The Netanyahu Speech: Protocol is a Diversion

So here, again, are the facts: John Boehner invited Bibi to speak on an issue of national importance to both the United States and to Israel, and Bibi accepted. The White House was informed of the invitation in advance, as is proper. Democrats were not consulted. Tzipi Livni, Buji Herzog, Jonathan Greenblatt, and the editorial board of the New York Times were not consulted either. This is all according to custom and according to precedent. Any other reading of this story is a violation of protocol.

The True Rift Between Netanyahu and Obama Is About Policy, Not Politesse
Liel Leibovitz
Tablet Magazine
F
ebruary 12, 2015

Leibovitz and I share a deep discomfort with Netanyahu, and in matters of policy do not usually count ourselves among Bibi’s defenders.

But this meme that somehow the White House was “snubbed” in this process, or that inviting the Israeli Prime Minister to speak to Congress (and his acceptance of that invitation) was a violation of protocol is factually incorrect. Liebovitz explains why, and in great detail.

And this is vital. If what Liebovitz says is true, than one could conclude that the White House and/or its allies are inflating this non-issue as a means of distracting from the real matter at hand: the administration’s policy toward Iran.

The Administration seeks to pursue a relatively novel policy toward Iran and its ability to manufacture nuclear arms. The Administration appears to be of the opinion that “normalized” relations with Iran are of such value that it is worth allowing an unstable theocracy that pours its national treasure into non-state actors who are destabilizing the region and terrorizing the world to become a nuclear power.  That approach is at odds with decades of US policy.

Congress has an advise and consent role in the conduct of foreign policy. Liebovitz points out that Netanyahu, representing the one nation on earth most threatened by an Iranian bomb, has a point of view on the matter that is worth considering as Congress takes on its lawful role as overseer of foreign policy. Given that “March 24 is the deadline for the framework agreement in the coming negotiations with Iran,” the timing for the Prime Minister to air his concerns and for Congress to debate their veracity and their relevance to US foreign policy is entirely appropriate.

I have been against the idea of this speech, and not because I am concerned about protocol. Rather, I am concerned about how Bibi’s speaking gives ammunition to those who believe, as does John Mearsheimer, that American policy toward Israel is driven by AIPAC and the desire to court what is anachronistically referred to as “the Jewish Vote.”

I retain those concerns. The Prime Minister and the Speaker of the House tread on extraordinarily thin ice with America here. No foreign power should ever be allowed undue influence over American policy, and no special interest group (even my own) should be able to compel the government to conduct a policy inconsistent with the principles and broader interests of the American people.

The Prime Minister must use his time to make a policy case, not a political one. He must lay out what is at stake, why Israel is so threatened by Iranian Plutonium, and why the end of an American policy that has shielded Israel from harm must send Israel on a pathway that diverges from that of the Administration.

This may be the most important speech of Netanyahu’s career. Not because his political fortunes at home are at stake, but because the future of Israel’s relationship with America is in the balance.

Enough of the caterwauling: let the man speak his piece. And may he speak it well.

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