Netanyahu's 'date which will live in infamy'

Netanyahu's 'date which will live in infamy'
Analysis: To see the Israeli prime minister playing the American people via their representatives like a ringmaster whips a circus should be cause for pause for Americans.
6 min read
05 March, 2015
Iranian newspapers respond to Netanyahu's speech [AFP]

Twenty six frenzied standing ovations, endless coyote-like howls, whistles and screaming like those of rapturous teenage girls enamoured by a serenading rock star. Some, rightly, called it a circus. Others, reasonably, called it a carnival; an election whistle stop. Alas, the distressing truth is that March 3, 2015, is a "date which will live in infamy" to borrow from Franklin D. Roosevelt, the 32nd US president, when the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbour in 1941.


Not that Binyamin Netanyahu's speech before a joint session of the United States Congress on Tuesday, or the man himself rises to the contextual level of FDR's iconic expression. But to see the Israeli prime minister playing the

     There is a feeling in the air that a day of reckoning for Netanyahu's day of infamy is drawing near.

American people via their representatives like a ringmaster whips a circus, lecturing them, insulting their president, suggesting that at best he is naive, should be cause for pause and an opportunity to take time out and examine the state of affairs of America’s political wellbeing, foreign and domestic.


At first glance, it becomes clear that under an increasingly right-wing Republican majority, first in the House, now in both the House and the Senate, the American people seem less a part of the political process, less able to decide who speaks in their name, and more marginalized by big-money dictates. Those who are elected often are not only unknown to them, but sue for policies that are alien to a majority of the electorate purely for political expedience. That was the case with this reprehensible interference of a foreign leader in domestic affairs.


Netanyahu's invitation to address a joint session of Congress – which was hatched in a plot six weeks ago by House Speaker John Boehner with other co-conspirators on the right, including the Israeli prime minister himself, and his ambassador to Washington, Ron Dermer – as well as the speech itself (on Tuesday) were covered as the spectacle that it was. It was the spectacle of a conservative alliance between the more right-wing elements within the Republican Party and the Likud, that is in many ways transcending local politics on either side.


Netanyahu is a skilled performer, and his stunt seemed to gain traction during the speech itself. The mainstream media, always willing to give Israel a pass no matter what it does, bent over backwards to accommodate the Israeli prime minister. Team CNN treated "The Speech" with awe and far more deferentially than any State of the Union address, at least since George W. Bush basically declared war on Iraq on January 26, 2003. Audaciously, and outrageously, CNN set out to compare Netanyahu's ‘speech of infamy’ before a Joint Congressional Session, to the speech Senator Barack Obama gave across from the Brandenburg Gate in Berlin, on 24 July 2008, one month before he was formally nominated. Fox News was of course all over the speech. The channel has always been "Bibi Central."


The more Netanyahu performed, the more his audience revelled and howled. Even right-wing billionaire and settler-subsidizer Sheldon Adelson jumped to his feet, while his wife whacked another attendee with her purse from excitement. Over and over again, Netanyahu told an ecstatic Congress "we have a common enemy and a common war". “They” are all alike, he said: "Islamic State, or Islamic Republic, Shia, Sunni, Hamas, Hizballah". Over and over, Netanyahu told his captive audience that any nuclear capability by Iran means doom to all of us, that "time was running out, we must act now." He told a largely Republican audience that "the deal" being negotiated by the P5 + Germany with Iran is a bad deal. He knows it better than anyone, better than Obama, better than Kerry, better than his own intelligence service, the Mossad.


Without flinching, he likened Iran to Nazi Germany and the crowd, as if high on heavy metal music, approved uproaringly. He told them that Iran controls four Arab capitals and lest he, Netanyahu, is allowed to decide what a "good deal" with Iran would look like, "there should be no deal”.


Repeatedly, Netanyahu claimed that he was in alliance with Arab Sunni countries against Iran, Hizballah and Hamas. Emphatically, he said that the ongoing negotiations between the United States and its allies and Iran have not been tough enough. Patronizingly, Netanyahu dismissed the president of the United States as a naïve lightweight.


Of course what lies at the heart of the matter as far as the West is concerned is a simple point: Will Iran be allowed to engage in any enrichment of uranium or not. Iran insists it is entitled to pursue a nuclear programme for peaceful purposes. Netanyahu on the other hand insists that if Tehran retains any nuclear programme, there will be a risk that it can develop nuclear weapons with which it can "threaten Israel's existence" and must therefore have all its nuclear facilities destroyed and the country kept under sanctions for good measure.


On his part, Obama's aim is to impose severe restrictions on Iran's nuclear programme to limit any ability to produce a nuclear bomb, and to ensure that if there were to be an Iranian breakout it would still take Tehran some time to make a bomb. Obama wants to minimize greatly the risk of Iran going nuclear. He knows that there is no way Iran is going to agree to a complete cessation of nuclear activities, and no amount of sanctions, no matter how severe, will persuade Iran to completely abandon its nuclear ambitions. Obama knows that at the end of the day, the United States and its allies will have to allow the continuation of some nuclear activity. To Netanyahu, that is not acceptable at all. If his views were to prevails, not only will there not be a deal, there will an American war that drags on for years.


In reaction, Obama said Netanyahu did not offer any real substance. "On the core issue, which is how do we prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon which would make it far more dangerous ... the prime minister didn't offer any viable alternatives."


Other democrats were fuming. House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi dismissed a speech Tuesday by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu as full of "condescension" and an "insult to the intelligence of the United States."


Others, among the fifty-five Democratic law makers who chose not to attend Netanyahu's speech, at great political risk, said harsher things. 


Obama, his Secretary of State John Kerry and his National Security Advisor Susan Rice know full well that Netanyahu is not only trying to dictate American policy toward Iran, but is also using the issue of Iran as a way to avoid ever being questioned about Israel’s continuous occupation of Palestinian land or its policies toward the Palestinians under occupation or even its own citizens. It's all smoke and mirrors.


The current controversy around Netanyahu’s speech and Congress abandoning its own president while embracing a foreign leader, is also not likely to disappear anytime soon. Netanyahu's congressional hosts may well use his speech to bolster their own short-term political goals of continuously calling for continuous American wars. Conversely, Netanyahu will use them to bolster his own political fortunes. But there is a feeling in the air that a day of reckoning for Netanyahu's day of infamy is drawing near.