A week after the event, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s extraordinary address to Congress has in no way diminished my enthusiasm for his tour de force, which exceeded all expectations. He respectfully conveyed appreciation for the support President Barack Obama provided Israel, while adopting a Churchillian stance in depicting the threat to his country and the free world should the Iranian terrorist entity become a nuclear power.
The unprecedented, almost surrealistic, numerous passionate standing ovations from lawmakers of both houses of Congress — including the vast majority of Democrats — made a mockery of predictions that Netanyahu’s critique of the Obama administration would lead to a crisis in the U.S.-Israel relationship.
The frenzied efforts by the administration to intimidate Netanyahu to cancel his congressional address were clearly not primarily motivated because House Speaker John Boehner had breached protocol by not informing the White House in advance. They were based on a genuine concern by Obama that Netanyahu’s address would result in Congress intensifying its efforts against capitulating to the Iranians. Ironically, it was the insults and pressures by the administration to deter Netanyahu from speaking that ensured maximum publicity and global media exposure of his views.
Unfortunately, at a time when Israel’s national interest required opposition leaders to demonstrate unity in the face of a nuclear threat from a terrorist regime committed to wiping the Jewish state off the map, our wretched politicians sank to their lowest level. They not only belittled Netanyahu’s efforts but even accused him of betraying Israel in order to gain votes for the elections and ingratiate himself with the Republicans.
The reality is that the American people and Congress have never been more supportive of Israel than they are today. In fact, despite pressure from the administration, only a small minority of Democrats absented themselves from Netanyahu’s address. That is not to deny that there are growing elements on the left of the Democratic Party that have adopted the European left-wing bias against Israel. The way to limit their influence is not to paper over the differences and chant mantras about bipartisanship but to strengthen our ties with the vast majority of congressional Democrats who support Israel.
When House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) said she was “near tears” because of Netanyahu’s “insult to the intelligence of the United States,” a number of her colleagues quipped that she should have set aside the tears for the manner in which her president was in the process of enabling an evil terrorist state from becoming a nuclear power.
Netanyahu appealed to the United States and the West to act now before it is too late and prevent the “countdown to a potential nuclear nightmare” in which the most vicious and fanatical Islamic terrorist state attains nuclear status. He warned that the current Obama administration policy “doesn’t block Iran’s path to the bomb; it paves Iran’s path to the bomb. … The deal won’t be a farewell to arms. It will be a farewell to arms control.” He stressed that “Iran’s regime poses a great threat not only to Israel but to the peace of the entire world.” He also highlighted the sunset clause in the proposed deal whereby in 10 years all sanctions would be lifted, thus enabling Iran to openly produce nuclear weapons.
He stressed that the alternative to a bad deal was not necessarily war but a better deal. He posited that if the Iranians refused to make meaningful concessions, retention and intensification of the sanctions would oblige them to back down.
The Obama administration is now on the defensive and obliged to respond. How can it not concede that it would be unthinkable to enable the Iranians to become a nuclear power unless they stopped exporting terrorism and threatening to destroy Israel. Netanyahu stated, “If Iran wants to be treated like a normal country, let it act like a normal country.”
The reality is that, despite the enragement of the administration plus a few exceptions, all indicators suggest that Netanyahu’s address will serve to solidify the relationship with the U.S. and encourage Congress to prevent the White House from capitulating to the Iranians. Whereas Obama initially dismissed Netanyahu’s speech as negative, claiming that it provided no alternative, even most congressional Democrats have already rebuffed this.
Indeed, according to The Wall Street Journal, there are now already 64 senators (including Democrats), only three short of a veto-proof majority, willing to vote on legislation that will require the Iran deal to be approved by Congress. This means that far from having alienated opponents of the deal, Netanyahu’s impassioned exposure of the dangers of capitulation undoubtedly contributed to a tougher approach by Congress — which could overcome a presidential veto.
Yes, the relationship between the Israeli government and the Obama administration is currently at an all-time low and Israel must approach the remaining 22 months of Obama’s tenure with considerable trepidation. There have already been hints that Israel should not necessarily assume that the U.S. will continue exercising its veto powers at the United Nations Security Council to protect Israel from global sanctions and will continue pressuring Israel to withdraw to indefensible borders.
But this attitude prevailed long before Netanyahu’s congressional address. It can be traced back to the administration’s unrelenting pressure on Israel to retreat to the indefensible 1949 armistice borders, frenzied condemnations of Israel for construction in Jewish Jerusalem, and bias against Israel in favor of the PA.
There is also an obsessive refusal to recognize or relate to the threat of Islamic fundamentalism. Only last month, Obama trivialized the anti-Semitic attack on the Paris kosher supermarket as emanating from “a bunch of violent, vicious zealots who behead people or randomly shoot a bunch of folks in a deli in Paris.”
The final straw was during the recent war against Hamas when the Obama administration sought, unsuccessfully, to promote Qatar, one of the chief sponsors of Hamas, to replace Egypt as a mediator. There was also the disturbing “bureaucratic” delay in replenishing arms. And when negotiations with the Palestinians broke down (despite all of Netanyahu’s concessions, including release of mass murders), the Obama administration blamed Israel for being insufficiently flexible.
And now there are signals that the Obama administration is seeking to obtain the support of Iran to undermine ISIS, prompting Netanyahu to warn that “the battle between Iran and ISIS doesn’t turn Iran into a friend of America… the enemy of your enemy is your enemy.”
Netanyahu’s speech could not worsen Obama’s attitude towards Israel. In fact, the opposite is likely. If, despite intense efforts by the White House to promote the Israeli opposition, Netanyahu is reelected, Obama will be aware of the immense support Netanyahu and Israel enjoy in Congress and among American people and may think twice before embarking on another campaign to marginalize Israel. If Herzog is elected, the White House would consider him more pliable and would undoubtedly intensify the pressures on Israel to make further concessions.
With elections next week the question is what impact Netanyahu’s congressional address will have on Israeli voters.
There are many social issues confronting the nation. But the crucial factors determining the long-term future viability of Israel relate to security, relations with America, and building a coalition against terror with Egypt. It is significant that key Arab opinion makers endorsed Netanyahu’s concerns about Iran.
In these areas Prime Minister Netanyahu stands head and shoulders above all the other political contenders and has the greatest capacity to withstand the pressures from Obama and enjoys the support of Congress.
But setting this aside, Netanyahu’s address to Congress represents an historic event in the annals of the Jewish people.
Cynical Israelis and critics dismissed Netanyahu’s address as “theatre.” Yet listening to him, I felt an extraordinary sense of exhilaration that I could live to see the leader of an empowered, tiny Jewish state, address the parliament of the world’s most powerful nation — for the third time — with pride and dignity as a Zionist and receive such enthusiastic standing ovations. The only other leader accorded such an honor was Winston Churchill.
A few weeks ago we commemorated the 70th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz. Netanyahu told the American lawmakers that “we are no longer scattered among the nations, powerless to defend ourselves. But I can guarantee you this — the days when the Jewish people remain passive in the face of genocidal enemies, those days are over.” These remarks were greeted by a massive standing ovation.
Some miserable critics berated him for exploitation of the Holocaust. Yet as I listened to him, my thoughts turned to my grandparents Yenta and Aaron Ackerman who, along with millions of other Jews, were led like lambs to the slaughter in the gas chambers and killing fields.
Could those who underwent the Shoah or were engaged in the struggle to establish a Jewish state have remotely dreamed that within a century a Jewish leader would obtain such recognition from the most powerful lawmakers in the world? We are indeed living in extraordinary, many would say miraculous, times and it ill behooves us to take our status for granted.
The writer may be contacted at [email protected]
This column was originally published in the Jerusalem Post and Israel Hayom