Time to Reconsider and A Word of Warning

The current state of the disagreement concerning PM Netanyahu’s speech to Congress is damaging to bipartisan Israel advocacy with many leaders finding themselves forced to choose between respecting the President and respecting the Israeli Prime Minister, to the US-Israel relationship under this and potentially under future Democratic Presidents because of hostility created now, as well as to addressing the vital security issue of the Iranian nuclear weapons program which is, in theory, the purpose of PM Netanyahu’s speech.

Challenging the President’s policy on Iran need not happen in the House Chamber at all. Significantly damaging Democratic support for Israel and hampering the ability of Democrats to aid in advancing Israeli advocacy generally and for a good deal with Iran specifically must not happen at all. That said, it is time for PM Netanyahu to consider an alternative to speaking before Congress on March 3rd.

Israel lives in a very dangerous neighborhood. The Iranian threats, plural, to Israel’s security, well-being, and even existence are real. It is understandable why the Prime Minister should be concerned about the impact that any nuclear agreement with Iran might have and that Israeli leaders should advocate for the best possible agreement that might be achieved. There is real fear by Israelis of an agreement that leaves Iran as a nuclear threshold state mere months away from clandestinely producing a nuclear weapon in an environment with limited or no real military threats being made against it and limited ability to inspect the many known much less unknown facilities by the nations pledging to prevent it from crossing that threshold.

Yet also a major threat to Israel’s security would be substantially weakened bipartisan support in the US Congress and in the American public generally. The ability to speak about the threat of Iran before Congress should not be accepted at the cost of substantially weakening bipartisan support.

This is why it is time for the Prime Minister to reconsider accepting the invitation to speak before Congress on March 3rd.

However, a word of warning.

The idea that boycotting the Israeli Prime Minister should be acceptable because of American party politics is deeply disturbing. I know of no other national leader who has ever faced such a boycott threat from either political party’s leaders. Israel, Israelis, and Jews are all too often singled out for different treatment both positively and negatively. The fact that the sole time the President of the United States and leaders of a major political party have publicly declared a boycott against attending a speech given to Congress by any nation’s political leader happens to be against the leader of the Jewish state should be of the utmost concern to members of the American Jewish community. If it is in fact the case that disagreement over policy differences justifies claiming insult and then that justifies a boycott, we have entered a new and frightening era for Israel advocacy and for the Jews in America.

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11 Responses to Time to Reconsider and A Word of Warning

  1. Vardiyah says:

    The entire process – from the invitation until now has been flawed. It was an immature demonstration of partisan politics and petty ‘one upsmanship’ which led speaker Boehner to extend this invitation without consulting with or informing the President. I do not believe that the Congress or thePresident needs to be lectured about the nuclear threat that Iran poses. Netanyahu is using his status as PM to exercise an unfair advantage over those who are seeking to have his job. Our elected officials in the US must demonstrate public loyalty to the President of the United States, especially those in the Democratic party. I do not accept that Netanyahu is being singled out for disparate treatment because he is Israel’s leader. I do however believe that he should take a graceful exit and not appear before Congress in March. It will only damage Israel.

  2. michaelnweiss@comcast.net says:

    Sandy…Another well written article by another Rabbi calling on BiBi to reconsider…

  3. Perhaps there is an opportunity for compromise here. What if Netanyahu not only speaks at AIPAC but also offers Obama the following deal – He will postpone or cancel his speech before Congress if Obama agrees to come to AIPAC and speak as well.

    • In all honesty, the only solution that doesn’t involve a successful boycott damaging to Israel advocate support for Democrats is for the President to encourage Democrats to attend Netanyahu’s Congress speech. It’s pretty bad when we’re talking about relying on Netanyahu to aid Democrats in avoiding having to decide between respecting the President and respecting the Israeli Prime Minister. All of the damage is being done on the Democratic side of the aisle. That shows where the problem is very clearly. The questions for Netanyahu are whether or not he believes it important not to cause problems for pro-Israel Democrats and if he believes it more important to publicly call out the President on the Iran issue. I’m fairly certain that his answers to those questions are “No” and “Yes” respectively.

  4. I must disagree with a basic contention made here: that long-term support of Israel by the Democrats is at issue at all because of this speech. I believe it was Jonah Goldberg that observed that a boycott of PM Netanyahu’s speech by Democrats would be the best thing possible… for Republicans. Support for Israel remains high in the US population generally and on the Right, so any Democrat choosing to snub the PM would be pandering to the Democratic base, and risking a Jewish backlash, for dubious gains indeed.

    The problem with associating fading Democratic support for Israel with this event is that, since at least 2000, Democrats have lagged Republicans in their support for the Jewish State. As a simple matter of polling* Israel enjoys a super-majority of Republicans support, while Democratic support is noticeably less, and has been for at least the last decade.

    Moreover it’s unclear that Democrats that boycotted would be standing for anything but a defense of the White House’s exquisitely delicate feelings, as Prof. David Bernstein at the Washington Post blog has investigated; http://www.washingtonpost.com/news/volokh-conspiracy/wp/2015/02/08/did-the-obama-administration-lie-about-netanyahu/

    *See, for example, polls at Gallup;

    • What it really does is open the door for moderates to cross what had been a red line, an actual boycott. As for “long term,” there is an issue of what that means. For sure, it means the next two years. Might there be a residual in a future Democratic administration? Possibly. It really depends on how nasty the situation gets. If it stays as is, the damage will be limited. Might it get worse? Yes.

      • You are absolutely correct that the big winners here are Republicans who will be able to accuse Democrats of Boycotting the Israeli Prime Minister. No amount of spin will eliminate that. In fact, I have made that point in other places. Netanyahu can either speak and allow some Democrats to boycott, or he can alter his plan to speak and blame that on a boycott by Democrats, tarring all of them. In either event, the Republicans are the winners.

      • (I meant to reply to the message below but can’t for some odd reason)

        Not to be churlish, but I’m a bit confused by the thrust of your argument: why should we be troubled by the Republicans winning on this issue, if (as the polls I cited above attest) the Republicans are the most sold friends of Israel?

        What I mean is, if the Republicans are more amenable to Israel then the Democrats, what benefit is there for friends of Israel to pretend that the Democrats support Israel when they don’t?

        Times change, of course, but the reality of our present situation is that the strongest voices against Zionism and Israel are coming from the Left at the moment. The BDS movement, the Social Justice critique of Zionism as Racism, the attempts to bring the International Criminal Court to bare as a cudgel against Israel, all of these movements find a much better fit in the Democratic party then the Republicans. Of course, there are the neo-isolationist wings of the Republican party, but if Sen. Rand Paul is planning on boycotting the PM’s speech I haven’t heard of it.

      • Issues in congress are decided in the political center. Even if a party has enough votes to pass a bill, it is unlikely that party will have enough votes to override a veto. Our political system is basically set up so that the parties will constantly fight over the center, which tends to keep each with nearly 50% of the vote. That may swing slightly from year to year, but you’re not going to get significantly more than 50% of the vote for any party for long. The other party will move toward the center to win more votes. That’s how it works. The biggest danger for the Democrats right now is actually not losing votes because of Israel policies, it’s because some of the issues on which Jews have voted are ceasing to be issues. If same-sex marriage is approved by the Supreme Court and a GOP Congress fails to do anything to seriously affect Choice, that would allow progressive Jews to vote on other issues. That’s where Israel policy could begin to affect votes. I agree that much of the progressive left is willing to see Israel as an enemy and act against it. What you cite however is certainly not normative policy for most Democrats. Even with a boycott of Bibi’s speech, I’d be shocked if more than a couple of dozen Congressperson’s boycotted at this point. I was certainly more fearful earlier in the week. Things have changed. I’m going to write a new article soon updating the situation. What I’m hearing about a likely Iran deal is also likely being heard by Congresspersons and is likely raising their concern level as well.

  5. Rabbi Shaul(Paul) R feinberg says:

    thank you Rabbi Boyden for both helping to sharpen critical understanding while providing a range of other opinions all in the spirit of free exchange of views. The manipulation of public opinion by the Prime Minister’s Office has gone beyond expressing “free exchange of views.” I pray that this antic will not work

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