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Further Reflections on Bibi’s Speech and His Friends

Not mentioned in most news reports about Netanyahu’s speech was that key guests at the address included Republican mega-donor Sheldon Adelson and neoconservative ideologue Bill Kristol.

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It’s been an intense week highlighted by Netanyahu’s eagerly anticipated speech before a joint session of Congress, minus at least 57 members. That was followed by the procedural overreach of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and then by CNN’s breaking story that Bibi’s chief Democratic champion in the Senate, Robert Menendezwill soon be indicted on corruption charges. Although the Bibi bubble seemed to burst (or at least disappear) once he had left town, the latter two events may have made the week a net negative for proponents of negotiations-sabotaging legislation, assuming that the P5+1 and Iran succeed in forging a framework agreement on Tehran’s nuclear program by or about March 24.

There were many things that were irritating about Bibi’s speech, not least his use of Elie Wiesel (and thus the Nazi Holocaust) as a stage prop. The particular circumstances were, of course, heavy with irony, not least Netanyahu’s invocation of the Book of Esther (which ends with the slaughter of 75,000 gentiles at the behest of the Jewish heroine—a detail conveniently omitted by the prime minister).

Another key guest in the gallery seats close to Wiesel went unmentioned—Sheldon Adelson. The multi-billionaire has offered his own plan for dealing with Iran’s nuclear program: halt negotiations; demonstrate the destructive impact of a nuclear weapon by exploding one in a theoretically uninhabited Iranian desert; if the regime doesn’t then surrender their program, detonate another in the heart of Tehran. What, one wonders, would Wiesel say to that? (Especially in view of his participation in the utterly repulsive campaign of Rabbi Schmuley Boteach whose most recent full-page New York Times ad’s headline was: “Susan Rice has a blind spot: Genocide – Both the Jewish people’s and Rwanda’s.”)

Adelson’s presence provoked Bill Moyers to write a trenchant commentary about the state of U.S. politics today, focusing on a very important point contained in its title: “Netanyahu Speaks, Money Talks.” The essence:

There you have it: Not only is this casino mogul the unofficial head of the Republican Party in America (“he with the gold rules”), he is the uncrowned King of Israel — David with a printing press and checkbook instead of a slingshot and a stone. All of this came to the fore in Netanyahu’s speech on Tuesday: the US cannot determine its own policy in the Middle East and the majority in Congress are under the thumb of a foreign power.

A related must-read article, “The Nexus of Binyamin Netanyahu, Sheldon Adelson, and the Nonprofit Sector,” appeared this week on the eve of Netanyahu’s speech in the Nonprofit Quarterly. It stressed Adelson’s chairmanship of the Republican Jewish Coalition “whose huge board includes Adelson plus Home Depot founder Bernard Marcus, homebuilder Larry Mizel, former Hawaiian governor Linda Lingle, and former Bush administration officials Ari Fleischer and Josh Bolten.” It also noted that Adelson had reportedly financed Boteach’s unsuccessful run for Congress with more than $500,000 and his convening last year of likely Republican presidential candidates at his Venetian resort hotel in Las Vegas “to vet their attitudes toward Israel,” the so-called “Adelson primary.”

It all goes to show that in addition to having contributed reportedly (with his wife Miriam) as much as $150 million in campaign contributions during the 2012 election cycle and gearing up for another massive campaign finance commitment in the 2016 election, Sheldon Adelson through nonprofit and quasi-nonprofit vehicles has tentacles that reach from American politics into Israeli politics too, setting the stage for Netanyahu’s controversial speech and exacting a political price from those who might see it as improper.

Also in the gallery, sitting two rows behind Wiesel and a little to the left was Bill Kristol whose Weekly Standard blog published a real howler after Bibi’s speech (“Iran’s Deadly Strategy”), which, among other assertions, insisted that the “fanatical Mullahs who rule Iran consider Christianity (and all non-Islamic faiths) as heresies that must be eradicated.” Kristol wrote his own fawning tribute, “Speaking for Israel – And America,” which won’t do much to deflate anti-Semitic tropes about dual loyalties.

Given the sequence of events and announcements that preceded Netanyahu’s visit here, not to mention the seating arrangements in the gallery during his speech, it seems very clear that Adelson and Kristol work closely together. And, although the two of them are unlikely to have the power to choose who the 2016 Republican nominee will be, it is highly unlikely that the nominee will be someone of whom they disapprove. That means Rand Paul specifically for now; but anyone who doesn’t offer at least rhetorical support for positions taken by Bibi’s Likud Party and to its right is going to have a very difficult time getting nominated.

Meanwhile, if you want to read a really impressive analysis of Netanyahu’s appearance and motivations and the state of play and likely playing out of the P5+1 negotiations, I highly recommend a blog post by Suzanne Maloney, the Brookings Institution’s top Iran analyst, “Bibi and the Bogeyman: What Drives Opposition Is Not the Details of a Nuclear Deal, But Iran’s Rehabilitation.” (She always seems so much better grounded and consistent than her spouse and fellow-Iran expert, Ray Takeyh, who just moved from the Council on Foreign Relations to the neo-conservative Hudson Institute.) Also not to be missed this week is Gary Sick’s concise review of Bibi’s speech.

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