Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is set to give a speech before a joint session of Congress next month. This would, ordinarily, be a straightforward, albeit boring event; in the past five years, the leaders of Mexico, Korea, Ukraine, and Israel (back in 2011) have all addressed Congress. However, Netanyahu forget to tell one person about his plans: President Obama. There are three reasons this is bad for Netanyahu.
First, it’s bad for him at home. Israeli elections are just weeks away. Many critics, American and Israeli, have condemned him for using the joint session as a campaign platform. Instead of focusing on the litany of domestic issues in Israel that dominate the potentially upsetting election, Netanyahu has focused his attentions on American citizens and American power. The Israeli Labor Party’s leader, Isaac Herzog,criticized him for this, saying
“When I am prime minister, you won’t see us involved [between Democrats and Republicans in Congress]. Let the American people decide. It is embarrassing, this debate.”
Secondly, it’s bad for him in the United States. His snub of the White House angered many Democrats; lead by Vice President Joe Biden (who’s President of the Senate), they are choosing not to attend the speech in troves. This harms overall American and American-Jewish support for Israel. As the Israeli newspaper Haaretz reported:
“Support for Israel in the United States must be bipartisan. But now, when Israel has a prime minister who looks American and sounds American, he acts like one who doesn’t understand America at all. Netanyahu detests liberal Democrats. But doesn’t he know that two-thirds of the Jews in America are liberal Democrats? … Why does [Netanyahu] insist on smashing the sacred principle of bipartisan support for Israel, by speaking Republican, broadcasting Republican and identifying Israel dangerously with the Republican Party’s agenda?”
Lastly, it’s bad for him in the rest of the Middle East. Netanyahu has called the Iranian nuclear program an “existential issue” for Israel, and he’s completely right. An Iran with the capability to rain death from above would be incredibly damaging to Israeli, and American, safety. But that program, while allegedly in development, has been “allegedly in development” for decades, without any real intelligence of it suddenly becoming an imminent threat.
The Obama Administration is attempting to negotiate with Iran to dismantle the program; Netanyahu’s visit makes those negotiations harder. That’s not to say that the negotiations will ever be successful; Iran, quite simply, will probably never give up its nuclear program. But the GOP, by inviting Netanyahu, is pushing the time table too much. Wait for the negotiations to fail, as they inevitably will, then talk of drastic action. The visit also creates an element of distrust between the Israeli and American administrations that won’t bode well for future military and diplomatic action in the Middle East.
Netanyahu: at this point, you’re committed to speaking. Backing out would damage your credibility more than going through would. But, in the future, consider the implications of your visits. Will it make it look like you care more about Americans than Israelis? Will it make it look like you care more about Republicans than Democrats? Will it make it look like you care more about short-term political gain than long-term regional stability? If the answer to any of those is “Yes,” then maybe reject the invitation.