...on the issue of [Netanyahu's] acceptance of Boehner’s invitation to present Israel’s perception of the Iranian nuclear issue to the representatives of the American people, there should be no room for equivocation.
Indeed, it is virtually inconceivable that, with regard to Iran, all Israelis, irrespective of their political hue, should not rally behind him, present a unified front to the outside world, and convey a sense of pride that an Israeli leader will be the only person besides Winston Churchill to address the US legislature three times.
Concern over Tehran’s nuclear ambitions, and the danger it poses to the survival of the nation should be common to all shades of political opinion in Israel.
...Yet despite the dictates of reason and national interest, quite the opposite has taken place.
Instead of uniting behind the nation’s elected leader’s endeavor to thwart the conclusion of what increasingly appears to be a perilously ill-advised deal with Tehran’s tyrannical theocracy, the invitation to speak has been exploited to generate sharp division in the country.
Domestic opposition to Netanyahu’s acceptance of the invitation falls into two broad categories.
- The first is that it will create friction with the White House, thus undermining Israel’s “greatest strategic asset,” its relationship with the US.
- The second is that it is a cynical maneuver to gain unfair advantage in the March election.
... Moreover, they are likely to prove distinctly counter- productive and help precipitate precisely the outcomes they ostensibly seek to avoid.
If anything, it is the prime minister’s electoral rivals who are cynically exploiting the proposed address, not only to score political points at home by denigrating his leadership, but by presenting acceptance of the invitation as siding with the Republicans against the Democrats, thus undermining bipartisan support for Israel in Washington.
Divisive in US because divisive in Israel
To a large degree, the issue of Netanyahu’s address to Congress has only become a divisive political issue in the US because it has become a politically divisive issue in Israel. In fact, much of the Democratic opposition to the address has been fed by domestic opposition to it in Israel.
...A highly plausible case can be made for the claim that the ostensible Democratic ire at the PM’s acceptance of the congressional invitation is to a great extent a derivative of the vicious criticism he has been subjected to at home.
It was the domestic portrayal of Netanyahu’s acceptance of Boehner’s invitation as disrespectful confrontation with the White House, which virtually compelled some Democrats to rally around the president against the alleged assault on his honor. After all, could they let themselves be seen as less mindful of his prestige than Buji Herzog and Tzipi Livni??
...the animosity Bibi’s political rivals feel toward him appears to have eclipsed their commitment to the national interest.
‘Chamberlain of the 21st century…’
Few could have made this case in stronger terms than a self-confessed twice-over supporter of Obama, Alan Dershowitz, who in a recent interview dismissed the negotiations as a “joke.”
Dershowitz, a long standing Democrat, excoriated the prospective accord:
“This is a very bad deal, a bad deal for the United States, a bad deal for the international community...My fear is that... Barack Obama is going to go down in history as the Neville Chamberlain of the 21st century.”
... “We will point to this point in history and say, this was the turning point. This was the point where the president could’ve recognized the greatest threat to the world in the 21st century and, like Chamberlain in the 20th century, he failed to do it. That will be his legacy...:...But of course none of this really is of interest to Netanyahu’s domestic adversaries.
None could really have any doubt as to the prime minister’s oratory skills; none really believe he could not present Israel’s case persuasively and convey its concerns eloquently.
Their opposition to him addressing Congress is not rooted in any fear he will not perform competently. Quite the contrary, it is rooted in the fear that he will perform too competently – and hence by discharging his duty as the elected prime minister, enhance his electoral prospects. As if that is not precisely what prime ministers in democracies are supposed to do – i.e. perform competently so as to be reelected.
This, then, is the real reason for the resistance to Netanyahu’s address – not concern for the national interest, or for erosion of bipartisan support for Israel, or alarm over the degradation of Israel’s relationship with the White House.
The cynical motivation behind the political opposition... was dramatically exposed by the petition the leader of the far-left Meretz faction Zehava Gal-On submitted to the Central Elections Committee last month.
In it, Gal-On demanded that coverage of his congressional address by Israeli TV and radio stations be banned on grounds that it constituted prohibited electioneering...
Happily, however,,..In recommending that Gal-On’s petition be rejected, the attorney-general wrote sensibly: “... the request to issue the aforementioned restraining order should be turned down since this is a clearly newsworthy event with a dominant effect in terms of news and current affairs.”...
*Martin Sherman (www.martinsherman.org) is the founder and executive director of the Israel Institute for Strategic Studies (www.strategicisrael.org).