Netanyahu Speech Sets Dangerous Precedent

Policy analysts from both the left and right are worried that Prime Minister Netanyahu’s speech to Congress earlier this week will send Washington down a path of recruiting outside leaders to influence American domestic and foreign policy

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Story Transcript

THOMAS HEDGES, TRNN PRODUCER: Earlier this week, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu addressed Congress in what many are calling not only a slight to the president but to the American people as well. With many caught up in the frenzy, others are drawing attention to the long-term effects of the visit. They say that while the present crisis seems unique, Netanyahu’s speech sets a dangerous trend whereby foreign actors who are not elected by the people of the United States are unjustly given a platform to influence American politics.

BENJAMIN NETANYAHU, PRIME MINISTER OF ISRAEL: I know that my speech has been the subject of much controversy. I deeply regret that some perceive my being here as political. That was never my intention.

I want to thank you, Democrats and Republicans, for your common support for Israel year after year, decade after decade. I know that no matter on which side of the aisle you sit, you stand with Israel.

HEDGES: While almost all Republicans supported Netanyahu’s visit, some voices from the right denounced the invitation. Robert Kagan, a prominent conservative foreign-policy theorist of the Brookings Institute, wrote last week in a piece for The Washington Post:

“Is anyone thinking about the future? From now on, whenever the opposition party happens to control Congress–a common enough occurrence–it may call in a foreign leader to speak to a joint meeting of Congress against a president and his policies.”

On Tuesday, the Palestinian and Israeli rights group Jewish Voices for Peace gathered in front of the nation’s capital to denounce those representatives that lauded Netanyahu’s talk.

PHYLLIS BENNIS, FELLOW, INSTITUTE FOR POLICY STUDIES: These were people on their feet cheering, screaming for a leader who acted as if it was his house, as if it was his chamber. He brought guests the way presidents do at the State of the Union and says, we have with us today on the balcony–. Really? Is this your house? You’re the guest here. This isn’t your town. This isn’t your country. You don’t get to speak for us. It’s not about speaking only for Jews. He damn sure doesn’t speak for all Jews. But here was, acting as if he could speak for all Americans.

ROBERT NAIMAN, POLICY DIRECTOR, JUST FOREIGN POLICY: The president’s policy, which we voted for twice, we had–this was an issue in the 2008 presidential election. It was an issue in the 2012 presidential election. The American people voted for Obama. We voted for the guy who said, I want–I will engage America’s adversaries, I will engage with Iran and work towards a diplomatic agreement. And he’s doing exactly what he said he would do. And now, here comes Netanyahu, at the invitation of Boehner, saying, no, you’re wrong, this is a total mistake, this is a total disaster. This is a kind of unprecedented political spectacle.

HEDGES: Robert Naiman is policy director at Just Foreign Policy. He says that while Israel and the United States have always been close, this past week’s events at the capitol, as well as the AIPAC convention on Monday, reflect the dangerous grip that Israel and the Israeli lobby have on sovereignty, especially when a majority of Americans have said that they support the talks.

NAIMAN: Something’s broken down. You know, clearly U.S. politics and Israeli politics are entangled and have long been. And it’s not the only case in the world of acountries having entangled politics. But the brazenness, the spectacular brazenness of what we’re witnessing now, is unprecedented and unique. I mean, imagine as the people in the Obama administration pointed out, suppose that after the French government–remember, before the Iraq War, the French government imposed the Bush administration’s push for war. Suppose Democrats in Congress had invited the French president to come and lecture the American people about why Bush was wrong. You know, what would the reaction of Republicans have been? Of course they would have been apoplectic. You know, how dare you bring the French in here to fight your fight with us. It’s one thing to oppose us domestically, another thing to bring in some foreign leader to lecture us.

We had this thing called Foreign Agents Registration Act. AIPAC isn’t registered as a foreign agent, even though they are effectively a lobby for the Israeli government. So, whether they’re breaking the law or not is a matter of dispute. But there’s no question–I think there’s no reasonable question that they’re breaking the spirit of the law.

HEDGES: For The Real News, Thomas Hedges, Washington.

End

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