Pro-Israel Americans criticize US for spying on Congress, Netanyahu
The Obama administration continues to be criticized in the wake a Wall Street Journal report, which alleges that the Administration spied on Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu while the U.S. negotiated the nuclear deal with Iran.
Last week’s Wall Street Journal report asserted that the National Security Agency (NSA) “captured communications between Mr. Netanyahu and his aides that inflamed mistrust between the two countries.” In addition to capturing correspondence between the Israeli Prime Minister and his advisors, U.S. surveillance efforts also collected conversations between the Israeli government and American Jewish and pro-Israel groups. The Obama administration gave the NSA discretion in what to share or not share with Administration officials.
NSA surveillance “yielded few surprises” for Obama administration officials. Prime Minister Netanyahu and his aides, including Israeli ambassador Ron Dermer, were focused on building a consensus against the Iranian nuclear deal and coached allied organizations on how to press lawmakers to vote against the agreement.
A spokesperson for the Israeli ambassador called the allegations “ridiculous.” NSA intelligence was also able to determine that Israel had been spying on the US – Iranian nuclear negotiations, and which Israeli officials had leaked confidential U.S. briefings. Israel denied leaking the briefings and claimed they had only spied on Iranian negotiators.
The disclosures that the NSA spied on the Israeli Prime Minister are consistent with 2013 revelations from Edward Snowden which showed that the U.S. has spied on a whole host of world leaders, including German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff. In response to both domestic and international criticism, the Obama Administration decided to end monitoring of certain world leaders. However, “Other allies,” including the Israeli Prime Minister, “were excluded from the protected list.”
The revelations have prompted outrage from pro-Israel Americans. Pete Hoekstra, former chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, took to his Twitter account and called the Wall Street Journal report “disturbing,” “outrageous,” and advocated for NSA and Obama Administration officials to be “investigated and prosecuted.” The current chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, Devin Nunes vowed to investigate the spying allegations while the chairmen of the Senate Intelligence Committee, Richard Burr, said that “allegations of wrongdoing” would be “taken seriously.” Republican senator and presidential candidate Ted Cruz published an opinion editorial in the Des Moines Register, in which he characterized the NSA spying as “only the most recent example of the Obama administration’s outrageous behavior towards Israel.” Republican candidates Rand Paul, Ben Carson, and Marco Rubio also publicly criticized the Administration’s actions.
Much of the outrage directed at the Administration for spying on Israel appears hypocritical. Journalist Glenn Greenwald pointed out that many of those condemning the NSA have been some of its most ardent supporters when surveillance was directed at Muslim Americans, Arab Americans, or the general public. For instance, while he condemned spying on Israel, Senator Marco Rubio had earlier called for the surveillance and closure of any institutions that Muslims critical of U.S. policy inhabit.
The sentiment reflects a familiar attitude among the U.S. political elite, not limited to Republican circles. Democratic Senator Diane Feinstein, another defender of mass surveillance, similarly spoke against spying conducted against both the Congress and allied foreign leaders. In Rubio’s case, the hypocrisy is doubled, given that he not only advocated for surveillance of the public at large but also defended spying on foreign leaders. For Rubio and many other pro-Israel Americans, it seems that only Israel is exempt from U.S. surveillance.