Boehner’s Finest Hour: Congress Is Finally Asserting Its Power

The U.S. Congress is not going to let Israel be pushed aside by a president whose aides slag Netanyahu while insisting the world trust Obama in negotiations with Iran.

Seth Lipsky
Seth Lipsky
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House Speaker John Boehner and President Barack Obama.
House Speaker John Boehner and President Barack Obama.Credit: AP
Seth Lipsky
Seth Lipsky

News that the American-Jewish establishment has become a “victim” is — how to put it? — quite a scoop. It was brought in this week by Peter Beinart, who asks, who are Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s victims? Turns out they do not include U.S. President Barack Obama, who, Beinart reminds us, is still in office. Nor “left-wing activists,” for whom Netanyahu’s settlement “mania” has been a “bonanza.”

No, Beinart writes, Netanyahu’s “real American victims” are “the people who appear publicly to be his friends.” He goes on to name the leaders of groups like the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, the Anti-Defamation League and the American Jewish Committee. Netanyahu, Beinart reports, is “destroying the old American Jewish establishment and building a new one in its place.”

Let me just say, my eyes are dry. It’s not that I lack regard for Abraham Foxman, David Harris, Howard Kohr and Morton Klein. On the contrary, a generation on the Jewish beat has given me great regard for each of them. Even when we don’t agree (which is sometimes), I like them personally and have great appreciation for their standing, sagacity and staying power.

But I’m not terribly sympathetic to the idea that these paragons are victims. Even less so that they have been somehow traduced by the prime minister of the Jewish state. No doubt tempers are flaring between Obama and Netanyahu, and everyone is leaning on the Jewish leaders to see which side they will choose. Big deal. They are adults, and they’ve been at this a long time.

They are in this cause because they believe in it. I want Netanyahu to stick with Speaker of the House John Boehner and give his speech, which could make for one of the most illuminating days of the entire 114th Congress. Foxman, whom I’ve often had the honor of defending, wants Netanyahu to cancel. Doesn’t bother me. How strange it would be if the American-Jewish leadership and the prime minister of Israel had to be on the same page all the time. What a strange world it would be if new leadership were not being handed up in each generation.

What is really new here is the nature of the political shifts that the American Jewish leadership is seeing in Washington. It is not the tension between Obama and Netanyahu that is new. That’s been around for a while. What’s new is the tension between Obama and a Congress whose leadership is now in the hands of the Republicans. The 114th United States Congress, which was seated last month, is the first in a long time that is determined to assert its full authority on foreign affairs.

That authority is widely misunderstood. The foreign policy role of the president is tightly limited by the Constitution to commanding our military forces, receiving foreign ambassadors, and making treaties. The foreign-policy-making powers — raising an army, establishing a navy, regulating commerce with foreign lands, declaring wars, granting letters of marque and reprisal, and deciding whether to accept or reject any treaty the president makes — are enumerated as belonging to the Congress.

What has suddenly happened in Washington is that voters have installed a Congress determined to take a co-equal seat in foreign policy. Boehner made this clear over the weekend in an astonishingly blunt interview with Fox News. He addressed his reasoning for dealing with Netanyahu directly in respect of his speech to a joint meeting of Congress.

Boehner, questioned by Chris Wallace, said he’d asked Israel's Ambassador to the United States, Ron Dermer, to lay low on the matter. “I wanted to make sure there is no interference,” Boehner said. “There is no secret here about the animosity that this White House has for Netanyahu, and I didn’t want them getting in the way and quashing what I thought was a real opportunity.” It’s been decades since we’ve heard that kind of public comment from a speaker. One could call it Boehner’s finest hour.

This doesn’t make victims of the American Jewish leadership — it signals an opportunity. This is the Congress of the United States saying it is not going to make the kinds of errors in respect of Iran that the British parliament made in respect of Nazi Germany. It is not going to leave Israel to be pushed aside by a president whose aides speak of the prime minister of the Jewish state in gutter language while insisting the world trust the State Department in negotiations with the Iranian regime. It is a Congress saying that it is going to assert its powers.

Seth Lipsky is editor of The New York Sun. He was foreign editor and a member of the editorial board of The Wall Street Journal, founding editor of the Forward and editor from 1990 to 2000.

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