Bibi’s Wedge In Action at AIPAC

There will be tons of insta-reaction to Benjamin Netanyahu’s speech to Congress today, even from the Democratic Members who have decided to find somewhere else to be. But the big-picture perspective on the event won’t change: an Israeli Prime Minister has chosen to embroil his government in U.S. partisan politics and Americans in Israeli partisan politics, and whether it “works” or not in inspiring congressional opposition to a future deal with Iran, there will be consequences.

The pressures Bibi is creating are threatening some really old conventions, as WaPo’s Dana Milbank notes in his take on yesterday’s session at AIPAC featuring Netanyahu and U.S. Ambassador to the UN Samantha Power:

A slide projected onto the wall at the American Israel Public Affairs Committee gathering Monday contained a warning to delegates: “AIPAC is Bipartisan,” it said, next to an image of a Democratic donkey and Republican elephant in boxing gear. “Check your gloves at the door.”

They checked their gloves, all right — but less to practice bipartisanship than to pummel the Obama administration with bare knuckles. In the brawl between President Obama and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu over Iran nuclear negotiations, AIPAC has joined congressional Republicans in siding wholeheartedly with the Israeli hard-liner….

The AIPAC delegates left no doubt where they stood as they listened to speeches at the Washington convention center Monday morning by Netanyahu and by an Obama administration representative, U.N. Ambassador Samantha Power. The transcript will show that they applauded Netanyahu 59 times in his 22-minute speech, compared with 34 times during Power’s 30-minute address. But that doesn’t reflect the rapturous nature of the reception for Netanyahu (who got an 80-second standing ovation, with thousands of phones raised to take photos, on either end of his speech) and the polite but tepid response to Power (who received a perfunctory 18 seconds)….

AIPAC delegates had to be warned to be nice to Power. A slide flashed on the wall featured Casper the Friendly Ghost and the message: “Don’t boo! Be Friendly.” Just before Power took the stage, the announcer admonished attendees to “be sure to treat all of our speakers and fellow delegates as guests in our home.”

AIPAC has an awful lot invested in its reputation for bipartisanship, particularly when it comes to parting ways with the majority of American Jews who are Democrats, not to mention the roughly half of Israelis who aren’t fond of Netanyahu. The organization also likes to work quietly; there’s been absolutely nothing quiet about Bibi’s trip to Washington, and it’s unclear how quickly, if ever, U.S.-Israeli relations will get back to normal when he returns to Israel hoping to cash in on his American allies’ efforts with a brisk sprint to reelection.

Ed Kilgore

Ed Kilgore, a Monthly contributing editor, is a columnist for the Daily Intelligencer, New York magazine’s politics blog, and the managing editor for the Democratic Strategist.