Cutting through the protocol clamor

America and Israel have too much in common for their relationship to be affected by tiffs over a speaking invitation

The invitation to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to address a joint session of Congress on March 3 has been marred by mistakes on every side.

House Speaker John Boehner’s letter to Netanyahu expressly stated that the invitation was on behalf of the bipartisan congressional leadership, but the speaker failed to inform the White House in advance, thereby infuriating President Obama and certain Democrats.

Netanyahu failed to appreciate how the bitterly partisan relationship between the Republicans and Democrats on Capitol Hill would affect how the invitation would be regarded. And the Obama White House, which sees any congressional role in reviewing its proposed nuclear deal with Iran as outrageous interference with its exclusive prerogative, has spared little effort in badmouthing Netanyahu, who is expected to talk about the implication of that deal in his address to Congress.

The run-up to Netanyahu’s speech has been a debacle that has left everyone unhappy — save those who ardently hope that the extraordinarily strong bond between the United States and Israel will fray. Those people appear likely to be disappointed, however, as two polls — one little noticed and the other undisclosed until now — tend to indicate.

A Huffington Post poll released Feb. 11 found that the media storm about the invitation process had little impact on Americans’ view of the substantive importance of the Israeli prime minister’s address. Although a plurality of Americans believed that the handling of the invitation was “inappropriate,” by a 2 to 1 margin they nevertheless wanted their member of Congress to attend Netanyahu’s speech. And by 3 to 1, Americans wanted Obama to meet with the Israeli leader during his upcoming visit.

The reasons that the relationship between the two countries easily survives these kinds of dust-ups may be found in a poll taken by veteran Democratic pollster John Martilla after Israel’s most recent war with Hamas ended in August. Martilla, who has advised prominent Democrats such as Joe Biden, John Kerry and Deval Patrick, surveyed Massachusetts residents under the age of 40, seeking to measure the impact of the terrible images of the fighting in Gaza on young people in the Mother of Blue States. What he found was that even in Massachusetts, and even among younger voters who have been subjected to slick and relentless anti-Israelism, identification with Israel and its values remains strong.

By over 3 to 1, for example, young Massachusetts voters sympathized more with Israel than with Hamas, and by almost the same margin they believed that Palestinians did not respect Israel’s right to live in peace. By far more lopsided margins and of far deeper significance, however, younger voters told Martilla that the values of average Israelis were more compatible with their own than were the values of Israel’s neighbors.

By 6 to 1, Massachusetts voters under 40 identified more with Israel’s values on LGBT rights and on free expression than with those of Israel’s adversaries. By about 5 to 1, they believed that Israelis share their values on religious freedom and freedom of the press more than the Arab states. And by a whopping 12 to 1 margin, Massachusetts Gen-Xers and Millennials feel that Israel’s values on women’s rights match their own more than those of Israel’s neighbors.

Martilla’s poll suggests that even young people in a deeply Democratic state are able to separate the wheat from the chaff when it comes to Israel. Put simply, Americans and Israelis have far too much in common for their relationship to be affected by tiffs about the protocol of a speaking invitation, and both countries know it.

This piece was published previously in The Boston Herald

About the Author
Jeff Robbins, a former United States Delegate to the United Nations Human Rights Commission in the Clinton Administration, is an attorney in Boston, Massachusetts