Dean Rotbart’s piece, “Congress: Polis Will Attend – DeGette Will Snub Netanyahu Speech”, unfortunately injects more partisan politics into an already over-politicized matter.
The timing of Netanyahu’s address to Congress was a political ploy, pure and simple. The speech is set for March 3, exactly two weeks before Israel’s March 17 national election. Mr. Netanyahu is facing a tough reelection campaign, with polls thus far showing the race too close to call.
The Washington speech offers the Prime Minister a golden opportunity for free political air time in Israel. Netanyahu will no doubt impress right wing Israelis by attacking the Obama Administration’s policies toward Iran. Netanyahu also hopes to appeal to more centrist Israeli voters – who value strong ties with America – by the televised spectacle of American lawmakers lavishing Bibi with standing ovation after standing ovation.
Mr. Rotbart minimizes how the Netanyahu address breaches diplomatic protocol. Its timing violates a policy of U.S. presidents of not inviting foreign leaders to speak in Washington shortly before those leaders face elections in their home country. Even Speaker Boehner admitted he did not consult the White House prior to the invitation to Mr. Netanyahu, another break with protocol.
To be sure, the substance of Mr. Netanyahu’s concerns about Iran’s nuclear program have been lost in the controversy over the politics and timing of Mr. Netanyahu’s speech. But here, too, Mr. Rotbart overstates the case. Both the Obama Administration and those opposed to its Iran policy share the goal of preventing Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons. The Obama position seeks to roll back Iran’s enrichment capability and to contain its nuclear program through a regime of intrusive inspections.
Critics of Netanyahu’s position – including columnist Roger Cohen – argue that further sanctions on Iran likely will not force Tehran to completely dismantle its nuclear program. The only other alternative, Cohen points out, is war. Yet even a successful military campaign against Iran will likely not completely destroy Iran’s bomb making capacity. Such a campaign, however, would virtually insure that Iran will eventually build a bomb. That outcome surely is not what any supporter of Israel wants to see.
So, should those of us in the First District insist that Representative DeGette attend Netanyahu’s March 3 speech? No. The sky will surely not fall – for Israel or for America – if there are some empty seats in the hall. Indeed, rather than insisting that Congresswoman DeGette change her schedule on March 3, Mr. Netanyahu should postpone his address, until after the Israeli election. He can then make his case – as a statesman, not as a politician – and Ms. DeGette and her colleagues can reach their own conclusions.