You are using an outdated browser.
Please upgrade your browser
and improve your visit to our site.
Skip Navigation

Republicans Are Responsible for Netanyahu Now

Speaker Boehner, care to comment on his race-baiting?

Allison Shelley/Getty Images

The collusive relationship between House Speaker John Boehner and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu runs famously deep, into the well of Congress. They are aligned by shared interests in augmenting Netanyahu’s political fortunes, improving the Republican Party’s electoral viability, and sabotaging the Obama administration’s efforts to secure a multilateral agreement foreclosing an Iranian nuclear weapon for at least a decade.

So it's extremely conspicuous when one offers anything less than fulsome praise for the other, which is basically what happened when Boehner learned that Israelis had spied on the Iran negotiations, and passed information thus gleaned to members of Congress, in hopes of sinking the nuclear deal.

“I was shocked by the fact that there were reports in this press article that information was being passed on from the Israelis to members of Congress,” Boehner told reporters on Tuesday. “I’m not aware of that at all…. I’m not sure what the information was, but I’m baffled by it.”

Note the object of Boehner’s amazement. Not the tight-lipped Obama administration, for leaving members of Congress little choice but to turn to Israeli officials for information, but Israel itself. Since his members were presumably among those briefed, it’s natural that Boehner faces questions about this particular subterfuge. But the events of the past several weeks have conjoined Netanyahu's Likud party and the GOP so seamlessly that Boehner and other powerful Republicans share ownership of each others antics more broadly. Netanyahu’s statements in the run-up to the Israeli elections invited severe recriminations in Israel and forced him to backpedal in American media. But for inexplicable reasons, his closest abettors in the U.S. haven’t been asked to account for them.

For the purposes of U.S.-Israeli relations, the most important thing Netanyahu said last week was that he wouldn't allow a Palestinian state to form for the entirety of his coming term. But for the purposes of testing political bedfellowships, his most revelatory comment was a clarion call to supporters that “Arabs are voting in droves.” Though a two-state solution has been U.S. policy for years, it’s hard to find evidence that this position has much backin in the Republican Party these days. When Netanyahu gave away the game out of political expediency, Republicans were basically fine with it.

But the specter Netanyahu raised, of Arabs voting by the busload, can’t be easily excused or embraced because it was transparently racist—or, if you prefer, a transparent pander to outright racists—and for the same reason, it can’t be swept under the rug, either.

To the extent that Republicans have addressed it even obliquely, they’ve done so by echoing John Podhoretz…

…arguing essentially that political candidates should get a pass for talking trash in the closing days of their campaigns.

Political rhetoric does indeed become more pitched as elections approach, and the system tolerates it to some extent. But we know Republicans don’t actually believe a heightened standard of tolerance should apply to racially fraught statements, because they go to great lengths to submerge these kinds of racial appeals in their own campaigns, or leave them in the hands of surrogates. Mitt Romney didn’t use Netanyahu-like tactics in November 2012 because they would have backfired badly. But he also knew that rest of the right had done a more-than-adequate job depressing minority turnout with restrictive voting laws and warning whites that ACORN-like groups were stealing the election with bribes and impersonation fraud. 

This happens every election cycle in the U.S., in a way that leaves actual candidates enough deniability to disclaim the ensuing racial controversies. But in their reluctance to criticize Netanyahu, Republicans are exhibiting a new degree of comfort with outright race baiting that deserves sustained attention. John Boehner seems uncomfortable with his members conspiring with foreign agents to shape U.S. foreign policy. How would he feel if one of those members scared up votes by robocalling white people to warn them that minorities were swarming the polls?