This week seemed to be all about “the speech.” Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu came to Washington to speak to a joint session of Congress. I watched the speech – twice. I listened to the words. I followed the responses. And focused on the news reports and editorials over the past several days.
Perhaps many of you watched or read the speech, or at least heard news reports about it. I took three things from the speech:
- Can we separate the issues of protocol, personalities, politics and substance? Many people were upset by how Prime Minister Netanyahu was invited. Protocol was broken (although there are conflicting reports). We read the reports of the divide between President Obama and Prime Minister Netanyahu. Was this solely a political move to speak at this time? Yet, in the end, how could one not listen to the words and statements made by the Prime Minister?
- Leaders lead. On May 3, 2014, Peggy Noonan of the Wall Street Journal wrote (I saved the article since I found it so compelling), “As a leader, you have to stand by your beliefs as long as you believe you are right; you have to speak and write your truth. Explaining what you believe involves trusting people to hear and consider; it assumes they will respond fairly and evenly with their highest selves…Great leaders are clear, frank, may suffer for their stands and are brave.”
- Where do we go from here? The Washington Post wrote an editorial saying the White House must respond to the statements made by the Prime Minister. Rep. Nancy Pelosi was “saddened by the insult to the intelligence of the United States as part of the P5+1 nations and saddened by the condescension toward our knowledge of the threat posed by Iran.” Which reaction will carry the day? Will the anger felt by many Democrats at Netanyahu’s open opposition to the President’s policies lead them to reject any of his concerns out of hand? Or will they state their upset from the proposed nuclear deal and give Netanyahu points – where perceived as valid – their due consideration?
The New York Jewish Week wrote an excellent and insightful editorial following the speech. They wrote:
The ugly and persistent controversy over Netanyahu’s decision to come to Congress and speak out against the administration’s Iran negotiating position has underscored that Israel and the United States have increasingly divergent views about how to deal with the threat of a nuclear Iran. More than the reflection of a dysfunctional personal relationship between Obama and Netanyahu, the public feud is about two different worldviews, with each leader seeing the other as naïve.
The president is a student of pragmatism. Committed to reducing America’s military presence in the Arab world after long, deeply costly conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan, he is loath to engage in a potential war with Iran. His Western logic insists that an economically crippled Iran will curtail its nuclear ambitions in return for the lifting of sanctions. And by the time the proposed decade-long agreement ends, the Islamic fundamentalists ruling the country may well be out of power.
It is foolish, he believes, for Netanyahu to cling to a maximalist position on Iran, insisting that its nuclear program be dismantled. The result, Obama suggests, would be that Iran walks away from the table and doubles its efforts to produce a bomb.
The Israeli prime minister, on the other hand, is a student of history. Seared with the memory of anti-Semitic attacks on Jewish over the centuries, and most recently with the lessons of the Holocaust, when millions of Jews were slaughtered while the world remained passive, he is unwilling to accept Iran’s promises. He notes that even as it negotiates with the U.S. and other world powers, Tehran seeks to expand its global network of terror and Islamic hegemony while threatening to annihilate Israel. It is Obama, he believes, who is too trusting. According to Netanyahu, maintaining sanctions, combined with the threat of military actions, is the way to prevent Iran from threatening not only Israel but also the region and the Western world.
I believe there is wisdom in each of the various points of view. But one person’s (or country’s) point of view will not fully prevail – something has to give. Progress is going to require compromise on all sides. Everyone cannot be 100% right. While that’s true, the security of the State of Israel, the Middle East, and the entire world is at stake.
Will the Prime Minister’s arguments take hold? Will Congress become even more skeptical of the Iranians and any proposed agreement? Will Washington – and the American people – see Israel’s stature as enhanced as a result of the prime minister coming to Washington? Will there be further fraying of the critically important US-Israel relationship with the back and forth maneuvering and political sniping intensifying? Will this speech have any impact on the upcoming Israel elections? And, what will happen with the potential deal with Iran by the March 24 deadline?
Whether you like the Prime Minister or not…agree with his policies or not…thought his speaking was a political ploy in the Israel elections or not…believe he speaks for the Jewish people or not…acknowledge he was willing to speak out and take a stand for what he believes to be true…for the safety and security of his country and his people.
We will each have the opportunity to judge the speech and its implications in the weeks, months and years ahead.