It appears that Benjamin Netanyahu, Prime Minister of Israel, the sole democracy in the Middle East, will be addressing Congress after all on March 3rd. The US Congress has been called the greatest deliberative democratic body on earth, and so here is a match that appears to have been made in Heaven. What then is the problem?
Dick Blumenthal, as of this writing, is pretending not to know. Connecticut’s first consumer protection U.S. Senator has dropped into his Hamlet mode and has not yet made up his mind whether he’ll attend Mr. Netanyahu’s address. Said Mr. Blumenthal, “Well, I’m here as the senator from Connecticut, and I have to make a decision about what serves the national interest. And obviously I am Jewish, so I will be inclined to go but I, you know, have to make a decision on what I think is the right thing to do,” and “I certainly have respect for the head of the state of Israel and out of that respect I could go. But the invitation and the acceptance were very unfortunately done.”
In non-Newspeak this means: Mr. Netanyahu did not secure permission from President Barack Obama to speak to the US Congress on matters important to his nation. Some congressmen, but not Mr. Hamlet from Connecticut, may be asking themselves: So what? Must the President approve everyone who wishes to address the US Congress? And why is presidential approval necessary in this case?
The President and all the President’s men say that Mr. Netanyahu’s address is likely to upset delicate negotiations now underway between the President and Iran. But this objection seems silly. Mr. Netanyahu’s view of Iran, a client state of Russian President Vladimir Putin, vanquisher of Ukraine, is well known; it has been announced from a thousand rooftops; it has been published in hundreds of news outlets, including the New York Times. How often have we heard Mr. Netanyahu say publicly that he would do anything and everything to prevent Iran, fast becoming a regional power in the Middle East, from deploying nuclear weapons? Mr. Obama, much in the habit of drawing red lines in desert sand that the winds of war obscure, says he has similar ambitions.
Owing to a major story in the New York Times, it had been thought that Mr. Netanyahu and Speaker of the US House John Boehner between themselves had arranged the assignation without telling the Obama administration. Almost immediately after the Times story had appeared, the paper ran a correction that torpedoed the thrust of its own story: “An earlier version of this article misstated when Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel accepted Speaker John A. Boehner’s invitation to address Congress. He accepted after the administration had been informed of the invitation, not before.” Sorry, said the Times, the White House WAS advised of the invitation. It was as if the Times had run a story saying “the sky is falling” and then appended to the story a “correction” that said “the sky is NOT falling; however, it IS raining.”
“Falsehood flies, and the Truth comes limping after it,” Jonathan Swift wrote in 1710, “so that when Men come to be undeceiv’d, it is too late; the Jest is over, and the Tale has had its Effect.” And though the attribution has been questioned, Mark Twain easily could have said “A lie can travel halfway around the world before the truth can get its boots on.”
Mr. Obama will not be attending the address, and some of his critics are speculating that his absence will be attributed to a pending golf game or yet another costly family vacation. Vice President Joe Biden, who regularly presides over joint sessions of Congress, has said he will not be able to attend the event owing to an unspecified trip abroad. While in Germany, Mr. Biden found time to meet with Mr. Netanyahu's chief political rival, Israeli opposition leader Isaac Herzog. A widely read Jewish Newspaper, Haaretz, has reported that “The group V15, which denies that its motto is ‘anyone but Bibi,’ is working with U.S. political strategist Jeremy Bird to replace the government in March.” Other reports indicate that OneVoice International, a US based activist group, has partnered with V15 and that Jeremy Bird, former national field director for President Obama’s 2012 reelection campaign, “is also reportedly involved in the effort.”
The electorate in Israel is fairly sophisticated – and it may be better informed than boycotting congressmen concerning underhanded attempts to affect elections in Israel. For his part, Mr. Netanyahu has plainly said he will be coming to Washington to warn the greatest deliberative body on earth that Iran MUST be prevented from producing a nuclear weapon that would forever change the delicate balance of power in the Middle East. Congressmen teetering on the fence should give him an honest hearing.