Netanyahu Pushes Reset Button with Jewish Dems
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu may have paid a high price for his charm offensive and outreach during his ‘reset’ visit to DC. After appearing hoarse at the Jewish Federations of North America’s General Assembly and the Center for American Progress, the Prime Minister cleared most of his schedule on Wednesday to deal with the possible flu.
Nonetheless, the outreach and change of tone he demonstrated on his visit to DC this week has allowed Netanyahu to change the perception of him in dealing with the U.S. administration on policy, or at least make American Jews feel comfortable with their support of Israel in challenging times.
On Tuesday, during the Q&A at the Center for American Progress, Netanyahu stood his ground on policy. But he did indicate a change in approach. Among the attendees were former Reps. Jane Harman and Howard Berman, and AIPAC’s Howard Kohr and J Street’s Mort Halperin (the two met for the first time, in spite of being members of the same synagogue of many years); as well as David Axelrod, Howard Wolfson, Greg Rosenbaum, Matt Dorf, Rabbi Jack Moline, David Makovsky, Dan Arbel, Michael Koplow, Yarden Golan, and Jordana Cutler.
“I know that my visit here has been a source of some controversy, so I doubly appreciate the invitation,” Netanyahu told moderator Neera Tanden, the Think Tank’s president. ““I came here because I think it’s vital to understand how important it is, for me, that Israel remains an issue of bipartisan consensus. The relationship with the United States — all parts of the United States — and the American people is a strategic asset to our national security and our future.”
Earlier Tuesday, addressing the JFNA, Netanyahu stressed was that “No matter what disagreements there’s been within the Jewish community” in the debate over the Iran deal, “maintaining the unity of our people is of paramount importance. There’s only one Jewish people and only one Jewish State. Now more than ever, we must work together to unite the Jewish people and secure the Jewish state.”
“I thought he did quite well here. He wasn’t defensive. He made his point strongly, but he did it in the context of progressive values. I thought he helped himself very well,” former Congressman Howard Berman told Jewish Insider. “[Netanyahu] is a realist and he knows the Iran deal is a done deal. And, I think, for a long time, the administration was willing to talk about some of the issues, but the Prime Minister – for understandable reasons – until the fight about the deal was over, did not want to engage in that. Now, he does.”
Berman added that the sense among American Jews is that in the U.S.-Israel relationship, “things have calmed down.”
“It was very smart of him for wanting to speak here, and I was very glad that the Center didn’t go along with those who tried to prevent it,” he stated.
National Jewish Democratic Council head Greg Rosenbaum told reporters, “I thought it was an extremely important dialogue as part of a process to make sure we healed the wounds in the Jewish community and progressive community that were broken wide open by the Iran question.”
“I was quite pleased with his focus, not only in the comments that came out of the meeting with the President but his speech at JFNA and what he did here,” he told Jewish Insider.
During the hourlong conversation, Netanyahu said that he has “no disagreement” with President Obama on the Iran nuclear deal moving forward. Asked if he agrees with the Prime Minister’s assessment, U.S. Ambassador to Israel, Dan Shapiro told Jewish Insider, “About implementation, about seeing that Iran lives up to its compliance, and about knowing that we have to be prepared in case there are violations, absolutely! I think we are in similar mind.”
“We had a very serious disagreement; an honest one on an important issue, but that issue is essentially resolved – the Iran nuclear deal is going forward,” Shapiro asserted. “And all of the same commitments we have to each other – about our security, about the implementation and compliance with the Iran deal, about protecting Israel and ourselves and others from the other threats Iran poses, those are all ongoing efforts. And now we are focused, back, on doing that work together. That’s what the President and the Prime Minister did [Monday] in the Oval Office, and, I think, you could hear that in the Prime Minister’s comments in his various speeches around the issue.”
Netanyahu also did something that he’s never done in the past – he took a question from a J Street official. Mort Halperin, who serves on the J Street advisory council, asked Netanyahu about his negotiation posture and got a straight answer. Jessica Rosenblum, Director of Communications, confirmed to Jewish Insider that this was the first face-to-face encounter that a J Street officer has had with the PM in an official capacity.