Bibi Bother

Netanyahu's Strategy in Washington

Obama meets with Netanyahu at the White House in Washington, October 1, 2014. Kevin Lamarque / Courtesy Reuters

Nearly everyone (apart from Congressional Republicans) seems to believe that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is making a mistake in refusing to cancel his March 3 address to the U.S. Congress. In Israeli newspapers, veteran political columnists have expressed their disapproval with characteristic bluntness. Meir Dagan, the former Mossad director, accused the prime minister of pursuing “destructive” policies that undermine Israel’s security. Jewish-American journalists who usually express pro-Israel opinions are appalled that the prime minister has put them in the position of having to choose between loyalty to the Democratic Party (the majority of American Jews are Democrats) and Israel.

But Netanyahu won’t cancel, and there was never any chance that he would. He faces a national election on March 17; if he were to back down now, he would lose face with his core voters. He would also give the lie to his assertion, made repeatedly and with great vehemence, that he has a “sacred duty” to speak for the Jewish people about the danger that Iran’s nuclear program poses to Israel. And he would also jeopardize his alliance with the small group of fantastically wealthy Republican donors who have become some of his most important supporters.

The most prominent among these is Sheldon Adelson, the American casino billionaire. Adelson, who is a major donor to Republican and Israel-oriented causes and institutions. Adelson, who (together with his wife), donated approximately $350 million to Republican candidates in 2014,  circumvented Israel’s draconian campaign donor laws by establishing his own pro-Netanyahu newspaper, Israel HaYom, which is a free daily that has become among the most widely-read newspapers in the country. Its editorial line is so unswervingly pro-Netanyahu that, in Israel, it is commonly referred to as the “Bibiton,” a portmanteau of the prime minister’s widely-used nickname, Bibi, and “iton,” the Hebrew word for newspaper.

Israel has for decades been a bipartisan political issue in U.S. domestic politics. Netanyahu is the first Israeli prime minister to align himself overtly with the Republicans, and

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