The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Israeli Elections, Pt. 5
Welcome back to this fine educational family feature. I apologize for the long time since the last post, but there were people shoving money at me and the bills don’t pay themselves.
As can be expected from the first half of the last month of the campaign, there has been much going on, from Bibi’s personal housing troubles to a scathing report by the State Comptroller about the performance of Bibi, and the administration before him, in handling Israel’s oppressive housing price bubble. Housing prices have doubled over the last decade while wages, of course, have come nowhere near that level of growth, leaving people to spend ever more of their income just to keep a roof over their heads. Bibi’s initial reaction, via Twitter, was priceless: “While we talk about the cost of living, I do not for one moment forget life itself. The greatest challenge to our very lives is a nuclear Iran.” And surely, comrades, you don’t want Jones to get the bomb!
All this (and the hilarious 20 minute video in which Bibi’s wife shows a celebrity designer how shabby and not at all extravagant and out of touch the official residence supposedly is [she showed him mostly the work and staff spaces, not the plusher upstairs living quarters]) deserves a post of its own. But as tomorrow is the Bibull in the China Shop show, it is more urgent to say a few words about the speech, Iran and the dread Ayatollah Nuke.
The Great Speech Theory of History
As for the speech, there is a simple point which I feel is overlooked: The line pushed by those who support the speech is currently: Whatever you feel about how the speech was handled, the issue is too important to let that get in the way. But the reality is that the whole point of this speech is to convince Congress to go against White House policy on the issue, and so the how becomes crucial. Netanyahu is far from ignorant of American politics, even if his conceptions of it belong somewhere in the early 90s at the latest. He knows that Republicans alone cannot win it for him.
Sure, theoretically they have majorities in both chambers and can push through a bill rejecting the as-yet undeclared Iran deal (ignoring for the sake of argument that the Democrats in the Senate can stall anything they want to enough). President Obama has promised to veto such a bill. So you need two thirds in each chamber to overcome that. That means a lot of Democrats. By conniving with Speaker John Boehner to engineer the invitation to speak before Congress as a dis of the White House, timed to steal Obama’s positive domestic momentum, and later by dissing an invitation from Democratic lawmakers to explain himself to them, Netnayahu has made it absolutely impossible to find enough Democrats to agree to overturn a Democratic President’s veto on on issue that has been purposely turned into a partisan pissing contest.
There are two main ways to explain Netanyahu’s insistence in the face of all this:
1) He has a romantic, not to say magical, belief in the power of a speech (not just any speech, but one by his own Winston-Reincarnated self) to overcome the stark political considerations laid above. It’s not the information he has to offer – that can and is disseminated to lawmakers on an individual basis with no need for a public showdown with the administration. Rather, he expects that the impact of the spectacle will be such that Democratic lawmakers will be left with no choice but to ride the overwhelming popular sentiment created by The Speech.
2) He knows that the actual effort will fail. Bibi (as well as many others, of course) has been talking about the danger of a nuclear-armed Iran for over a decade now. Each year has been the crucial, fateful, make-or-break year on the issue, coming and going without making or breaking, only for the following year to be declared the one over and over again. Now, personally I believe that while it’s necessary to take steps against such a development, ultimately it’s useless to try to prevent a country like Iran from getting nuclear weapons if it really wants them. Iran is too populous, educated and rich a country for that. I know all about their economic problems but the regime has and always will have enough cash at its disposal. If dirt-poor, less advanced Pakistan can get a bomb, you’re not stopping the #2 petrol giant in the world from getting one. Not forever anyway.
The Cassandra Gambit
So, to return to the mighty orator, he knows that either a deal with Iran or Iran finally crossing the whatever technical threshold is now inevitable. He does not expect his speech to move enough Democrats to block the deal. He will ignore the fact that it was inevitable anyway, and position himself as the unheeded prophet of doom (glossing over the fact that he failed in six years at the helm in preventing said inevitability, despite selling himself in both elections as the only man for this specific job). Finally, He will ignore that, Iran’s breakthrough having been inevitable with or without the deal, the deal will mean the difference between the same danger with and without an inspection and early-warning regime. What’s important is that someday Iran will have the bomb, be it officially acknowledged or like Israel, on an everyone knows “obscurity” basis, and Bibi will be able to run around, his few remaining hairs blowing Cassandra-like in the breeze, and bray: TOLDJA!
And domestically? There’s a narrow plurality, within the margin of error, for those in favor of the speech here in Israel over those who oppose it (47%-42% I think). Problem is the issue itself ranks low on the “give-a-shit-meter” for most Israeli voters. So any expectation that this will deliver an extra seat or two that will seal a win seems farfetched to this humble observer.
That leads us, finally, to Netanyahu’s belated and panicking reaction to the fact that the America of 2015 is not the one he’s always prided himself on knowing so intimately, the one that is “very easy to move,” as he once bragged. Netanyahu apparently agrees with the more triumphalist demographic projections on the left, foreseeing a growing Democratic majority and a diminishing commitment to supporting Israel at all costs among young Americans – both the Jewish minority and the population in general. There have been reports that Bibi has “written off’ Obama. The way this speech has been handled, if we insist on ascribing it to more than a clusterfuck that got out of hand, implies that it’s not just Obama the PM has written off, but also the half or so of America that he represents. That’s a thought to drive many people to drink.
I hope to write a separate campaign update, but while you devise a drinking game for for PM Oratoryahu’s great speech*, keep the above in mind. Thank you for hitching and please comment or donate before you leave.
* (Yeah, I clikbaited. Make up your own. Key words: Holocaust (+ any reference by date or euphemism), Jewish, Right to defend)