Benjamin Netanyahu’s upcoming appearance before both Houses of Congress is hot news, and those opposed to his visit seem intent on presenting it as a matter of principle, but nothing could be further from the truth.
President Obama stated that the visit is too close to the Israeli elections and that he does not want to interfere with Israeli elections. But he could not be more disingenuous. This is the same President who has sent a team of PR experts to Israel for the purpose of trying to ensure a Netanyahu defeat in the upcoming election. And Vice President Biden made no attempt to avoid meeting with Netanyahu’s opponent, Yitzhak Herzog, at a conference in Munich. So much for non-interference. This, of course, is nothing new for the United States. President Clinton did all he could to ensure the election of Ehud Barak over Netanyahu. America actually interferes at will in the internal affairs of other countries, friends and foes alike. So the Obama claim of not wanting to interfere is simply nonsense.
But what of the Democratic party itself? The Democrats explain that Speaker of the House John Boehner sidestepped proper diplomatic channels by inviting Netanyahu without consulting the President. Let’s assume, for argument’s sake, that this is, in fact, the case. Nevertheless, the Democratic Party then makes a gigantic, or more correctly inexcusable, leap to say that Netanyahu should not come.
Whether countries do actually try not to interfere in the internal affairs of other countries, we can all agree that they certainly should not interfere. And if so, if Boehner was somehow out of line and stepped on Obama’s toes, that is entirely an internal U.S. matter. Boehner and Obama can slug it out; the Democrats and Republicans can slug it out. But Israel and the Prime Minister are external to that battle, and should decidedly avoid becoming a party to that battle. Unfortunately, the Democrats are not calling for Netanyahu to stay out of the battle; they are trying to suck him into taking the side of the President and the Democratic Party. How so?
Simply put, the Prime Minister of Israel received an invitation from the Speaker of the House to address both Houses of Congress. The internal U.S. battle between Democrats and Republicans is none of Israel’s business. Once the invitation is issued, the Israeli Prime Minister (and it matters little whether it is Netanyahu or Rabin or even Ben Gurion) can reply in only one of two ways: Yes or No. In short, the Prime Minister of Israel can reply “Yes, I would be pleased and honored to address both Houses of Congress (especially on so important a topic)”, or “No, I have no interest or desire to address both Houses of Congress.” Anyone looking at the situation objectively (i.e., removing Netanyahu from the equation and looking instead at the office as the Prime Minister) would have to admit that rejecting an invitation to address both houses of Congress would be a terrible diplomatic mistake, and that clearly the correct thing to do is to accept the invitation.
So what is the President to do in such a situation? He can take a page out of the Mubarak playbook when Mubarak attended Rabin’s funeral. Mubarak, of course, had made it famously clear that he was not prepared to visit Israel, yet he had to show up for the funeral. So when questioned by reporters about this visit to Israel, he simply clarified that he is in Israel for the funeral and that his presence is not a visit.
Obama can do the same. He can simply state that he thinks that the invitation extended by the Speaker of the House is both ill-timed and ill-advised, but given that Netanyahu is coming, he as President of the United States has a diplomatic duty to meet with him. Nevertheless, everyone should understand that he, the President, is not interfering in Israeli elections, and that this meeting should not be seen as taking anyone’s side in those elections. That would solve the problem, if that was, indeed the intent of the President.
And what should the Democrats do? Like the Prime Minister, who can either accept or reject the invitation to address both Houses of Congress, the Democrats can attend or boycott that address. That is to say, they can leave Israel out of this internal U.S. battle and attend the address that Prime Minister gives in response to the official invitation from the Speaker of the House; or they can drag Israel into this internal U.S. battle and threaten to boycott the address if the Prime Minister does not side with the Democrats and turn down the invitation.
Vice President Biden made his position clear — he will boycott the Israeli Prime Minister. Time will tell what the other Democrats will actually do, but the possibility of a widespread boycott of the Prime Minister is very much on the table, and this brings us to the real issue: Why? If this was anyone other than Prime Minister Netanyahu, things would never have gotten to this point. Certainly, if this was Prime Minister Barak or Olmert, Obama would not have gotten onto his high “noninterference” horse, and the Democrats would never suggest a boycott. So what exactly is at play here?
It does not take a rocket scientist to figure it out.
It has been clear since Obama’s first days in office that he routinely throws America’s allies under the bus, all the while courting America’s enemies, including some of the worst despots. Not just Muslims either (remember Hugo Chavez). And Obama’s antipathy to Israel, and especially to Netanyahu is legion. Even Jay Leno joked about Obama’s repeated assertion that the U.S. bond with Israel is unbreakable – that Obama should know, he’s been trying to break it since he took office.
And what about the Democratic Party? Simply put, the Democratic party of today is not the same Democratic party of Lyndon Johnson, Hubert Humphrey, and Scoop Jackson. Once upon a time, support for Israel was truly and FULLY bipartisan. No longer. The Democratic Party has drifted so far leftward that while Republican support for Israel still hovers around 100%, Democratic support, though still in the majority, has significantly eroded. This, of course, accords with the increase in anti-Israel sentiment on college campuses and even in the favored visitors to the White House.
This issue has been completely mislabeled as Netanyahu’s poor decision, rather than a poor decision by the President and the Democrats. And needless to say, the media which routinely gives Obama a pass and which holds Israel to a different standard than it holds the rest of the world, is all too happy to put the onus for this situation on Netanyahu.
So what should Netanyahu do?
There is only one answer that is both good and rational. He should address both Houses of Congress.
First of all, the issue of Iranian nukes is too critical for Netanyahu not to address Congress, especially since the President seems to be clueless when it comes to any kind of Islamic threat. Currently, it looks like Obama is set to conclude a dangerous agreement with Iran on nukes, reminiscent perhaps of the Clinton-Carter agreement negotiated with North Korea that enabled North Korea to go nuclear. Netanyahu must spell out the threat loudly and clearly to both Houses of Congress.
Second, as previously mentioned, it would be an insult to turn down such an invitation. Third, it will unmask the anti-Netanyahu (or even anti-Israel) bias among those Democrats who choose to boycott the Prime Minister. At best, they may support Israel only if Israel plays banana republic to the American President, and at worst they may simply not be friends or may even be enemies of Israel. Fourth, buckling on this issue will only lead to further demands for Israel to buckle on other security issues. It is great to have friends, but it is more important for Israel to know who its true friends are, and for Israel to always stand up for its security needs even in the face of disagreement with friends.
And there is another, final, reason for Netanyahu to go. Much like the Democratic party of today is not the same Democratic party of years ago, so too Israel’s Labor party of today is also not the Labor party of years ago.
At one time, Israel’s well-being stood above party politics, and Israeli parties presented a unified face to the outside world. Sadly, since the days of Peres’s rotation government with Shamir, that is no longer the case. The Labor party all too willingly attacks the Israel government before the world on anything and everything.
In the midst of Israel’s battles against Hamas, with rockets raining down on Israeli cities, Leftist Israeli parties subjected the Netanyahu government to a constant barrage of criticism before the world. In its current campaign, the Labor party had the temerity to blame Netanyahu for Israelis having to go to bomb shelters during Hamas attacks. Despite the repeated failure of Leftist Israeli governments and negotiators to conclude a peace treaty with the PA (including Tzippy Livni who negotiated during the entire period of the current Netanyahu government), the Labor party blames Netanyahu for a lack of agreement.
And now, with the Democrats threatening a boycott if the Israeli Prime Minister addresses Congress, rather than backing the Israeli government and telling the Democratic party that such a boycott is undiplomatic, uncalled for, and unwise, the members of Knesset from the Leftist parties have attacked Netanyahu for accepting the invitation from the Speaker of the House. The leader of the Labor Party has, like some itinerant preacher, gone so far as to publicly proclaim that the proposed address “is born in sin”.
Netanyahu must stand up and address Congress, not only because that is what is called for in the U.S., but because that is what is called for in the face of post-Zionist Israeli parties that are mere shadows of the great parties that they once were.