Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu addressed Congress this morning. This was a very controversial appearance, because instead of receiving an invitation from his political equivalent (the President) as is customary, Prime Minister Netanyahu was invited by House Speaker John Boehner. Boehner effectively ignored the chain of command, while at the same time ignoring the practice of not permitting foreign heads of state or foreign political candidates to speak in the United States immediately prior to an election. This avoids the appearance of an endorsement of a foreign candidate, and keeps the United States from openly influencing election results.
Netanyahu was trailing in the polls when he left Israel. His former chief of staff was interviewed following the speech (you can read the whole speech here), and said that many were eagerly anticipating the results of his speech, because they knew speaking in America to an enthusiastic crowd would drastically boost Netanyahu’s standing in the election. The Washington Post claims that more than 80% of Israeli voters are expected to view Netanyahu more positively because of his performance today.
Netanyahu was aware that his visit was in violation of American policy, that the President was not in favour of the visit, and that many people in this country– almost 50% of registered voters— disagree with how this whole thing went down. Sixty members of Congress refused to attend the speech, which caused every referee to exhaust their supplies of political red cards given for bipartisan behaviour. I have to give the Prime Minister a political BS red card, too, for his opening statement:
I want to thank you all for being here today. I know that my speech has been the subject of much controversy. I deeply regret that some perceive my being here as political. That was never my intention.
The road to hell is paved with good intentions, Sir. Or, in this case, the road to continued conflict and nuclear war is paved with “good’ intentions.
The speech was political. The talks between Iran and the United States are very complicated, and that the leader of Iran’s mortal enemy was allowed to stand before the US government and offer a scathing report of Iran’s ambitions in the Middle East, was quite possibly counterproductive to diplomatic efforts. Further, Netanyahu’s comments will not change the position of the United States, but likely will deepen the rift between Iran and Israel.
The timing of the speech was a last-ditch effort to influence voters by Netanyahu; hopefully the Israeli voters are wiser than he believes them to be.
It’s going to take more than polarizing speeches to have an effect on Middle East politics and national relations. The rhetoric only serves to deepen the conflicts and strengthen the foundation of fear and hate on which Middle Eastern politics is built.