Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is acting properly in lobbying against the Iran deal. And President Obama is acting improperly in accusing him of interfering in American foreign policy and suggesting that no other foreign leader has ever tried to do so: "I do not recall a similar example."
President Obama is as wrong about American history as he is about policy. Many foreign leaders have tried to influence US foreign policy when their national interests are involved. Lafayette tried to get the United States involved in the French Revolution, as the early colonists sought support from France in their own revolution. Winston Churchill appeared in front of Congress and lobbied heavily to have America change its isolationist policy during the run up to the Second World War. Nor can President Obama claim ignorance about recent events, when he himself sent David Cameron, the prime minister of the United Kingdom, to lobby Congress in favor of the Iran deal. Recently, Shinzo Abe, the prime minister of Japan, lobbied us with regard to the Trans-Pacific Partnership.
Prime Minister Netanyahu's nation has a far greater stake in the Iran deal than most of the countries that negotiated it. But Israel was excluded from the negotiations. Any leader of Israel would and should try to exercise whatever influence he might have in the ongoing debate over the deal.
There can be no question that Israel is the primary intended target of Iran's quest for a nuclear arsenal. Recall that Hashemi Rafsanjani, the former president of Iran, has described Israel as a one-bomb state that could be destroyed instantaneously, and that even if Israel retaliated, it would not destroy Iran or Islam. No similar threats have been made against Great Britain, France, Germany, Russia or China. Although the United States is still regarded by Iran as the "Great Satan", the U.S. has less to fear from an Iranian nuclear arsenal than does Israel.
Does President Obama really believe that Israeli leaders are required to remain silent and simply accept the consequences of a deal that puts its population at risk? As Prime Minister Netanyahu has repeatedly said, Israel is not Czechoslovakia. In 1938, Czechoslovakia too was excluded from the negotiations that led to its dismemberment, but it had no ability to influence the policies of the negotiating nations. Nor did it have the ability to defend itself militarily, as Israel does.
The United States would surely not accept a deal negotiated by other nations that put its citizens at risk. No American leader would remain silent in the face of such a deal. Israel has every right to express its concern about a deal that has crossed not only its own red lines, but the red lines originally proposed by President Obama.
President Obama's attack on Prime Minister Netanyahu, for doing exactly what he would be doing if the shoe were on the other foot, has encouraged Israel-bashers to accuse opponents of the deal of dual loyalty. Nothing could be further from the truth. I and the deal's other opponents are as loyal to our country as is President Obama and the supporters of the deal. I am a liberal Democrat who opposed the invasion of Iraq and who twice supported President Obama when he ran for president. Many of the deal's strongest opponents also cannot be accused of being warmongers, because we believe that the deal actually increases the likelihood of war.
The President should stop attacking both the domestic and international critics of the deal and engage us on the merits. That is why I have issued a challenge to the Obama Administration to debate its critics on national television. This is a wonderful occasion for Lincoln-Douglas type debates over this important foreign policy issue. At this point in time, the majority of Americans are against the deal, as are the majority of both Houses of Congress. The President has the burden of changing the public's mind. This is, after all, a democracy. And the President should not be empowered to impose his will on the American public based on one-third plus one of one house of Congress, when a majority of Americans have expressed opposition. So let the name-calling stop and let the debates begin.
Alan Dershowitz is a lawyer, constitutional scholar, commentator and author. His new book is The Case Against the Iran Deal: How Can We Now Stop Iran From Getting Nukes? (Rosetta Books, August 11, 2015).