Thursday morning, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu sent a thank-you note to former Florida Governor Jeb Bush on Twitter. Bush had defended Netanyahu's decision to speak to Congress in his Wednesday address on foreign policy, and Netanyahu publicly showed his appreciation:
Bush quickly returned the favor:
.@netanyahu You’re welcome Mr. Prime Minister, I’m anxious to hear what you have to say!— Jeb Bush (@JebBush) February 19, 2015
This little chat tells us basically three things of note.
- Netanyahu's going to play up praise from Republicans to defend his decision at home. Criticism from the White House and Congressional Democrats has led Netanyahu's Israeli political rivals to attack him for weakening ties with the US. Highlighting support from prominent Republicans is a way of showing Israelis that he's got friends in America in advance of the March 17 Israeli elections.
- This strategy will make Netanyahu's speech, and perhaps the US-Israel relationship in general, into more and more of a partisan issue in the United States. Bush's address on Wednesday was a thinly veiled campaign speech, one in which he repeatedly criticized Obama, including on the Netanyahu speech. The more Netanyahu leans on support from Republicans, the angrier Democrats will be, and the more incentive that both parties will have to see this as a partisan issue.
- The US-Israel relationship could become a major campaign issue in 2016. Criticizing Obama for his handling of the US-Israel relationship is smart politics in the GOP; Marco Rubio, another leading GOP 2016 contender, is already doing it. If Netanyahu is reelected in March, his relationship with Obama will almost certainly remain rocky. Given how popular Israel is with GOP primary voters, Republicans will be clamoring to be seen as the strongest advocate for Israel in the primary. Framing support for Netanyahu as synonymous with opposition to Obama will be good politics, but it could further deepen the treatment of Israel as a partisan issue, which is not healthy for the US-Israel relationship.