Fox News is not exactly known as an ally of the Obama administration, especially when it comes to disputes between Obama and House Speaker John Boehner, or disputes between Obama and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
Yet two prominent Fox News hosts, Chris Wallace and Shepherd Smith, harshly criticized Boehner and Netanyahu on Friday for secretly arranging a Netanyahu speech to Congress that is transparently aimed at undermining President Obama, and set up without the White House's knowledge.
The White House, State Department, and many foreign policy observers, including prominent former US ambassador to Israel Martin Indyk, expressed outrage over the move. And, in a sign of just how many lines Boehner and Netanyahu crossed, so did the two Fox News hosts.
"I agree 100 percent," Wallace said when Smith read a quote from Indyk criticizing the Boehner-Netanyahu maneuver. Wallace went on:
And to make you get a sense of really how, forgive me, wicked, this whole thing is, the Secretary of State John Kerry met with the Israeli Ambassador to the United States for two hours on Tuesday, Ron Dermer. The ambassador, never mentioned the fact that Netanyahu was in negotiations and finally agreed to come to Washington, not to see the president, but to go to Capitol Hill, speak to a joint session of congress and criticize the president's policy. I have to say I'm shocked.
Smith said, "it seems like [Netanyahu's government] think[s] we don't pay attention and that we're just a bunch of complete morons, the United States citizens, as if we wouldn't pick up on what's happening here."
Wallace pointed out that Netanyahu might face political backlash in Israel over this "very risky political strategy," which could damage Israel's relationship with the United States.
Here is the backstory: On Wednesday, Boehner announced that he had invited Netanyahu to come speak to a joint session of Congress in late February (later pushed to early March) on Obama's nuclear negotiations with Iran, which both Boehner and Netanyahu oppose, and which Republicans are seeking to blow up by forcing new, deal-killing sanctions on Iran. What made this such a remarkable breach is that Boehner had reached over Obama to make the invitation, which he and Netanyahu kept secret from the White House. That is a major breach in US foreign policy, which is supposed to be unified; things like official visits by heads of state almost always go through the White House.
Perhaps worse, Republicans are letting a foreign leader use the floor of Congress to bash the American president, thus not just allowing but helping a foreign country meddle in American foreign policy. (This is not the first time either. Republicans invited Netanyahu to speak to Congress in 2011, an opportunity he also used to lambast Obama.)
For his part, Netanyahu is once again attempting to undermine the American president who is by far his most important ally, and is using Congress as a campaign stop on his own bid for reelection in Israel's March elections.
While backlash was anticipatable, Netanyahu likely did not imagine it extending to Fox News.
"After watching this I think Bibi [Netanyahu] and [Israeli ambassador to the US Ron] Dermer might have finally gone too far," Lisa Goldman, the director of the Israel-Palestine Initiative at the New America Foundation, wrote on Facebook of the Fox News segment. "They miscalculated the American Zeitgeist and didn't realize that when a foreign power, even a favorite ally, shows a lack of respect for US institutions, a red line has been crossed."
To Goldman's point, both Smith and Wallace, in expressing outrage at Netanyahu, pointed out that the Israeli leader had defied President George W. Bush's demand that Israel cease settlement growth in the West Bank, and had resisted Bush's efforts at an Israel-Palestine peace deal. The issue, for them, was not principally one of partisan politics, but of this ostensible ally repeatedly mistreating the United States and its president, regardless of political party.
If the Netanyahu government and Ron Dermer's embassy are watching this, and they certainly should be, they should be alarmed that even this crucially important element of their American support base is beginning to see the Netanyahu government as less of an ally.