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Netanyahu in Congress


The special US-Israeli relationship is as secure today as it has ever been. There is no danger that Benjamin Netanyahu’s speech to Congress will have a “destructive” effect on our commitment to Israel’s “security”. After listening to National Security Adviser, Susan Rice’s, speech to AIPAC this evening, I shut off the television and realized, to my chagrin, that, if anything, Israel may even benefit from the international media soap opera touched off by Netanyahu’s hubris: shame on our political leaders, news commentators and spin doctors for allowing the personal animosity between US President Barack Obama and Israeli Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, divert us, yet again, from the real issues.

Bypassing President Obama, Netanyahu accepted an invitation by the Speaker of the House, John Boehner, to address the US Congress on the topic of Iran. It would hardly surprise me to learn that this invitation was deliberately engineered to humiliate Obama publicly; to bolster the mainstream Republican agenda on Iran; and to elevate Netanyahu’s standings in the upcoming Israeli elections this March 17th. Whether his speech to Congress will, in fact, have a positive effect on the latter is arguable and depends, to some extent, on just how outrageous and duplicitous the content of Netanyahu’s lecture turns out to be.

A few things remain unclear: either Netanyahu doesn’t read the news, he is hoping that nobody else notices Israel’s de facto alliance with ISIS, or he is more concerned with poking Obama in the eye publicly than in the future of his country, a fact that would not surprise me. Focusing on the dangerous forces lurking in his “neighborhood”, Netanyahu singles out Iran, Lebanon (by which he presumably means Hizbullah), Syria, and Hamas. Unlike most Americans, Netanyahu views the potential of a nuclear capable Iran as a greater threat to regional stability than the spread of ISIS and extremist groups, such as al-Qaida.

With even Saudi Arabia, fearing Blowback, reversing course on its official policy toward ISIS by making it illegal for its nationals to fight in foreign wars (an about face from the nation whose extremist, fundamentalist form of Islam — Wahhabism — has been among its leading exports for over 40 years, and certainly its deadliest) it is that much more disturbing to note the silence echoing from Tel Aviv.

Instead Netanyahu has regaled us with tirade after tirade on the ramifications of an Iranian nuclear bomb and the existential threat it poses little Israel — ironic since Iran’s Supreme Leader, Ali Khamenei, has categorically stated that his country doesn’t want one.

Why would he lie? A nuclear-armed Iran would be its country’s suicide note to the world before being “obliterated” (to use former Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton’s, word) by the United States. Iran would like to acquire nuclear technological know-how – not an atomic arsenal – the sanest possible acquisition in a ‘neighborhood’ where the only nuclear-armed power, Israel, threatens Iran’s destruction almost daily, and has wreaked havoc on the region routinely for nearly 7 decades. How else might Iran succeed in deterring Israeli militarism, and how else might Iran – a country whose conventional armed forces barely allow a defensive capability – move forward into a future in which it is not bullied and brow-beaten into submission, preferring instead to seek the option of independent energy efficiency, and freedom from a regional hegemon whose godfather already enjoys unrivaled authority over most of that hemisphere?

All speculation aside, what strikes me as the most obvious piece of information to re-emerge from the tempest now brewing in Washington is that Benjamin Netanyahu is an unscrupulous, scheming, vile man who has taken the meaning of “chutzpah” to new heights in his display of unseemly and undiplomatic behavior. That no world leader has yet demanded that he and his regime be made to answer for its brutally criminal, scandalous policies time and again compels us to recognize how grievously weak and flawed the ‘international community’ is, and by extension, how depraved those leaders are whose actions are considered most synonymous with it. It takes the unknown human rights organizations on the ground in the Gaza Strip, the Mezan Center for Human Rights and the Palestine Center for Human Rights, to have to beseech the world repeatedly, day after day, to compel Israel and the United States to adhere to the most fundamental precepts of international law and accepted standards of humanitarian and diplomatic behavior.

What we are watching today, and have been a party to for the past few weeks is yet another media-political circus for the sake of narrow sectarian interests. A genuine rift in US-Israeli relations would manifest itself in long overdue concrete policies the US would demand of its client regime: an immediate end to the building of illegal Jewish settlements on all occupied Palestinian land; recognition of East Jerusalem as the capital of a future Palestinian state; a full moratorium on the on-going theft and use of natural resources outside the boundaries of the Green Line, or borders that existed prior to June 4th, 1967; a complete withdrawal of all military checkpoints and barriers within occupied Palestinian land; an immediate halt to the blockade of the Gaza Strip, the withholding of tax revenues from the Palestinian Authority, and the closure of crossing points into and out of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip.

It would mean the end to all restriction of movement by Palestinians to and from the West Bank, Gaza Strip, and East Jerusalem, and the right of any Palestinian to return to that land now recognized by a majority of the world’s nations as a Palestinian state.

In short, a genuinely ‘destructive’ rift in US-Israeli relations would suggest at the very least a beginning to the end of America’s unconditional support for Israel’s occupation of Palestine. It would commence the end to an occupation whose accompanying militarization and brutalization has had ramifications for countries as far away as Iran and that will continue to contribute to the growing havoc and destruction Western colonial and United States’ imperial history have wrought on the region we know as the Middle East.

Jennifer Loewenstein is a human rights activist and faculty associate in Middle East Studies at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. She can be reached at:

Jennifer Loewenstein is a human rights activist and faculty associate in Middle East Studies at at Penn State University.  She can be reached at:

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