TIME Foreign Policy

Netanyahu Overshadows His Own Speech

A partisan debate over the terms of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s visit to the U.S. threatened to overshadow his message, as he arrived Sunday in the U.S. two days before an address to the Congress about the dangers of President Barack Obama’s recent moves to cut a deal with Iran over its nuclear program.

An NBC/Wall Street Journal poll released Sunday found that 48% of registered voters said Republicans in Congress should not have invited Netanyahu without first checking with Obama, with just 30% of Americans supporting the move. President Obama has refused to meet the Israeli leader, citing the proximity of the visit on Israel’s elections. Obama’s National Security Adviser Susan Rice, cast the speech last week as “destructive to the fabric of U.S.-Israeli ties.”

At the American Israel Public Affairs Committee’s annual policy conference in Washington, D.C., Sunday, the mood was uneasy, as the controversy overshadowed the conference and thrust the bipartisan organization into the uncomfortable position of lobbying lawmakers to attend a speech, as opposed to its key legislative priority: calling on Congress to play a role in reviewing the Iran agreement. “Frankly all of us should be concerned that care so deeply about the bipartisan support for the U.S.-Israel relationship,” AIPAC CEO Howard Kohr said Sunday. “We have spent active hours lobbying for members of the House and Senate to attend this speech.”

In the lead-up to the speech, dueling ads from left and right focused on the speech and who would attend. An incendiary ad from a group founded by Rabbi Shmuley Boteach and linked to Republican mega-donor Sheldon Adelson drew condemnation from all corners for accusing Rice of turning a blind eye to genocide. The ad compared Rice’s role in shaping a withdrawn U.S. policy during the 1994 Rwanda genocide, which Rice herself has since criticized, with her position on Netanyahu’s visit. “Ms. Rice may be blind to the issue of genocide,” the ad reads, under a picture of the National Security Adviser superimposed on the image of human skulls. The text goes on to suggest she has been more gracious in her dealings with Iran’s government than Israel’s. “She should treat our ally with at least as much diplomatic courtesy as she does the committed enemy of both our nations.”

Obama Administration officials were quick to condemn the move. “This ad is being widely met with the revulsion that it deserves,” a senior U.S. Administration official said. “Frankly, the ad says more about those who supported it than it says about Susan Rice.”

Netanyahu has a long track record of using addresses to Congress for his domestic political purposes. “I am leaving for Washington on a fateful, even historic, mission. I feel that I am the emissary of all Israelis, even those who disagree with me, of the entire Jewish People,” Netanyahu told reporters before departing. His coalition faces a close election on March 17.

In the U.S., the visit has turned into a political weapon. “The really only conflict here is between the White House and Israel,” said Speaker of the House John Boehner Sunday on CBS’s Face the Nation.

At AIPAC, Senator Ben Cardin, a Democrat from Maryland, sought to challenge that message. “The circumstances surrounding the invitation were not what they should have been,” he said. “We all understand that. But don’t lose focus. The bad guy is Iran.”

In Israel as well, the terms of the visit had become a point of political debate. “Netanyahu’s speech is diverting the question to be on whether he should speak or not in Congress rather than the security issue with Iran, and we think this is wrong,” said Israeli opposition Knesset member Erel Margalit. “We saw a poll that had the American public divided over whether Netanyahu should speak or not, instead of having 90% against the threshold nuclear state of Iran, which would have united everyone.”

To pre-empt claims that the White House has not sufficiently supported Israel, the National Security Council forwarded Democratic allies—and later posted online—a pocket card highlighting the U.S.-Israel relationship under Obama casting the President as a “strong defender” of Israel. “Under President Obama’s leadership, American engagement with Israel has grown and strengthened to an unprecedented degree,” it reads. The handout did not include any mention of Iran.

“The Administration doesn’t want to talk about the Iran deal — so instead of hearing about sanctions relief and sunset clauses, we’ve had weeks of high-school-level melodrama about speech protocol and a bad guy named Bibi,” said Noah Pollak, the executive director of the hawkish Emergency Committee for Israel. “The Administration has temporarily distracted from the Iran talks, but it’s also turned the Netanyahu speech into the Super Bowl of foreign policy. In the end it may turn out that Obama only drew more attention to what a bad deal he’s trying to cut with Iran.”

TIME Israel

Israeli Leader Arrives in U.S. for ‘Historic’ Mission

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu arrived in Washington, D.C., on Sunday for a controversial visit that the leader described as “a fateful, even historic mission.”

“I am the emissary of all Israelis, even those who disagree with me,” Netanyahu said on Twitter as he departed. “I am deeply and genuinely concerned for the security of all Israelis, for the fate of the nation, and for the fate of our people. I will do my utmost to ensure our future.”

Netanyahu, who is seeking re-election this month, will address Congress on Tuesday to express his opposition to a possible nuclear deal with Iran — a speech President Barack Obama’s top national-security aide has said will be “destructive” to U.S.-Israel relations.

The visit has further strained relations between Israel and the Obama Administration, which was not consulted before House Speaker John Boehner invited Netanyahu to address Congress. Obama is not planning to meet with Netanyahu while he’s in town, and a few dozen Democrats are expected to boycott the speech, which has been criticized as interference in Israeli politics just two weeks before an election.

The planned speech, National Security Adviser Susan Rice said Tuesday, has “injected a degree of partisanship, which is not only unfortunate, I think it’s destructive [to] the fabric of the relationship.”

Secretary of State John Kerry sought to cool the tensions a bit over the weekend, first in a phone call with Netanyahu on Saturday and then in comments Sunday, when he said the Israeli leader is “welcome to speak in the United States, obviously,” and that the Obama Administration doesn’t want the speech to become “some great political football.”

“Obviously it was odd, if not unique, that we learned of it from the speaker of the House and that an Administration was not included in this process,” Kerry said on ABC’s This Week. “But the Administration is not seeking to politicize this.”

Netanyahu’s camp also tried to lower the temperature. “We are not here to offend President Obama, whom we respect very much,” an aide told the Associated Press.

As he left for Washington, Netanyahu reiterated his opposition to a deal over Iran’s nuclear program. He is set to speak Monday at the annual conference for the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, or AIPAC, the powerful pro-Israel group.

“We are strongly opposed to the agreement being formulated between the world powers and Iran that could endanger Israel’s very existence,” Netanyahu said.

Read next: 7 Times World Leaders Addressed Congress

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TIME russia

5 Disputed Numbers That Explain Geopolitics

Ukraine
Vadim Ghirda—AP Russia-backed separatist fighters stand next to self propelled 152 mm artillery pieces, part of a unit moved away from the front lines, in Yelenovka, near Donetsk, Ukraine, Feb. 26, 2015.

From Argentina’s economic woes to Iran’s nuclear timeline, statistics that are up for debate can tell us a lot about geopolitics. 

Every world leader uses data for political purposes. But some take it a step further. Here are five disputed stats where the controversy itself sheds light on a deeper political question.

1. How many Russians are in Ukraine?

Estimates of Russian troops in Ukraine differ dramatically depending on which side of the border you’re standing on. (That is, if you can find the border—Russian-backed separatists continue to take territory in southeast Ukraine). Ukrainian President Poroshenko proclaimed last month that there are more than 9,000 Russian troops and 500 tanks and armored vehicles in his country. But Russia claims it isn’t that many—zero, to be exact. According to a spokesman for Putin, “there are no Russian tanks or army in Ukraine.” Other players split the difference: in August, a separatist leader claimed that 3,000 to 4,000 Russian citizen “volunteers” provided assistance to the rebels.

(Reuters, CNN, LA Times)

2. How quickly could Iran build a nuclear weapon?

When Western leaders emphasize the threat posed by Iran’s nuclear program, there’s a recurring, essential question: How long would it take for Iran to produce enough weapons-grade uranium to build a bomb? Iran consistently downplays the threat: an Iranian source cited the ‘breakout time’ at a minimum of 18 months. But Washington believes it’s drastically shorter: about 2-3 months. There’s also fierce debate about how long that breakout time should be. In ongoing nuclear negotiations, the Obama administration wants to ensure it would take at least a year. But Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu wants to eliminate Iran’s ability to produce nuclear weapons altogether.

(Reuters, Institute for Science and International Security, New York Times)

3. Can China boast that its economy is #1?

Last year, the International Monetary Fund projected that China’s economy was about to overtake the United States’ when measured on a purchasing power basis (a less common way of measuring GDP that takes exchange rates into account). China became the world’s largest trading nation back in 2012. But even China is pushing back against any perception that it’s on top: the state-run news agency Xinhua ran a piece in January titled “China denies being world’s No. 1 economy.” Beijing is careful to stress that it’s still very much a developing country, not yet wealthy enough to take on a lot of global responsibilities. They have a point. Despite relentless growth—last year’s economic output topped $10 trillion, more than five times higher than a decade before—China’s output per person is still nowhere near that of the U.S.

(New York Times, Bloomberg, Xinhua, Economist)

4. Just how valuable for Americans would the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) be?

One of President Obama’s biggest foreign policy priorities before he leaves office is to ink the TPP, a trade agreement that includes a dozen countries that collectively account for 40% of world trade and roughly a third of global GDP. The administration is quick to point out the estimated economic benefits. According to John Kerry, “TPP could provide $77 billion a year in real income and support 650,000 new jobs in the U.S. alone.” But not everyone buys that jobs claim. The White House’s statistics come from a 2012 book by the Peterson Institute that didn’t provide a precise jobs estimate. The book’s author said he avoided doing so because, “like most trade economists, we don’t believe that trade agreements change the labor force in the long run.”

(Congressional Research Service, Washington Post)

5. How is Argentina’s economy doing?

Argentina’s economic troubles are common knowledge. So is the government’s tendency to cast the numbers in a rosier light. The government claimed 30% growth in GDP from 2007 to 2012 (5.3% annual average rate), but a study last year claimed that GDP only grew half that much and the size of the economy was at least 12% smaller than official government estimates. Then there’s the issue of inflation. The government estimates 21% inflation for this year—but some private economists expect a rate of nearly 40%. Furthermore, the government’s official exchange rate doesn’t reflect reality: one U.S. dollar is officially worth about 8.7 pesos, yet the informal rate is as high as 13.

(World Economics Journal, Wall Street Journal, Reuters, BNamericas, Bloomberg)

TIME Know Right Now

Know Right Now: Netanyahu’s Upcoming Visit Causes Tension Between the U.S. and Israel

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is set to address Congress on March 3

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is set to speak before a joint session of Congress on March 3, but the upcoming speech is already making waves.

Watch the latest #KnowRightNow to catch up on this developing story.

TIME Israel

Netanyahu Says World Powers ‘Have Given Up’ on Preventing Iran Nukes

Israeli PM Netanyahu weekly cabinet meeting
Abir Sultan—Reuters Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu attends the weekly cabinet meeting at his office in Jerusalem on Feb. 15, 2015.

Israeli Prime Minister says he's not willing to give up on preventing Iran's progress toward developing nuclear weapons

In his sharpest criticism yet, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu says world powers “have given up” on stopping Iran from developing nuclear weapons in ongoing negotiations.

Netanyahu made the comments Wednesday night at a meeting of his Likud Party outside of Jerusalem. They come as Netanyahu plans to address the U.S. Congress on the nuclear negotiations.

The West fears Iran could build an atomic bomb with its nuclear program. Iran says its program is for peaceful purposes.

Netanyahu said: “From the agreement that is forming it appears that they (world powers) have given up on that commitment and are accepting that Iran will gradually, within a few years, develop capabilities to produce material for many nuclear weapons. They might accept this but I am not willing to accept this.”

TIME Israel

Jerusalem’s Mayor and His Bodyguard Prevented a Stabbing Attack

Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat in Jerusalem, Sept. 3, 2013
Sebastian Scheiner—AP Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat in Jerusalem, Sept. 3, 2013

The mayor apprehended a Palestinian teenager who allegedly stabbed an Israeli near City Hall

The Mayor of Jerusalem Nir Barkat, and his bodyguard, thwarted a potentially deadly knife attack Sunday evening. The two apprehended an 18-year-old Palestinian who allegedly lunged with a knife at a 27-year-old Israeli next to City Hall.

Barkat, who happened to be passing by when the attack took place, said “My bodyguard and I jumped straight out of the car, he drew his weapon and together we caught the terrorist until police arrived, and we took care of the wounded, who, happily, was only lightly wounded.”

The teenager was subsequently arrested by police. A motive for the stabbing has not yet been established, according to Police Superintendent Micky Rosenfeld.

[ABC News]

TIME Israel

Europe’s Jews Should Move to Israel, Says Israel’s Prime Minister

Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Jerusalem Feb. 15, 2015
Abir Sultan—AP Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Jerusalem on Feb. 15, 2015

The statement comes after recent attacks against Jews in Paris and Copenhagen

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu declared Sunday that European Jews should embark on a “mass immigration” to Israel.

The statement follows recent murders of Jews in Copenhagen and Paris, including Saturday’s death of a Jewish guard in front of a synagogue and last month’s terrorist attacks in Paris, which left four French Jews dead.

“Jews have been murdered again on European soil only because they were Jews,” Netanyahu said. “Of course, Jews deserve protection in every country, but we say to Jews, to our brothers and sisters: Israel is your home.”

Denmark’s chief rabbi Jair Melchior said he was “disappointed” by the invitation, however. “People from Denmark move to Israel because they love Israel, because of Zionism, but not because of terrorism,” he told the Associated Press.

Danish Prime Minister Helle Thorning-Schmidt expressed a similar view, saying, “The Jewish community is a large and integrated part of Danish society.”

Last year, over 7,000 French Jews moved to Israel, double the previous year’s figure, prompting French President François Hollande to tell the country’s Jews in an address last month, “Your place is here, in your home. France is your country.”

[NYT]

TIME Israel

Israeli Critics Sees Netanyahu Putting His Personal Interests First in Addressing Congress

Israeli PM's proposed trip to Washington has caused controversy in the U.S. and at home

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has long found a large welcome mat at the doors of the U.S. Congress, particularly when it comes to his interest in talking about Iran and its nuclear program, When he gave a speech to Congress on the subject in 2011, he was given 29 standing ovations – four more, many noted, than President Barack Obama received in his State of the Union address that year.

The reaction in Israel to Netanyahu’s next visit has been quite different. The Prime Minister was invited by Republican Speaker John Boehner to speak before Congress on Mar. 3, two weeks before the Israeli premier is up for re-election. The focus of the address would be the Iranian nuclear issue, in particular, Netanyahu’s call to Congress to impose further sanctions on Iran. As the Obama administration is pursuing negotiations with Iran, Netanyahu’s intervention is seen as antagonistic.

Obama made clear this week that he would not be seeing Netanyahu during his visit to Washington, telling CNN’s Fareed Zakaria he would never meet with a visiting leader two weeks before their country goes to the polls because he considers it “inappropriate.”

Critics in Israel have attacked Netanyahu for putting his personal political interests above the interests of his country and for jeopardising the U.S.-Israel special relationship by getting involved in U.S. politics.

“Israel’s leaders have always cherished and protected its relations with the United States, understanding that they are of utmost importance for our country’s security,” says Stav Shaffir, a member of Israel’s parliament from the opposition Labor Party, which recent polls show having a slight lead over Netanyahu’s ruling Likud party. “The fact that Netanyahu is willing to jeopardize Israel’s strategic interests for petty electoral gains casts serious doubt on his judgment and suitability to lead the country.”

Amos Yadlin, the former military intelligence chief who has joined the opposition — now running as the “Zionist Camp” as a joint slate of Labor and Tzippi Livni’s Hatnua party — has accused Netanyahu of turning Israel’s relationship with the U.S. into one of allegiance with the Republicans. “When we manage our relationship with the U.S., we have to manage it simultaneously with the President and Congress. The Prime Minister has made it into a partisan issue in the U.S., and we cannot let Israel become a problem for one party or the other,” Yadlin told Ynet, the news website of the Israeli newspaper Yedioth Ahronoth.

Haaretz, Israel’s broadsheet newspaper, carried a front-page article on Friday saying that as far as the Obama administration is concerned, Netanyahu is “toast.” In other words, even if he does win the Mar. 17 election, he can stop expecting automatic U.S. diplomatic support. Just a month ago, the U.S. used its power at the U.N. Security Council to block a vote for Palestinian state.

“You do not want to be ‘toast’ in the eyes of the American administration,” says Gadi Wolfsfeld, an expert in politics and communications who teaches at IDC Herzliya, a university in the Tel Aviv area. “America could turn away when the E.U. puts pressure on Israel. There’s lot of things Obama can do without directly confronting Netanyahu — there are subtle ways of punishing him and punishing Israel for this move, which are not going to be pleasant.”

According to reports, Netanyahu is working to convince Democrats of the importance of his speech, and they are trying to get him to reconsider. That might be wise, Wolfsfeld says.

“Some people have suggested that he should cancel. People would have to spend a few hours thinking of a creative way to do it, but that may be best, because I think both sides already realize that this was not their finest hour,” says Wolfsfeld. “Of course, when Netanyahu is standing there in front of Congress and receiving applause, it’s possible that he’ll once again be received as a powerful speaker and a great diplomat. But right now, considering the amount of backlash, if he had to do it over again, I’d be surprised if he’d do it at all.”

TIME Behind the Photos

The Best Pictures of the Week: Jan. 23 – Jan. 30

From Kurdish fighters recapturing the ISIS held town of Kobani, Syria to the deadly attacks on Israeli forces by Hezbollah militants on the Israel-Lebanon border and life returns to normal with Ebola cases down to single digits in Liberia to blizzard Juno hitting the U.S. East Coast, TIME presents the best pictures of the week.

TIME archeology

Here’s What a 55,000-Year-Old Skull Teaches Us About Human Migration

Ancient Skull
Clara Amit—AP This undated photo provided by the Israel Antiquities Authority on Jan. 27, 2015, shows a partial human skull excavated from a cave in Israel's western Galilee region

The rare bone find is the first to connect humans in Africa and Europe

Part of a female human skull, found in a cave in Israel and believed to be around 55,000 years old, is giving researchers clues as to when humans migrated out of Africa, leading to the eventual colonization of Europe.

The partial skull, found in Manot Cave in western Galilea, is the first recorded instance of modern humans being in the Levant region during that time period, archeologists claim in the journal Nature. These early people may have been the first to pass through the region on their way to cooler latitudes.

“It’s amazing. This is the first specimen we have that connects Africa to Europe,” said Israel Hershkovitz of Tel Aviv University.

Neanderthal remains have previously been found in locations close to Manot Cave, dating between 50,000 and 65,000 years of age, so that places the two species in the same place at the same time.

Non-African humans have a tiny bit of Neanderthal DNA and studies suggest the mix happened 50,000 to 60,000 years ago.

Scientists say the new discovery offers the possibility that a spell of interbreeding between Neanderthals and early humans occurred at this time and in this region.

[Nature]

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