Last week, after President Obama protested an Israeli decision to build 1,300 new apartments in a disputed section of Jerusalem, the deputy speaker of the Israeli Knesset rebuked the president and reminded him that, well, elections have consequences:
“President Obama has apparently not yet internalized the results of last week’s elections in the United States,” Danny Danon said. “Israel can and should build without any restrictions in our undivided capital of Jerusalem. I commend Prime Minister Netanyahu for ignoring the unreasonable demands of some US administrations officials.”
Clearly, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his colleagues feel emboldened enough by the results of this month’s midterm elections to defy Obama’s efforts. More remarkable still, Republican officials here at home are encouraging Netanyahu to do exactly that.
Last week, U.S. Rep. Eric Cantor of Virginia, the incoming House majority leader, met privately with Netanyahu for an hour. Afterward, Cantor’s office released a statement describing the discussion:
“Eric stressed that the new Republican majority will serve as a check on the administration and what has been, up until this point, one-party rule in Washington. He made clear that the Republican majority understands the special relationship between Israel and the United States, and that the security of each nation is reliant upon the other.”
In other words, Cantor told Netanyahu, the leader of a foreign country, that he and his fellow Republicans have his back against their mutual opponent, President Obama. It is a message intended to directly undercut the president’s traditional and constitutional authority in the conduct of foreign policy. (Cantor’s office has since disputed that reading of its statement, but I find it hard to interpret any other way.)
As Ron Kampeas of the JTA (Jewish Telegraphic Agency, a global Jewish news agency) describes it:
“I can’t remember an opposition leader telling a foreign leader, in a personal meeting, that he would side, as a policy, with that leader against the president. Certainly, in statements on one specific issue or another — building in Jerusalem, or some such — lawmakers have taken the sides of other nations. But to have-a-face to face and say, in general, we will take your side against the White House — that sounds to me extraordinary.”
It sounds extraordinary to me as well. It’s dangerous, both to the success of U.S. foreign policy and to the long-term relationship between Israel and the United States. If, as Danon suggests, the 2010 American midterms should be read as a referendum on blind U.S. support for Israel, should future Democratic successes then be read as a rejection or weakening of U.S. support for Israel?
That is the dynamic that Danon, Cantor, Netanyahu and others are setting in motion, and it bodes well for nobody involved.
Furthermore, as Adam Serwer points out, Cantor was highly critical of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi for merely meeting with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.
“Several leading legal authorities have made the case that her recent diplomatic overtures ran afoul of the Logan Act, which makes it a felony for any American ‘without authority of the United States’ to communicate with a foreign government to influence that government’s behavior on any disputes with the United States.”
That would seem to describe Cantor’s behavior rather precisely.
(This post has been edited and updated.)