U.S. does support Israel, but owes Netanyahu nothing
House Speaker John Boehner and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu are responsible for the near hysteria surrounding the nuclear deal with Iran. Mr. Boehner had the right and duty to engage in the controversy; he simply abused his power. Mr. Netanyahu, however, had no right to interfere in the political process of the United States; his doing so and his extreme demagoguery in the Israeli elections last March question his moral authority to govern.
While the agreement reached by the United States, Britain, France, Russia, China and Germany with Iran is not without flaws, it’s a meaningful restraint on Iran’s ability to develop nuclear weapons. It deserved fair, thorough and factual congressional consideration, not the collusive efforts of Mr. Boehner and Mr. Netanyahu to poison the atmosphere and kill the negotiation and agreement.
Mr. Boehner secretly invited Mr. Netanyahu to address a joint session of Congress on March 3, 2015, without even the common courtesy of informing President Obama. That was a blatant violation of protocol, if not illegal. Congress has a vital role in establishing foreign policy, but the conduct of foreign relations is an executive power, granted exclusively by the Constitution to the president. Contact with a foreign head of state is a presidential prerogative.
Mr. Netanyahu’s speech to Congress was highly inflammatory and misleading. It accomplished its purpose of arousing anti-Iran passions among congressional Republicans. It agitated the already frayed relationship between Mr. Netanyahu and Mr. Obama, lending credibility to a New York Times editorial (2/25/15) Mr. Netanyahu and Speaker Boehner “are jeopardizing Israel’s relations with the United States with crass political partisanship.”
After agreement was reached on the nuclear talks, Mr. Netanyahu led an intense lobbying campaign to kill the agreement. The Israeli ambassador to the U.S. is said to have put heavy pressure on members of Congress, and it can be assumed Mr. Netanyahu did likewise. One Jewish group spent a reported $30 million in that effort. Together with the Republican leadership, those efforts ensured not a single GOP member of Congress would support the agreement.
In a close election battle to remain as prime minister, Mr. Netanyahu resorted to demagoguery of the worst kind in the last days of the March campaign. Contrary to his long-standing support of a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, at the last minute he said there would be no such agreement as long as he’s prime minister. The day of the vote, he repeatedly spoke of “hoards” of Arab Israelis “flocking” to the polls. The day after his victory, Mr. Netanyahu stepped back from both of those calculated political statements. Even the Israeli president, Reuven Rivlin, said of the election in a rebuke of Mr. Netanyahu “things were said which ought not to be said — not in a Jewish state and not in a democratic state.” And the prime minister’s support of aggressive West Bank settlements and the effective blockade of Gaza make an Israeli-Palestinian rapprochement all but impossible.
Mr. Obama is expected to invite Mr. Netanyahu to Washington soon to begin a reconciliation between the two leaders. That’s a diplomatic necessity, but its purpose should not be misunderstood. The United States will not waver in its support of Israel, but that’s a commitment to the nation and the Jewish people. The United States owes nothing to Mr. Netanyahu.
Bo Statham is a retired lawyer, congressional aid and businessman. He lives in Gardnerville and can be reached at email@example.com.