Jerusalem – The administration of President Barack Obama has launched what officials termed a psychological warfare campaign meant to topple Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu.
Sources in the Obama Administration and the US Congress have confirmed to the Middle East Newsline that the White House and State Department have sought to destabilize Netanyahu’s government by forcing him to agree to an indefinite freeze on Jewish construction in areas taken by Israel in the wake of the 1967 war as well as the establishment of a Palestinian state by 2012. They said the campaign sought to replace Netanyahu with opposition leader and former foreign minister Tsipi Livni.
“Bibi is extremely vulnerable to pressure,” a source familiar with the White House effort said. “We know this from his first term in office and believe he will collapse this time as well.”
The sources said the administration’s strategy aimed to delegitimize Netanyahu in his government and right-wing constituency. They said Obama and his aides have sought to portray Netanyahu as a weak and unstable politician who will destroy relations with Washington as Israel seeks U.S. support for a military option against Iran.
“There seems to be a general belief in the circle around the president that the democratically-elected government in Israel is drunk at the wheel,” Steven Rosen, a veteran pro-Israeli lobbyist now with the Middle East Forum, said. “They clearly will use pressure tactics to bring Israel around.”
In April 2010, former U.S. ambassador to Israel, Martin Indyk, began a series of attacks on Netanyahu in the Israeli media. Indyk, a former assistant secretary of state under then-President Bill Clinton, has called
for the toppling of Netanyahu while his right-wing partners accept a more pliant prime minister.
“Indyk was sent by Obama and encouraged by his American Jewish supporters, particularly [former Rep.] Robert Wexler, to do this,” the source said.
In January 2010, Wexler resigned from Congress to become head of the Center for Middle East Peace and Economic Cooperation. The center was founded by Obama supporter Daniel Abraham and a delegation met Netanyahu in February.
The sources said the administration’s campaign has included invitations to Defense Minister Ehud Barak to the White House, where he met with Obama on April 26. Barak has been regarded as the most pro-U.S. minister in Netanyahu’s Cabinet and has been lobbying ministers to accept Obama’s proposals.
“It’s not going to be easy to turn this thing around,” Rosen told a briefing on April 21. “Some of my friends in Jerusalem believe this crisis will go on for an extended period.”
The anti-Netanyahu has alarmed pro-Israeli members in Congress, particularly from the Democratic Party. Several of the Democrats have reported a sharp drop in funds by Jewish donors for congressional elections in November.
“This [campaign against Netanyahu] is counterproductive and has to stop,” Sen. Charles Schumer, a New York Democrat who has threatened to issue a condemnation of the White House, said.
Some in the pro-Israeli community detect an anti-Semitic tinge to the White House campaign, despite the involvement of Jewish aides. On April 21, National Security Advisor James Jones stunned an audience at the pro-Israel Washington Institute when he told a joke of a Jewish merchant who tricked a thirsty Taliban fighter into buying a tie.
“I wish that I had not made this off the cuff joke at the top of my remarks,” Jones later said. “I apologize to anyone who was offended by it. It also distracted from the larger message I carried that day: That the United States’ commitment to Israel’s security is sacrosanct.”
Former State Department official Aaron Miller said Obama has surrounded himself with aides who blame Netanyahu for the suspension of the Arab-Israeli peace process. Miller said many of the aides had encountered Netanyahu during his first tenure as prime minister from 1996 to 1999.
“They had seen the Benjamin Netanyahu movie before and were determined not to let their chance at Middle East peace end the same way,” Miller said in the magazine Foreign Policy. “Confronted with Netanyahu again, Obama and his team needed no encouragement to talk tough on the growing Israeli settlements in the West Bank, an issue that experts inside and outside government were clamoring for Obama to raise as the first step in his renewed push for peace. Fresh from his victory on health care, he’s [Obama] king of the world again and in no mood to let the king of Israel frustrate his plans.”