American Jews Worry That Netanyahu’s Speech Here Can Hurt Israel

While few American Jewish leaders will speak openly on the subject, many thoughtful Jews are worried that Prime Minister Netanyahu’s planned speech in the House of Representatives on March 3rd will actually harm Israel’s security interests rather than help them. They fear that the US electorate, which is clearly unwilling to get involved in another major conflict following on the costly wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, may see Netanyahu’s speech as war mongering – an attempt to push the United States into military conflict with Iran. Until now, the implications of the positions taken by Netanyahu and the arguments he has made have not been closely followed by the American public or carefully scrutinized by the media in this country.

However, a speech by Netanyahu before the Congress intended to influence the legislative process, especially now, after the tensions with the Obama Administration and the politicization of his speech both here and in Israel, will attract great attention. The thrust of Netanyahu’s position is that anything short of an enforceable agreement by Iran to give up all efforts at achieving nuclear capability is unacceptable. However, it appears that the negotiators from United States and other of the P5+1 countries (Russia, China, United Kingdom, France plus Germany) are seeking an agreement that would permit Iran to retain its nuclear infrastructure but delay its ability to build a nuclear weapon by more than a year with sufficiently rigorous inspection and other protection elements.

Thus, explicitly or implicitly, Netanyahu may ask the Congress to reject any agreement reached by the negotiators and acceptable to the Obama Administration. In addition, he may ask the Congress to add more sanctions on Iran. Negotiations with Iran are already running into problems and it is very possible that they may fail. The threat of increased sanctions may be blamed for that failure. Even if the negotiation achieves the objectives set by the Administration, Congress may reject the agreement.

Either way, a failed negotiation with Iran will put the Obama Administration in a position to make good on the President’s statement “My policy is prevention of Iran obtaining nuclear weapons.” With sanctions and negotiation not working, the only open path is military action.

Whether Netanyahu’s intention is to lead America into war or only to increase pressure on Iran, the fear is that those opposed to another military intervention by the United States – and there will be many – will quickly seize on blaming Netanyahu and Israel for creating the conditions requiring military action. One can be sure that Iran will certainly do so and those opponents of Israel and anti-Semites here will readily take up that argument. In the end, they may prevail in stopping military action or if nothing else, create strong resentment by American citizens against Israel for pressing the United States into an unwanted war.

Netanyahu’s views have been expressed before and need not be restated before the Congress. There are other venues available that will not suggest that the Prime Minister of Israel is attempting to influence American legislators to take action that can lead to the United States going to war. The risk to Israel’s interests is too great to take for the putative benefit of airing Netanyahu’s views in an important forum.

About the Author
Robert K. Lifton, a board member of the Israel Policy Forum, was president of the American Jewish Congress, a founder and president of Israel Policy Forum, and co-chair of the Middle East Project of the Council on Foreign Relations. His memoirs, titled “An Entrepreneur’s Journey: Stories From A Life In Business And Personal Diplomacy,” have been published by AuthorHouse.
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