Ignorance and Malice at Heart of Netanyahu Abuse

Those attacking Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s decision to address the U.S. Congress must be unaware of how the U.S. Constitution actually works.

Moshe Arens
Moshe Arens
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Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu addresses the U.S. Congress, March 3, 2015.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu addresses the U.S. Congress, March 3, 2015. Credit: AFP
Moshe Arens
Moshe Arens

It has been a long time since there was so wide-ranging a consensus on a single issue in Israel as the threat that Iran would pose were it to possess a nuclear bomb. All the major political parties agree it would represent a great danger to Israel, and that efforts must be made to prevent such an eventuality. Moreover, it is generally recognized that the agreement currently taking shape in negotiations between the five permanent members of the UN Security Council plus Germany (the P5+1) and Iran – but actually between the United States and Iran – is far from satisfactory as far as Israel is concerned.

One might therefore have expected that Israel’s prime minister would have the blessing of the vast majority of Israelis when he took off for Washington, D.C., to address a joint session of the U.S. Congress – at the invitation of the Speaker of the House of Representatives – all united in the hope that he might be successful in bringing about a change in the course of the negotiations with Iran.

Considering the fact that the majority of the members of the U.S. Congress, including members of both parties, were known to be of the opinion that the present state of the agreement is unsatisfactory in terms of America’s interests, at first sight it did not seem that his journey to the U.S. capital was a hopeless quest.

But it was not to be. The strident voices of politicians and commentators were heard fiercely attacking Benjamin Netanyahu’s decision to go to Washington. Was it just election fever? Was it ignorance of the U.S. political system? Or was it just plain malice in the belief that anything Netanyahu says or does must be wrong?

Self-appointed experts on the U.S. political system explained that foreign policy was the prerogative of the president, that Congress played no part in making America’s foreign policy, and that, consequently, there was no point in Netanyahu addressing both houses of Congress on the negotiations with Iran. They had evidently not studied the Constitution of the United States and do not understand the system of checks and balances at the root of the American system of government. While the president is the executor of U.S. foreign policy, Congress plays an important role as a check and balance to the president.

For example, the Constitution provides that any international treaty signed by the president must be ratified by a vote of at least two-thirds of the Senate. Although President Barack Obama insists that the agreement with Iran is not a treaty, and therefore does not need ratification by the Senate, a bipartisan bill has already been introduced in Congress requiring that the agreement with Iran be presented to Congress for approval. The sponsors are five Republican and five Democratic senators.

Next, the implausible argument was presented that Netanyahu would not convince a single representative or senator who did not have reservations about the agreement with Iran. In other words, he would be preaching to the choir. How could they be so certain of this prediction? As a matter of fact, press reports from Washington after Netanyahu’s address indicate that this is not the case. One of the Democratic senators sponsoring the bill calling for congressional approval of the agreement with Iran is Tim Kaine, who absented himself from Netanyahu’s address but is surely aware of its content.

But the most outrageous attacks over the acceptance of the House Speaker’s invitation claimed it would do irreparable damage to the relations between Israel and the United States. They came from people who lack an understanding of the fabric and texture of the U.S.-Israeli alliance, a relationship that serves the interests of both nations and is of mutual benefit to both.

To imagine that President Obama, in a fit of anger at Netanyahu’s appearance in Congress, would decide to “punish” Israel shows a lack of respect for the integrity of the president of the United States, who is pledged to further the interests of the country he was elected to lead.

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