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Netanyahu Criticized For Making Iran Nuclear Deal An 'Israel Issue'


Now an Israeli view of the Netanyahu visit. Ari Shavit writes a column for the liberal Israeli daily Haaretz. He happens to be in Washington. Thanks for joining us today.

ARI SHAVIT: Pleasure to be here.

SIEGEL: You are no fan of Prime Minister Netanyahu. But is it fair to say that his view of a nuclear deal with Iran is a widely held Israeli view?

SHAVIT: Absolutely. First of all, let me speak for myself. I have - I disagree with Mr. Netanyahu's ideology. I don't like his patterns of behavior a lot of the time. I think his basic analysis of the Iran nuclear threat is accurate. I think most Israelis share it. My criticism of Mr. Netanyahu is that he made this an Israel issue and very much a Benjamin Netanyahu issue. Well, this should be an issue that all Americans - Democrats, Republicans, liberals, conservatives - should be concerned about. All Israelis, all Europeans, all Arabs, by the way, also care about it. Let us not make this so narrow. It's a wide, deep issue. And Netanyahu was mistaken in making it very much his own issue.

SIEGEL: Well, is there support generally in Israel for Netanyahu having accepted the Republican invitation to address Congress?

SHAVIT: I think Israelis are mixed. On the one hand, many Israelis are troubled by the fact that Mr. Netanyahu's policy bring about Israeli isolation and actually erode the deep alliance with America. I think there are many Israelis on the center-left who are worried that there is a perception that Israel is becoming a Republican issue, a conservative issue and that there is a dangerous alliance between tea party Israel and tea party America.

On the other hand, Netanyahu is perceived as Mr. Security. People do respect him for standing for the nation. They share his concern about Iran. And therefore, I think people are somewhat split. They don't like the fact that he is too aggressive on this matter, but they are afraid in many ways to stay without him because he is perceived as a realist who sees the real threats.

SIEGEL: This is something you wrote recently in a column (reading) because Netanyahu was not forthcoming on the Palestinian issue and because he eroded Israel's international legitimacy, the world is no longer listening to his truthful message on the Iranian issue.

Do you think, by the way, that President Obama is less sensitive to Israeli concerns because Netanyahu wasn't helpful with the Palestinians?

SHAVIT: Let's take one at a time. Let's go with the Churchillian logic. Let's go with Netanyahu's own Churchillian logic. Winston Churchill - the great thing Winston Churchill did was not to give great speeches - although he was a great speaker - but he understood that to stop Nazi Germany he needs American support. He came in the middle of the war to this town, to Washington, and he worked with President Roosevelt, really seducing him, courting him, doing everything possible to have him on his side, and in the process guaranteeing the dismantling of the British Empire, something that was very difficult to Winston Churchill. Netanyahu, who saw the threat - the Iranian threat - in an accurate way in my mind, never did that. He didn't go the extra mile to reach out, whether to President Obama and to other liberal leaders around the world - in Europe. He never did what he had to do, which is to stop settlement activities so the Palestinian issue will not produce bad blood. And so people will really be able to listen to his accurate arguments regarding Iran. Israel...

SIEGEL: This would be his equivalent of Churchill saying India will be independent and Africa will be free after the war.

SHAVIT: It's - Churchill had that. And Netanyahu, who wants to be Churchill, never had the greatness and the generosity and the flexibility to pay. And I once wrote that Netanyahu is a very talented person. He lacks generosity. He's not generous enough with Palestinians, sometimes not even with Israelis. The fact that he was not willing to be more forthcoming on the Palestinian issue created a major problem for Israel and for those Americans who are concerned about Iran because the tension went elsewhere. We should have done much more to build Israeli legitimacy so people will hear our correct concerns regarding Iran.

SIEGEL: Ari Shavit of Haaretz. Thank you very much for talking with us.

SHAVIT: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.