Jun 3, 2024

The Outrageous Congressional Invitation to Netanyahu

It’s no surprise that the Republican leadership invited Prime Minister Netanyahu to address a joint session of Congress, but why would the Democratic leadership co-sponsor the invitation?  The Republicans issued the invitation as part of their effort to embarrass President Biden’s support for a ceasefire in Gaza.  Democratic support for the invitation lends credibility to this effort and will further divide the Democratic Party, making it more difficult for Biden to be reelected in November.

Biden has consistently overestimated his ability to influence Netanyahu, and has consistently underestimated the influence and importance of the progressive and liberal base of the Democratic Party that favors an immediate ceasefire.

The timing of the congressional invitation could not be worse.  Last week, Biden supported a three-phrase proposal for winding down the war in Gaza, emphasizing that “Hamas no longer is capable of carrying out another October 7.”  Biden argued that Israel had met its goals for its operation in Gaza and that the time has arrived to stop the fighting and to release the hostages.  Less than an hour after Biden endorsed the Israeli war cabinet’s proposal, Netanyahu insisted that Israel would not end the war until Hamas is defeated and “all of its goals are achieved.”

This is not the first time that Netanyahu has been given a congressional platform to embarrass a Democratic president.  Nine years ago, the Congress invited Netanyahu to address a joint session as part of his campaign to defeat the Iranian nuclear accord.  Netanyahu’s address was an unacceptable interference in the U.S. domestic political arena.  President Barack Obama, as a result, refused to hold a private meeting with Netanyahu.  Before leaving office, however, Obama signed the most generous military aid package ever given to the Israelis.

The Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action—the Iran nuclear accord—marked Obama’s most successful exercise in international diplomacy and could have been a useful tool in creating a U.S.-Iranian diplomatic dialogue as well as strengthening moderates in Iran who wanted to reduce tensions in the region.  Donald Trump’s abrogation of the nuclear accord was a gift to Israel, and it ended the opportunity to resume relations with Iran, broken 45 years ago.

Five years ago, 400 members of the Senate and House of Representatives presented Netanyahu with another gift in the form of a letter that fully supported Israel’s militarist agenda for the Middle East.  The letter coincided with Netanyahu’s floundering efforts to form a new Israeli government; he used the letter to enhance these efforts.  In supporting the Israeli national security agenda for the region, the letter made it more difficult for any U.S. president to reduce its role in the Middle East, where we have wasted military and economic resources over the past 40 years.  Trump’s catering to Israel included moving the embassy to Jerusalem, ending humanitarian aid to the Palestinian Authority, and encouraging greater settlement activity on the West Bank.  Congressional catering to Israel has been a constant for the past 75 years.

The fulsome support for Netanyahu is particularly objectionable because of his anti-Americanism over the past 30 years.  He has embarrassed virtually every Democratic leader, including Presidents Bill Clinton, Obama and Biden as well as Secretaries of State John Kerry and Hillary Clinton.  Netanyahu has often announced an expansion of Israeli settlements on the West Bank on the very day that U.S. officials were arriving in Israel for discussions.  Obama and Kerry were treated particularly poorly in the Israeli press.  Every time Biden raises the issue of a two-state solution, Netanyahu emphatically denounces the idea.

Relations between Obama and Netanyahu were particularly tense.  Several weeks after the United States announced a ten-year $38 billion package of military aid for Israel, Netanyahu made scathing remarks about Obama and Kerry.  Netanyahu was angered by the United States abstaining from a UN Security Council Resolution that demanded an end to settlement construction on occupied Palestinian territory.  No presidents did more for Israeli national security than Jimmy Carter and Obama, but they received no credit from their Israeli counterparts.

The relationship between Clinton and Netanyahu was also tense.  Clinton said that the Israeli prime minister was “smart and able and he knows how to hit people where they’re tender.”  Several years ago, Clinton acknowledged for the first time that he tried to help Shimon Peres win the 1996 election because Netanyahu was so unsupportive of an Israeli-Palestinian peace effort.  After being lectured by Netanyahu in a 1996 meeting, Clinton grumbled “Who the fuck does he think he is?  Who’s the fucking superpower here?”  After an acrimonious meeting in the Oval Office, Obama told his staff that Netanyahu “pissed on my leg.”

Netanyahu has always taken the United States for granted, and he has always gotten away with it.  He knows that the Democratic leadership is fearful of challenging Jewish support for Israel, and that he can count on the support of Christian Evangelicals and Jewish Americans.  The congressional invitation will bolster Netanyahu’s confidence that he can handle the Biden administration.

The United States is Israel’s only supporter; its major supplier of sophisticated military weaponry; and Israel’s defender in international fora such as the United Nations.  Netanyahu has no expectation that U.S. policy toward Israel will change, and as a result he will continue to ignore U.S. interests in his typical bull-headed way.

It is unconscionable that only several weeks following the order of the International Court of Justice to Israel to halt its offensive in Rafah, and the chief prosecutor of the International Criminal Court accusing Netanyahu of war crimes and seeking an arrest warrant, we find the Democratic and Republican leaders of the Senate and House extending its invitation to the Israeli Prime Minister.

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