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July 7, 2015

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Letter from Washington:

Berkley finds herself stuck between Obama and Netanyahu


Steve Marcus

U.S. Congresswoman Shelley Berkley, D-Nev., holds a news conference in the Palo Verde High School parking lot before a rally for Republican vice presidential candidate Paul Ryan at the school Tuesday, Aug. 14, 2012. Berkley is running for U.S. Senate against Sen. Dean Heller, R-Nev.

The spate of protests around the Muslim world over a rough and rudimentary film ridiculing the Prophet Muhammad have overshadowed another mounting international crisis that this week began to put some U.S. lawmakers in an awkward position.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has been leaning harder and harder on President Barack Obama to take a tougher stance on a nuclearizing Iran. Netanyahu has increasingly interjected his assessments of the president’s performance as Iran becomes a hotly debated issue between Obama and his challenger, Mitt Romney, on the campaign trail.

In the past week, Netanyahu demanded Obama draw a “red line” on Iran and helped fuel a rumor that the White House intentionally turned down a visit with him later this month when heads of state meet at the United Nations General Assembly. (The White House has denied that any such request was made.)

The political haymaking from Israel’s premier has pushed some Democrats to draw a line in the sand of their own.

“I am stunned by the remarks that you made this week regarding U.S. support for Israel,” California Sen. Barbara Boxer wrote in a letter to Netanyahu this week. “Are you suggesting that the United States is not Israel’s closest ally and does not stand by Israel? Are you saying that Israel, under President Obama, has not received more in annual security assistance from the United States than at any time in its history?”

While Boxer’s spirited defense of Obama made headlines, it also highlighted the relative silence coming from other Jewish Democrats in Congress with strong records on Israel, who are doing all they can to avoid taking sides — even as prominent Israelis accuse Netanyahu of taking sides against Obama in the U.S. elections.

Nevada’s Rep. Shelley Berkley falls into that category.

“I am confident that the relationship between the United States and Israel remains as strong as ever,” Berkley said in a statement to the Sun last week, when asked about the tension between Netanyahu and Obama.

Berkley struck a vastly different tone from Boxer, describing herself as “sympathetic to the immense pressure facing Prime Minister Netanyahu as he works to keep Israel safe.”

“But I also know that President Obama is a strong supporter of Israel, is committed to security in the region and will continue working to keep Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon,” Berkley added in the statement.

Berkley, like many other Democrats, lays claim to the strongest pro-Israel bona fides in Congress.

But under pressure from Republicans, Democrats recently have been tripping over themselves trying to prove their Israel allegiances. It started at the Democratic National Convention, when the party’s platform committee decided to omit language citing Jerusalem as the undivided capital of Israel. (Israel and the Palestinians both claim Jerusalem as their capital; as a result, the international community, including the United States, treats Tel Aviv as the Israeli capital, headquartering embassies there.)

Party leaders — at Berkley’s urging — later orchestrated a reinsertion of the Jerusalem language into the platform over strong and vocal opposition from Democrats who believe pressing the matter inflames Arab sentiment and compromises peacemaking efforts in the region.

But right now, that’s not the main concern — winning the election is, and when it comes to Israel, the only thing that seems to matter is which party can portray itself as a stronger ally.

That is why even those excoriating Netanyahu are still seeking his approval.

“There is no daylight between the United States and Israel. As you personally stated during an appearance with President Obama in March, ‘We are you, and you are us,’” Boxer wrote in her letter. “Thank you for that statement. I am hoping to hear that statement again.”

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  1. Ms. Demirjian,

    Respectfully, that three-way image is one I prefer not to have on this Sunday morning.


  2. Barbara Boxer said it well!!! Anyone following the Israel and Iran's nuclear issue will know Israel must take a hard stance. There's an awareness if Israel were to strike Iran, this would galvanize Arabs against Israel. More importantly this would divert attention from the Syria crisis.

    Netanyahu's motive of suggesting the Obama Administration is not aboard with Israel stinks of politics, more like interference during one the more important elections in our life time.

    Reading the tea-leaves in Washington it appears al-Qaeda, and affiliated groups, are being cornered by the relentless attacks from US drone strikes. Al-Qaeda is reaching out to anyone and anything to turn the Middle East into zone of terror.

  3. "Dozens of countries in the middle east chanting "death to America, death to Israel, death to Obama"...4 American's assassinated on 9/11 at the embassy in Lybia. This hasn't happened since Carter in 1979 ( another weak US president )."

    1983: US Embassy in Beirut bombed (17 Americans killed)
    1983: Car bomb at US Embassy in Kuwait
    1987: Car bomb at US embassy in Rome
    1990: US Embassy in Tel Aviv attack averted
    1998: US embassy in Kenya (8 americans killed)
    2002: US consulate in Karachi bombed
    2004: US Embassy in Uzbekistan bombed
    2004 US consulate in Saudi Arabia stormed by gunmen
    2006: US Embassy in Syria attacked by gunmen
    2007: US Embassy in Athens had a grenade launched into it
    2008: (Feb) US Embassy in Serbia set fire to
    2008: (Sept) US Embassy in Yemen bombed.

    Man, with so many attacks on US Embassies/consulates during the Bush years, he must have been a "weak" foreign policy president too.

    Embassies are attacked all the time, they always have been. There are daily threats against US Embassy personnel and their families. There always have been, there always will be. It's also not limited to Middle East Embassies/Consulates. It happens at Embassies in ALL countries- allies and foes alike. People picket and protest at Embassies all the time. It's the norm.

    The threats and attacks are not a reflection on foreign policy. They are carried out by a small, violent minority of people. That's why the security is so high, Marines guard them, and security drills are the norm.

    As for Israel, Romney doesn't even know the US Embassy is in Tel Av-iv because it's the capital- and not Jerusalem; why Jerusalem isn't the capital, or that the West bank isn't solely in Israel. He has no clue about the history of Israel and Palestine. Watch the interview with Wolf Blitzer. That's a foreign policy catastrophe waiting to happen if he gets in the White House.

    Finally, Obama hasn't turned his back on Israel and we are still strong as a nation. Just because we are no longer a bully, doesn't mean we aren't strong. Bullies aren't strong, they are weak. Strength in foreign policy is knowing when to use strength, and when not to.

  4. All the rhetoric about "red lines" against Iran is just that: rhetoric. Where is Netenyahu's "red line" against Iran? He hasn't drawn one. Obama drew a "red line" some time ago: (Paraphrased), "we will not allow Iran to possess nuclear weapons." There is no ambiguity in that statement.

    Iran is on the record as saying that any attack on their country by Israel will result in a massive retaliation, via missiles, (non nuclear), upon Israel. I believe what they say, and these missles would come from many angles: Hezbollah, Hamas and Iran itself.

    Israel admits that a unilateral attack on Iran would merely delay their nuclear program, not destroy it. Hence their posturing about "red lines". They know that without US participation, their attack would fail in its purpose: destroying Iran's nuclear aspirations.

    The willingness of many commentators on this blog to engage in yet another war in the middle east is breathtaking. Especially from those who would have no "skin" in the game. How many of you would enlist to fight this war? Would all of you support a return to national military conscription? It would have to happen to have any chance of winning a ground war in Iran. Would all of you support use of nuclear weapons by the US against Iran? The consequences of that are unimaginable.

    Mr. Netanyahu will not be drawing his country's own "red line" for now. He should remove himself from our politics and quit trying to shape the presidential election for his own selfish reasons.