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Congress and Israel Against Obama and Kerry

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Netanyahu speaking at the Jewish Federation of North America
(Image by Amos Ben Gershon for GPO/Flash. Jewish Telegraph Agency.)
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This week, two intrepid American Jewish journalists, Richard Silverstein and MJ Rosenberg, reminded somnolent Americans that Israel's Benjamin Netanyahu has declared diplomatic war against the White House.

It is not a new war. What is different this time is that Israel's leader has openly enlisted the U.S. Congress in his campaign.

It is that simple, Congress and Israel on one side; Barack Obama and John Kerry on the other. On his website, Tikun Olan, Silverstein explains why this is a different level for this diplomatic war.

The Obama administration proposes to soften "some parts of the anti-Iran sanctions regime" in order to reach a workable nuclear agreement with Iran. The Israeli government has a different scenario in mind for Iran. It wants war. President Obama, John Kerry, and the American people do not want another Middle East war.

This is open diplomatic warfare, not the usual back room maneuver of Israeli lobbyists slipping copies of pro-Israel legislation to congressional staff members.

Israel's Iranian marching orders to the U.S. Congress have been issued: Squeeze the Iranian economy with even harsher sanctions.

This new diplomatic warfare surfaced this week at a meeting of the U.S. Senate Banking committee, where, the New York Times reports:

"Secretary of State John Kerry and Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. pressed senators on Wednesday to give the Obama administration some breathing room to reach an accord with Iran to freeze its nuclear programs, warning that a new round of sanctions could mean war instead of diplomacy."

Right on cue, one Republican member of the Banking Committee, Illinois Republican Senator Mark Kirk, openly embraced Israel's side in delicate U.S. negotiations to secure a nuclear agreement with Iran. Silverstein writes:

"Sen. Mark Kirk was even more forceful in criticizing the [U.S.] officials' presentation:...'It was fairly anti-Israeli,' Kirk said to reporters after the briefing. 'I was supposed to disbelieve everything the Israelis had just told me, and I think the Israelis probably have a pretty good intelligence service.' He said the Israelis had told him that the 'total changes proposed set back the program by 24 days.'"

Silverstein is troubled by this dependence on Israeli sources. He continues:

"There are a number of very troubling issues here: first, that Israel's government has taken upon itself to lobby intensively for policies opposed by the current administration; second, that U.S. senators would readily attend such lobbying sessions with foreign government officials and use the briefing material offered them in order to shape their own views; third, that a U.S. senator would admit that he'd been briefed, even indirectly, by a foreign intelligence service; fourth, that a U.S. senator believes the Mossad's views about the Iranian nuclear program represent those of a 'pretty good intelligence service.'"

BuzzFeed reported that Sen. Kirk drew parallels between Nazi Germany and Iran, the British and the U.S.

"'Today is the day I witnessed the future of nuclear war in the Middle East,' Kirk said, also comparing the administration to Neville Chamberlain, the British prime minister who signed away the Sudetenland to Hitler's Germany in 1938. 'How do you define an Iranian moderate? An Iranian who is out of bullets and out of money.'"

Bad joke, Senator. It even falls below AIPAC's standard. This is not a time for a U.S. senator to undercut two important peace-oriented Obama-Kerry initiatives.

A well-known political adage speaks of foreign policy stopping at the nation's water edge. The adage has many incarnations, the earliest of which may have originated in 1814 with Daniel Webste r's "Even our party divisions, acrimonious as they are, cease at the water's edge."

Senator Kirk would do well to restore any version to his senatorial playbook.

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James Wall is currently a Contributing Editor of The Christian Century magazine, based in Chicago, Illinois. From 1972 through 1999, he was editor and publisher of the Christian Century magazine. Many sources have influenced Jim's writings over (more...)

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