If Bernie Sanders wins the Democratic nomination, expect Benjamin Netanyahu to act more like Donald Trump’s running mate than an impartial observer.
Israel’s prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, announced on Tuesday that he plans to name a new illegal settlement in the occupied Golan Heights in honor of Donald Trump, to thank the American president for agreeing to overlook the unlawful nature of Israel’s annexation of the territory seized from Syria in 1967.
PM Netanyahu will present to the government a resolution calling for naming a new community in the Golan Heights after @POTUS Donald Trump, as a token of appreciation for his recognition of Israel's eternal sovereignty over the Golan. pic.twitter.com/buGR93lAob— Ofir Gendelman (@ofirgendelman) April 23, 2019
Netanyahu made his announcement during a Passover holiday trip to the Golan Heights, accompanied by his wife and two sons. One of the prime minister’s sons, Yair, spent part of the holiday taunting Palestinian refugees. After first posting images of the ruins of Lifta, a village outside Jerusalem Palestinians were forced to flee in 1948, following attacks by Jewish militias, Yair Netanyahu argued on Twitter that Mark Twain’s account of his trip to Palestine in 1867, “Innocents Abroad,” should be treated as proof that it was “an empty land” before Zionist pioneers arrived to establish a Jewish homeland.
The naked appeal to Trump’s vanity — proposing to add his name to the map of the Middle East even as it disappears from apartment buildings in New York — came as Israeli officials expressed alarm that the American president had not yet done enough to sabotage the Iran nuclear deal.
Colin Kahl, who was former Vice President Joe Biden’s national-security adviser when the deal was being negotiated, said on Tuesday that he had heard those concerns in person. “In Israel last month, people close to Netanyahu told me their top objective was to encourage Trump to pressure Iran to the point that it exits the nuclear deal so it can’t be put back together by a Democratic administration in 2021,” Kahl wrote on Twitter.
The White House announced on Monday that it could soon impose sanctions on nations that continue to buy oil from Iran, which, along with European Union nations, Russia, and China, has continued to honor the 2015 international agreement granting it economic relief in return for agreeing not to pursue nuclear weapons.
Lets keep cranking up pressure on Iran for giving up nuclear weapons. Super smart.— Aaron Stein (@aaronstein1) April 22, 2019
Netanyahu’s aides have watched anxiously, Haaretz reported on Tuesday, as several leading contenders for the Democratic presidential nomination — including Sens. Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren, and Kamala Harris — have expressed support for reversing Trump’s decision to withdraw from the deal should they succeed him.
“We have to get others to walk away because the deal is still alive,” Israel’s American-born ambassador to Washington, Ron Dermer, said last month at the American Israel Public Affairs Committee conference. The prospect of Trump’s successor rejoining the deal, he added, “is something that has to be seen as totally unacceptable.”
Dermer, who was a Republican political operative working with Newt Gingrich before emigrating to Israel, helped engineer two of Netanyahu’s most blatant previous attempts to intervene in American politics.
In 2015, as the Obama administration worked feverishly to negotiate the deal with Iran, Dermer arranged for the House Republican leadership to invite Netanyahu to speak against it to a joint session of Congress. That event, Dermer told AIPAC last month, was “my proudest day that I’ve had as ambassador of Israel to the United States.” One current presidential candidate, the former Texas Congressperson Beto O’Rourke, was among the Democrats who boycotted Netanyahu’s speech. O’Rourke subsequently praised the Iran deal as “almost a miracle of modern diplomacy.”
Dermer also helped organize Mitt Romney’s visit to Israel in 2012, during which the Republican nominee was embraced by his old friend Netanyahu. In the closing stages of that campaign, Netanyahu attacked President Barack Obama’s foreign policy in a television commercial that was produced by John McLaughlin, an American political consultant who went on to mastermind the Israeli prime minister’s re-election this year.
McLaughlin, who also works for Trump, told a far-right Swiss magazine last week that “sometimes God lets the good guys win.” Asked about the 2020 election, McLaughlin said that if the Democrats nominate Sanders, “Donald Trump will crush him.”
If Sanders does secure the Democratic nomination, there is good reason to believe that Netanyahu might take a personal interest in trying to help Trump defeat him.
Sanders, who would be the first Jewish president of the United States, was asked by a young Jewish activist on Monday during a CNN town hall if his outspoken criticism of Netanyahu would damage relations with Israel should he be elected.
“As a young man, at your age, I spent a number of months in Israel — I worked on a kibbutz for a while. I have family in Israel. I am not anti-Israel,” Sanders replied. “But the fact of the matter is that Netanyahu is a right-wing politician who I think is treating the Palestinian people extremely unfairly.”
After a burst of applause from the audience, Sanders added, “The United States gives billions of dollars in military aid to Israel. What I believe is not radical. I just believe that the United States should deal with the Middle East on a level playing field basis. In other words, the goal must be to try to bring people together and not just support one country, which is now run by a right-wing, you know, dare I say, racist government.”
The applause in the hall as Sanders called for fair treatment of the Palestinians was treated as a scandal in the far-right media bubble, but resonated with progressive Palestinian and Jewish viewers.
Check out the sustained applause from the Democratic base when Bernie stands up for Palestinian humanity.— Yonah Lieberman ? (@YonahLieberman) April 23, 2019
“The fact of the matter is that Netanyahu is a right wing politician who I think is treating the Palestinian people extremely unfairly.” ??????pic.twitter.com/bZqaFYtjDz
Updated: Wednesday, April 24, 6:26 a.m.
The headline on this article was revised to better reflect the news that Israel’s prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, plans to name a new settlement in the occupied Golan Heights after President Donald Trump.