Don’t use Bibi as cover for your war-mongering

Netanyahu's alarmist rhetoric will only obscure the fact that war is a likely option if diplomacy fails

Criticism of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s upcoming address to Congress on “the grave threats of radical Islam and Iran” has focused almost exclusively on the opportunism of Israel’s contentious Prime Minister during an Israeli election campaign. Americans, however, should not lose sight of the underhanded use of Netanyahu by Speaker of the House John Boehner and his allies as cover for the real dangers posed by escalating the conflict with Iran.

President Obama is rightfully concerned that congressional bullying could make diplomacy more difficult –possibly killing the talks – and for that reason has threatened to veto any such legislation. Since Iran agreed to an interim arrangement with the permanent members of the UN Security Council plus Germany to receive partial sanctions relief in exchange for a short-term freeze on portions of its program, a team of international diplomats has since been working on a long-term agreement.

While some members of Congress claim that imposing new sanctions will pressure Iran to abandon its nuclear ambitions, the actual effect will be to violate the terms of the interim agreement, which will in turn bring negotiations to a screeching halt, reverse the unprecedented level of monitoring now in place and break the resolve of the international sanctions regime.

There are legitimate reasons for Israel, the U.S., and its Arab allies to fear the threat to the region and beyond that a nuclear armed Iran would pose.. But new sanctions could move the U.S. closer to military action and throw the already turbulent Middle East into more chaos.

The alarmist rhetoric for which Netanyahu is known will only obscure the fact that war is a likely option if diplomacy fails. In his speech before Congress, Netanyahu will probably speak of protecting the free world from Islamic extremism and of shielding Israel from a genocidal nuclear attack. Iranians will likely be portrayed as extreme “fanatics” with whom any negotiation is impossible.

Many in the Israeli security establishment have fiercely opposed Netanyahu’s advocacy of more aggressive moves toward Iran. Furthermore, domestic issues and conflicts closer to home have eclipsed most Israelis’ concern over Iran’s nuclear program. This hurts Netanyahu, who excels at fear-mongering. Despite the Prime Minister’s belligerent threats that Israel will unilaterally attack Iran, the fact is that the country would be unable to wage such a war without America’s enormous weapons arsenal and trained personnel.

The internet is full of conspiracy theories of Jews and Israelis behind the Iraq War. Could the invitation to Netanyahu be used in a similar way, much like feudal elites used Jews as a scapegoat during times of crises? Congress members who instigated the war-mongering may find it more politic to use Netanyahu as a scapegoat in the same way. On the one hand, Netanyahu may intimate that members of Congress who don’t support sanctions are anti-Israel, if not outright anti-Semitic. On the other hand, if diplomacy fails and war or terror ensues, Netanyahu could very well be blamed as part of a broader anti-Semitic scheme.

Congress must own up to the weight of its decision and not use Netanyahu as a decoy to derail diplomacy on this most sensitive issue. The current international efforts to peacefully reach a permanent agreement going on right now deserve full public and Congressional support. Congress must not use the controversial views of a single Israeli politician as a cover for cynical political gamesmanship, so that when the game goes awry, they can blame Israel and its Jewish supporters as if Congress itself did not instigate an unwanted war.

About the Author
Aliza Becker is the director of two oral history projects: The Meanings of October 27th, reflections from Pittsburghers on the 2018 synagogues shooting and the American Jewish Peace Archive 1967-2018, stories from American Jews involved in leadership of American Jewish peace and anti-occupation organizations. She is an Associate Fellow at the Hannah Arendt Center for Politics and Humanities at Bard College.