Netanyahu’s Speeches a Travesty

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I took the opportunity of watching both of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s U.S. speeches this week – in front of over 16,000 attendees at AIPAC (American Israeli Public Affairs Committee) and at a joint session of the Congress – and I followed the process and developing controversy from the time Speaker of the House of Representatives, John Boehner, first announced that he had extended and the Prime Minister had accepted his invitation to present.
During both speaking venues, with all his praise at the beginning of his speeches for President Obama and his support for the state of Israel and the safety and prosperity of the Israeli people, the clear subtext was to plant distrust of the President’s negotiating abilities with Iran specifically, and to call into serious question his foreign policy initiatives more generally.
Benjamin Netanyahu gave no real alternatives to Obama’s negotiated settlement – even in advance of all the terms coming out — other than war. To remain in power, Netanyahu has to talk tough, to exert his brand of hypermasculine bravado like every other warlord going back through time.

A cartoon showing John Boehner whispering in Benjamin Netanyahu's ear.

Prime Minister Netanyahu’s speech was a wash from the outset— even in his invitation, Speaker John Boehner inserted himself directly into the upcoming Israeli elections on Netanyahu’s behalf. Credit: CreativeCommons / DonkeyHotey.

What was true from ancient times remains true today, from the ancient Persians, Assyrians, Canaanites, Greeks, Romans, Babylonians, Celts, Scandinavians, Christian Crusaders, Islamic Jihadists, Fascists, Nazis, nationalists and neo-nationalists of every stripe — Warlords don’t have use for peace because peace doesn’t have use for warlords.
President Obama, on the other hand, doesn’t view the world in strict binaries – good/evil, black/white, us/them, all/nothing – but understands nuance and shades. He doesn’t have to prove himself by exerting a form of destructive hypermasculinity. He knows who he is, and he has no need for playing damaging gendered competitions.
Netanyahu’s speech, its timing, and the process by which it came about was a travesty from the outset: from the purely political manner by which the Republicans, specifically Speaker Boehner, broke with protocol in his attempts to embarrass and discredit the President by inviting the Prime Minister to present what amounted to his delayed counter-response to Obama’s recent optimistic and forward thinking State of the Union Address to Congress.  In his invitation to the Prime Minister, in what turned out to be a pep rally for the Republican Party, Boehner inserted himself directly into the upcoming Israeli elections on Netanyahu’s behalf.
Before coming to the U.S., Netanyahu asserted that when delivering his speech to Congress, he would be speaking for all Jews. Well, Mr. Prime Minister, I need you to know that you certainly do not speak for me, a proud life-long Jew.
While Netanyahu positioned the Iranian Ayatollah as the modern-day evil Persian vizier Haman under King Ahasuerus on the eve of the Jewish holiday, Purim, I would tell Mr. Netanyahu that he certainly is no Queen Esther.
Mr. Netanyahu, this is not 1938, and the President of the United States is not English Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain. Obama is certainly under no illusions with whom he is dealing. He is not as naïve and untested as you imagine. Any negotiated settlement he may arrive at will not include any clause making it irreversible. He will take no options off the table that will ultimately protect the security of Israel, the region, the United States, and the world community.
I ask you and others to follow the wise and poignant words of the late great John Lennon: “All we are saying, is give peace a chance.”

Dr. Warren J. Blumenfeld, is author of Warren’s Words: Smart Commentary on Social Justice (Purple Press), co-editor of Investigating Christian Privilege and Religious Oppression in the United States (Sense), Editor of Homophobia: How We All Pay the Price (Beacon), co-editor of Readings for Diversity and Social Justice (Routledge), and co-author of Looking at Gay and Lesbian Life (Beacon Press).