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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

Column: Bibi’s speech is self-serving

When the Prime Minister of Israel, Benjamin Netanyahu, addresses a joint session of the U.S. Congress on Tuesday, it is unknown just how many members of Congress will agree to attend. Although pro-Israel is the de facto position of every American politician, and Bibi has already spoken multiple times to Congress, this speech is different.

There are many areas of tension surrounding Netanyahu’s visit, but for American politics, Speaker Boehner’s decision to invite Bibi without coordinating with the White House or Department of State is an obvious slight to President Barack Obama. This type of invitation is unprecedented, and Boehner’s actions without Obama’s approval could anger other countries in the Middle East and thus threaten a possible U.S.-Iranian nuclear treaty.

In terms of what this speech could mean for Israeli politics, Netanyahu is currently deadlocked with the oppositional Labor Party for Israel’s upcoming elections. It is unclear whether this speech could bolster Netanyahu’s foreign policy credentials or backfire and cause Israelis to lose faith in a prime minister who can’t maintain positive relations with the U.S.

So, who has the most to lose here? To gain? And how much damage could this do to Israeli-American relations?

First, to address the last of those questions, the U.S. is one of the world’s staunchest allies of Israel. Despite growing anti-Semitism around the world, both political parties unequivocally pledge to support our ally. Even Obama, who has been criticized by conservatives for not supporting Israel enough, has appropriated billions in aid for Israel, voted against Palestinian statehood and funded the Iron Dome defense system. A future Iranian-U.S. deal could potentially challenge the Israeli-U.S. relationship. This speech will not.

Domestically, however, this speech is a dangerous and rash move by Boehner. Never before has a foreign official addressed Congress without an invitation or without notifying the president. The pros and cons of a possible U.S.-Iranian nuclear agreement certainly deserve scrutiny and conversation, but using Netanyahu as leverage is not the way to achieve productive cooperation between Congress and the president. Subtlety is not Boehner’s strong suit, and anyone can recognize the political underpinnings of this decision.

With that said, Netanyahu is no novice to politics and is certainly aware of the American political drama occurring in the midst of his visit. He knows Obama and other Democrats could be criticized or seen as “anti-Israel” for missing this speech, potentially damaging Democratic chances in 2016.

However, to say that this is a purely political or spiteful move for Netanyahu is also unfair. According to Leonard Hammer of the Arizona Center for Judaic Studies, Netanyahu’s priorities with this speech are twofold.

First, throughout his political career, Netanyahu has consistently maintained his steadfast opposition to any American nuclear deal with Iran. As a country that supports and funds terrorist organizations such as Hezbollah, Iran poses a legitimate threat to Israel’s security. Whether or not an agreement between the U.S. and Iran harms or helps Israel is a subject of debate. But Netanyahu’s speech to Congress could disrupt these talks and accomplish one of his legitimate foreign policy objectives.

Hammer, like most Israeli and American pundits, is unsure whether this move will help or hurt Netanyahu’s chances of being reelected in Israel. Certainly Bibi feels that this will make him look tough on national security and Iran, but causing a rift between Israel and the U.S. may not pay off. Favorable to Netanyahu, however, is a general lack of trust for Obama on the part of most Israelis. A 2014 poll from the Israeli publication Sov Hashavua found 70 percent of Israelis do not trust Obama’s positions on Israel.

When Israel holds its elections in a few weeks, Netanyahu’s victory or defeat will likely be at least partially attributed to his decision to accept Boehner’s invitation.

Any action involving Israel is going to be highly contentious for the U.S. It is no surprise that Netanyahu accepted this speech, despite Obama’s misgivings. To Netanyahu’s credit, this speech could benefit him in terms of both foreign policy and political goals.

But Boehner has set a dangerous new precedent in which the U.S. can jeopardize foreign alliances over backhanded moves meant to score cheap political points.

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Jacob Winkelman is a sophomore studying political science and English. Follow him on Twitter.

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