Gliding down the aisle of the House of Representatives like a popular president about to deliver the State of the Union address, escorted by a phalanx of dozens of ebullient Members of Congress, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu entered a joint meeting of Congress today to a round of hearty handshakes and a thunderous standing ovation.
In a post-speech press conference, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid gushed that Netanyahu delivered an “all-star” address, and Netanyahu proclaimed it a “great day” for Israel. And, in the self-contained world that is Capitol Hill, who could blame them for believing it to be so?
For in a world in which Israel finds itself as isolated as ever by a growing and successful Palestinian civil society-led international movement of boycott, divestment, and sanctions (BDS) against its apartheid policies; in which Palestinians are taking matters into their own hands diplomatically and pushing to have the United Nations admit the State of Palestine as a full member of the organization this fall; and in which even the President of the United States appears disgruntled by Israel’s intransigent ongoing colonization of Palestinian land, at least on Capitol Hill, Netanyahu can still play the ace up his sleeve to aplomb and then chum around like the king of the castle.
There on Capitol Hill, Netanyahu still has friends like Senator Chuck Schumer, who told a Jewish radio program that “One of my roles, very important in the United States Senate, is to be a shomer [guard]—to be a or the shomer Yisrael [guard of Israel]. And I will continue to be that with every bone in my body.” With friends like these wrapped around his little finger, no wonder Netanyahu’s forcible denunciations of international law were met with such rapturous approbation by Members of Congress who applauded his rejectionism dozens of times.
This bonhomie was punctuated only once during Netanyahu’s hour-long speech, when a lone and courageous activist—Rae Abileah—from CODEPINK, disrupted it. CODEPINK organized a series of events and protests—“Move Over AIPAC”—to coincide with the annual policy conference of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee last weekend. From the gallery, Abileah shouted “No more occupation, stop Israel[i] war crimes, equal rights for Palestinians, occupation is indefensible.”
Her protest was quickly shut down in a “hey rube” moment by AIPAC attendees in the gallery who assaulted and tackled her before she was hauled away by police, causing injuries to her neck and shoulders requiring hospitalization. At the same time, Members of Congress joined the AIPAC carnie thuggery by shouting down Abileah with boos before quickly resuming to feed out of Netanyahu’s hand.
Given both the intellectual mediocrity of the average Member of Congress and the Israel lobby’s deliberate strategy of electing and placing in key positions Members of Congress like Schumer, it is difficult to determine how much applause Netanyahu received due to ignorance of history and international law, and how much was due to their cheerleading for Israeli apartheid. Whatever the exact formulation, it amounts to a deadly combination that ensures Israel can continue to thumb its nose at the international community and oppress the Palestinian people while Congress keeps open the spigot of U.S. weapons to underwrite the job.
Only in an institution as self-delusional as Congress could Netanyahu pontificate with a straight face that the path of liberty “is not paved by elections alone. It is paved when governments permit protests in town squares, when limits are placed on the powers of rulers, when judges are beholden to laws and not men, and when human rights cannot be crushed by tribal loyalties or mob rule.”
Only before Congress would Netanyahu dare crow that there are now more than 650,000 Israeli settlers living in illegal colonies in the Occupied Palestinian Territories, a full 30% more than the upper limits of previous estimates, making his offer to be “very generous on the size of a future Palestinian state,” and willing to make a “far reaching compromise” unadulterated hokum.
In the wake of 10,000 AIPAC lobbyists deluging Capitol Hill today, there is no doubt that Congress will overwhelmingly vote to pass AIPAC-written resolutions condemning the Fatah-Hamas unity agreement and Palestinian moves for UN membership, once again asserting that Israel is truly the best thing since sliced bread.
Netanyahu may well feel smug from his reception in the last bastion of such uncritical support for Israel’s apartheid policies toward Palestinians. While the rest of the world has long since discovered that the emperor has no clothes, his sycophants and enablers in Congress pretend that it is business as usual. They will then be surprised to wake up one day in the near future to see their beloved apartheid state sanctioned.
Josh Ruebner is the National Advocacy Director of the US Campaign to End the Israeli Occupation, a national coalition of more than 350 organizations working to change U.S. policy toward Israel/Palestine to support human rights, international law, and equality. He is a former Analyst in Middle East Affairs at Congressional Research Service.