Playing the Holocaust card could backfire on Netanyahu

When Benjamin Netanyahu waved copies of the 1944 exchange of letters between the World Jewish Congress and the Roosevelt State Department and said the United States rejected Jewish pleas to bomb Auschwitz, he was drawing a parallel between the Islamists who rule Iran and the Nazis who controlled Germany seven decades ago.

The Israeli prime minister wanted to leave no doubt about his willingness to attack Iranian nuclear facilities, because he is convinced that country is building weapons to carry out its threat to wipe the Jewish state off the map, and he doesn’t care what anyone says.

By invoking the Holocaust, however, he was undercutting his own argument that the Iranian threat is not a Jewish issue but a global threat.

“My friends, 2012 is not 1944,” Netanyahu told the AIPAC policy conference last month in Washington. “Never again will the Jewish people be powerless.” And indeed Israel is not powerless; it is a regional nuclear superpower, the only one in the neighborhood.

What Netanyahu intentionally left out and should have said was “and this is not your grandfather’s America that refused to come to the aid of the Jews in 1944.”

For more than half a century, American governments of both parties have been increasingly supportive of Israel — politically, diplomatically, financially and militarily — helping make it safe, secure and prosperous.

But the message implicit in Netanyahu’s inappropriate gesture was this: “You can’t trust the United States of America.”

His barely concealed personal antipathy toward the president of the United States was on display throughout his visit to Washington last month. He had high (deserved) praise for Congress and for some select members, and he thanked the president for his speech of support for Israel and the American government’s help for Israel.

But there was not a single kind word personally for the man who has hosted him eight times in the Oval Office. No foreign leader has made as many visits to the White House in this administration, and none has had such a rocky relationship with the president.

That was especially apparent nine days later when Britain’s Conservative Prime Minister David Cameron came to the White House. Obama joked about going to a basketball game together and how there was no need for interpreters since both spoke English, albeit with some differences.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and President Barack Obama in the White House Oval Office, March 5, 2012 photo/jta-ron kampeas

There was no such banter with Netanyahu, even though he went to high school and college in the United States and speaks colloquial American English; there is little warmth on either side, and neither seems to have much interest in warming it up.

I know Netanyahu’s supporters will blame Obama for the chill in the relationship, and it is at least partially deserved. But it should not be overlooked that Israel gets more than $3.1 billion a year from U.S. taxpayers plus top-level technology and weapons, intelligence cooperation and diplomatic backing, such as the president’s personal campaign to block the Palestinians’ bid for United Nations recognition and much more.

And it shouldn’t be overlooked that Netanyahu seems to have a one-sided view of the U.S.-Israel alliance: The administration must support all of his policies, while he feels no need to support U.S. strategic interests.

The Israeli guest seemed to take pains to avoid uttering even diplomatic praise for his American host. Perhaps that was political because Netanyahu feared his words might be used by the Democrats in ads to counter the Republican efforts to make Israel a wedge issue in this year’s elections by accusing Obama of favoring the Palestinians over Israel.

That raises another troubling issue.

Netanyahu has a penchant for meddling in American politics dating back to his days at the Israeli Embassy here 30 years ago. Former U.S. Ambassador to Israel Martin Indyk said Netanyahu is “much more of a Republican than he is a Likudnik.” The PM himself once told an interviewer, “I speak Republican.”

Netanyahu sounded like a man eager to go to war and unwilling to wait for any American blessing. He has left no doubt he will strike when he decides and expects the United States to follow his lead and ask no questions.

Former Ambassador Dennis Ross wrote in “The Missing Peace,” his memoir of the Clinton years: “In the meeting with President Clinton, Netanyahu was nearly insufferable, lecturing and telling us how to deal with the Arabs. … After Netanyahu was gone, President Clinton observed, ‘He thinks he is the superpower and we are here to do whatever he requires.’ No one on our side disagreed with that assessment.”

There’s little doubt the personal relationship between Obama and Netanyahu is chilly. More troubling is Netanyahu’s one-sided view of what the U.S.-Israel alliance entails — and his dangerous penchant for meddling in American partisan politics, a bad habit that could blow up in Israel’s face.

Douglas M. Bloomfield is the president of Bloomfield Associates Inc., a Washington, D.C., lobbying and consulting firm. He spent nine years as the legislative director and chief lobbyist for AIPAC. The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Douglas M. Bloomfield

Douglas M. Bloomfield is the president of Bloomfield Associates Inc., a Washington, D.C., lobbying and consulting firm. He spent nine years as the legislative director and chief lobbyist for AIPAC.