It was a tale of two Israels, put on display just miles apart in the nation’s capital, in the midst of a presidential race in which Israel seem to be insistently interposing itself.
As that race goes into its last and most intense lap, two top Israeli political figures arrived here to promote dueling views on the way to deal with Iran’s nuclear threat, even as Israel’s prime minister publicly accused the Obama administration of lacking the “moral right” to constrain Israel should it decide to attack Iran.
The overlapping visits to Washington of Danny Danon, a deputy speaker of Israel’s Knesset and a rising star in the ruling Likud party, and Dan Halutz, former chief of staff of the Israel Defense Forces, may have been coincidental, but they demonstrated the manner in which voices on both sides of the Israeli debate over Iran are seeking to have an impact on American public opinion at a crucial political moment.
“We need to say in a clear way that President Obama is not a friend of Israel,” Danon told the Forward in a blunt interview September 10, even as he disclaimed any interest in involving himself in the presidential election.
Danon, who has just written a book harshly criticizing the Obama administration, gave the interview at Politics and Prose, a popular local bookstore, where he was inaugurating a book tour that will take his message across the country.
Meanwhile, on the same day, Halutz told a gathering for reporters sponsored by J Street, the dovish Washigton-based pro-Israel lobby, “I believe that what [Obama] is saying, he means it and that he is standing behind his words” when he vows that Iran will not be allowed to develop or obtain nuclear weapons. Like Danon, the retired military commander, who was briefly involved in Israeli politics as a member of the opposition Kadima party, disclaimed any intent to influence or interfere in U.S. politics.
Their disclaimers notwithstanding, both men presented highly charged political views, with Danon openly attacking the president, and Halutz defending the administration’s policies toward Israel and Iran.
As both Israelis aired their differences in public, tensions ratcheted up between the White House and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Israel had asked the administration to declare a set of demands and deadlines to which Iran would be required to adhere. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton flatly rejected the request, triggering an angry response from Netanyahu, who, used particularly hard language, in response on September 11.
“Those in the international community who refuse to put red lines before Iran don’t have a moral right to place a red light before Israel,” Netanyahu told a news conference.