The Real Drama Isn’t Netanyahu in Congress, It’s Susan Rice, 'The Gladiator' in AIPAC’s Lion Den

Zealous supporters of Netanyahu are stoking the right’s resentment of the National Security Adviser who called the prime minister’s visit 'destructive.'

Chemi Shalev
Chemi Shalev
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U.S. National Security Advisor Susan Rice in Washington, December 2, 2014.
U.S. National Security Advisor Susan Rice in Washington, December 2, 2014. Credit: Reuters
Chemi Shalev
Chemi Shalev

Forget Prime Minister Netanyahu’s address on Monday morning before thousands of enthusiastic delegates at the 2015 AIPAC Conference. Ignore, for a minute, his controversial speech before hundreds of cheering Senators and Congressmen and women the following day. The dramatic pinnacle of the Prime Minister’s 48-hour visit might very well take place in his absence, between his two public appearances, when National Security Adviser Susan Rice takes to the podium on Monday evening at the Washington Conference Center where AIPAC is convening: that’s where the blockbuster confrontation could take place, potentially eclipsing the rest.

Because unlike Netanyahu, who will be largely preaching to the converted, Rice will be facing an audience that will be wary, at best, disgruntled, angry and spoiling for a fight, at worst. For them, Rice has become the embodiment of President Obama’s supposed hostility to Israel, especially after she described Netanyahu’s visit as “destructive.” AIPAC officials, no doubt aware of the potential fallout from a nasty reception for Rice, will undoubtedly call on her audience to show respect and restraint, but they are facing pockets of burning resentment which is now being stoked and fed by some of Netanyahu’s more zealous supporters.

Thus, the Zionist Organization of America (ZOA) - a group that has enjoyed generous contributions from Sheldon Adelson - described Rice’s remarks in a newsletter as “outrageous” and “hostile”, urging AIPAC members to “search their souls” about whether she should be invited to speak at their conference at all. “Does it bring honor to the Jewish people they claim to represent – or is it humiliating and wrong?”

Far more extreme - appalling, in fact - is the full page ad published on Saturday in the New York Times by Our World, a group run by “Kosher Sex Rabbi” Shmuley Boteach – another beneficiary of Adelson’s financial largesse – which shows Rice’s face side by side with human skulls. Recalling a controversial statement made by Rice during the 1994 Rwandan genocide, the ad states: “Susan Rice has a blind spot: Genocide – Both the Jewish people’s and Rwanda’s.”

To sweeten the intentionally or unintentionally provocative pill of dispatching Rice to the conference, the administration decided to add Samantha Power, her successor as U.S. ambassador, to the speaker list. Power – who ironically has maintained close ties to Boteach – is currently popular with Jewish audiences because of her record at the United Nations, as Rice was when she was UN envoy: the Anti-Defamation League’s Abe Foxman said back then that she defends Israel like a “gladiator.” But that was before she was appointed National Security Adviser and became a fierce defender of her President’s honor, including and perhaps most ardently against his Israeli and Jewish detractors. Thus the stage is being set for the Monday night thriller in which Rice is cast as a lioness in a lion’s den, the Caesar’s gladiator sent to do battle in a seething Jewish coliseum.

Any incident during Rice’s speech could hamper AIPAC’s ongoing effort to shield Congressional bipartisan support for Israel from the fallout of Netanyahu’s speech and possibly cast a shadow on its latest achievement, uncovered over the weekend by Josh Rogin at Bloomberg. According to his report, five Republican and five Democratic senators continue to co-sponsor the “Iran Nuclear Agreement Review Act of 2015” which would impose a 60 day moratorium during which the Senate could review – and possibly vote against – any nuclear deal with Iran.

According to some American observers, Netanyahu can credit himself with another political achievement: saving his host, House Speaker John Boehner, from a humiliating defeat at hand of the unruly right wing faction of his House Republican majority, which refused to approve a budget for the Department of Homeland Security. Approaching a Friday midnight deadline that would have shut down the department and sent the House into marathon efforts to solve the problem, Boehner was forced to rely on the support of his Democratic rivals and of the winning argument that seemed to sway enough Republicans to join them in approving a stopgap measure that keeps the DHS open for another week: that it is unseemly for Republicans to receive their hero Netanyahu with homeland security abandoned, Congress stuck at a dead end and Boehner publicly shamed.

All the while, though, the onslaught against Netanyahu continues unabated, from all the usual suspects as well as from unexpected quarters, in genuinely unprecedented harsh language: Democratic Congressman Lloyd Doggett of Texas blasted Boehner’s “taxpayer-funded, pre-election pep rally for Netanyahu” and called the prime minister’s policies on Iran “misguided”; New Jersey’s largest newspaper, the Star-Ledger, penned an editorial entitled “Benjamin Netanyahu Should Lose”; Foreign Policy Editor David Rothkopf criticized the administration’s Iran negotiations but lambasted Netanyahu’s "well-cultivated impression of a volcano spewing righteous indignation."

And Robert Kagan, a Brookings Institute scholar who is considered one of the fathers of neoconservative ideology, criticized Netanyahu’s “extraordinary” invitation, on the grounds that it sets a precedent that demeans and dilutes the internal political debate in the U.S. But he also made clear that Israel would pay a price as well: “I will leave it to the Israeli government and people to worry about what damage the prime minister’s decision could have on U.S.-Israeli relations going forward, and not just under this administration,” he wrote.

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