. 

In Netanyahu’s first term as prime minister, 1996-1999, Lauder secretly negotiated a peace deal on behalf of Netanyahu with then-Syrian President Hafez al-Assad.  

Netanyahu disputes Kushner’s account that Trump was caught off guard when the prime minister indicated on the January 2020 rollout event for the Mideast peace plan that the U.S. backed his intention to annex Israeli settlements within the West Bank. In accordance with the previous prime minister, Trump agreed in a letter he sent the day before the ceremony to instantly recognize Israeli control over 30% of the West Bank, in exchange for a written commitment from Netanyahu that he would allow the creation of a Palestinian state over the remainder of the territory. But following Netanyahu’s declaration, the White House pressured him to retract his declaration and worked to foil the plan. 


“What transpired to bring about this alteration continues to be unclear,” Netanyahu writes, wondering whether Kushner and Friedman didn’t fully explain to the president what the commitment entailed. “Whatever the rationale, it was inappropriate and price me an incredible deal.”    

A real friendship

Following the election of Biden, Netanyahu tweeted his congratulations to the president-elect while Trump was still contesting the outcomes, though he waited for weeks for a return call after  Biden entered office. Within the book, Netanyahu doesn’t reply to Trump’s profane remarks concerning the prime minister’s outreach to the president-elect — as detailed in a recent book by Israeli journalist Barak Ravid — but acknowledges that it “elicited the ire of President Trump, who to today believes” that he was the primary foreign leader to achieve this. 

Netanyahu writes that despite a fraught relationship with Obama he enjoyed a detailed friendship with then-Vice President Biden and appreciated his frankness. Biden often repeated a line he once told Netanyahu: “Bibi, I don’t agree with a rattling thing you needed to say, but I like you.”

“On many occasions the sensation was mutual,” Netanyahu writes. 

Vice President Joe Biden meets with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu during a visit to Israel on March 9, 2016 Courtesy of The U.S. Embassy in Jerusalem

The Biden-Netanyahu relationship is sort of 40 years old, starting when Netanyahu first visited Washington within the early Nineteen Eighties. On Biden’s recent Israel trip, throughout the welcome ceremony at Ben-Gurion International Airport, Netanyahu was the primary dignitary Biden shook hands with after his fist bumps with other Israeli leaders, despite the White House’s earlier assertion that Biden wouldn’t shake hands with anyone due to a spike in coronavirus cases. “You recognize I like you,” Biden told Netanyahu, comments which were aired survive Israeli television

Initially of the Obama administration, as Netanyahu was facing pressure to endorse a two-state solution and resume negotiations with the Palestinians, Biden told Netanyahu he would function his backchannel ally. “You don’t have too many friends here, buddy,” Biden told Netanyahu during a gathering on the official vp’s residence on the U.S. Naval Observatory, Netanyahu writes of the conversation. “I’m the one friend you do have. So call me when you have to.” 

A yr later, as Biden visited Israel to ease tensions between Obama and Netanyahu, the then-vice president was blindsided by a plan to construct 1,600 units for Jews within the Ramat Shlomo neighborhood in East Jerusalem. Netanyahu, who immediately expressed regret concerning the move, writes that before departing Israel Biden told him in a phone call that there had been much pushback in Washington against the announcement but he “was glad” they were in a position to put the matter to bed.

“Thanks for getting my chestnuts out of the hearth,” Netanyahu quoted Biden as saying. 

Netanyahu accused the Obama administration of at all times judging him “in the more severe possible light.”

A rare admission 

Netanyahu writes that he can have struck too tough a tone with former President Bill Clinton at their first meeting in 1996. He was indignant that Clinton had interfered within the Israeli election, sending his political advisers to assist Netanyahu’s rival, Shimon Peres. 

The American president bristled at what he considered Netanyahu’s lecturing.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu meets with former U.S. President Bill Clinton on Oct. 30, 2015. Photo by Kobi Gideon/GPO

But Clinton, Netanyahu writes, also appeared to know the best way to diffuse tensions between the 2.

“Bibi, I’ve got handy it to you,” Netanyahu quotes Clinton telling him of their first phone call after his surprise upset. ‘‘We did all the pieces we could to bring you down, but you beat us fair and square.” 

Netanyahu writes that he was charmed by Clinton’s honesty. He was “refreshingly politically incorrect.”


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