Lost in Translation: Israeli Consensus on Iran is a Myth

The recent nuclear deal reached between the world powers and Iran has been overwhelmingly denounced in Israel. With the noble exception of past security establishment high-ups and academic experts, the public debate has by and large claimed that the agreement is bad. While even residents of Mars were aware that Benjamin Netanyahu is vehemently opposed to the deal, many seemed surprised that the heads of his opposition also criticized the agreement.
Yitzhak Herzog, the head opposition, called the agreement “bad for Israel’s security both now and in the future”, while Yair Lapid, chairman of the centrist Yesh Etid party, blasted it as a “terrible agreement”. Even the head of dovish Meretz, Zehava Galon, stated that there are “holes” in the agreement while making an appearance on Israeli Channel 2. These negative comments originating from the Israeli left of center have led those opposing the agreement on Capitol Hill to claim they have support across the Israeli political spectrum.
In a video address to American Jewish leaders last week Netanyahu stated that “This is simply not a partisan issue in Israel… it shouldn’t be in the US either”. AIPAC who’s fighting the agreement on Capitol Hill posted a Facebook statues that read “Across the political spectrum, ‪#‎Israel‘s leaders are united in opposing the ‪#‎BadIranDeal”. These statements are misleading, though, and miss the mark on a crucial part of Israeli discourse regarding the nuclear deal. There is a wide Israeli consensus that the agreement is bad, but not that Netanyahu’s clash with Obama is good.
While calling the agreement “bad for Jews” in a Yedihot Aharonot op-ed, Lapid goes on to blame the result of the agreement on Netanyahu, calling it “the worst foreign policy failure of any prime minister since the establishment of the state”. Lapid claims that Netanyahu for years sold the Israeli public a myth that only he (Netanyahu) can solve the Iranian crisis, and the Yesh Atid head emphasized Bibi’s “Republican connections”, his “isolation of the the Democratic Party”, and his bad relations with Obama as detrimental causes for Israel finding itself sidelined and unable to constructively voice its concerns on the agreement.
In tune with his party’s leader, Yesh Atid’s Ofer Shelah directly addressed the vote in congress in a long Facebook status posted July 20th. After criticizing Netanyahu’s dealing with the Obama administration in the lead-up to the agreement, Shelah adds that now, “Instead of repairing relations with the administration, [Netanyahu] is openly waging a hopeless and damaging battle on the vote in Congress”. Even Herzog, whom Netanyahu singled out in his address to Jewish American leaders as aligned on the matter, slightly differs with Netanyahu on how Israel should react. The former thinks Israel should utilize the agreement to get greater security assistance, while the latter has refused that for now. Further, Herzog along with Shelah, Lapid, Galon, and others, has voiced support for a regional approach to the Palestinian issue that would engage the “pragmatic Sunni axis” in order to achieve several goals, including creating a strong anti-Iran coalition in the region, a linkage Netanyahu is hesitant to make.
Others in the Zionist Union have come out stronger against Netanyahu’s actions. Number three on the party list, MK Shelly Yachimovich unequivocally denounced Netanyahu’s tactics, and criticized her party’s leader, Herzog, for not taking a clear stance against Netanyahu’s actions. On a status posted on her Facebook page Yachimovich claims that “the clash with President Obama, the visible meddling in American domestic affairs, the evident preference for the Republican Party, the speech in Congress that was arranged behind the White House’s back. All of those were complete failure”. With regard to what Israel should do next, Yachimovich insists, “Mistakes should not be repeated. Mistakes should be fixed”.
It is not only voices from the center-left that have spoken out against Netanyahu’s reckless Iran policies visa-a-via the US. Several media outlets interviewed Israeli President Reuven Rivlin this week to mark the first year of his presidency. Harretz claimed that Rivlin appears worried about the tensions between Obama and Netanyahu, presumably based on Rivlin’s listing of the three core principles of Israeli foreign policy as “first, relations with the U.S., second, relations with the U.S., and third, relations with the U.S.“, warning that “battles, even ones in which we are correct, that can harm the security of Israel are ones that we need to steer away from”. To the Israeli daily Maariv, Rivlin said, “The Prime Minister has waged a campaign against the U.S. as if the two sides were equal…and this is liable to hurt Israel itself”.
While AIPAC and Netanyahu have been telling American Jewry and members of Congress that their fight on Capitol Hill against the agreement is supported across the Israeli political spectrum, in reality even some lifelong Likudniks, such as Rivlin, are wary about this public clash. While Israelis tend to agree that the agreement is not great, there is no consensus on what to do next, with a sizable portion of the electorate critical of AIPAC’s and Netanyahu’s battle in Congress. These Israelis are by no means feeling more secure due to the agreement on Iran’s nuclear program, but they are deeply concerned about the low point U.S.-Israel relations have hit and are against further straining the relations via what they perceive as a useless fight on Capitol Hill. Americans advocating or lobbying against the Iran deal in the US out of a concern for Israel’s security have a right to do so, but if the justification for their opposition to the deal is a mythical Israeli consensus backing such actions, they should reconsider their stance.

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