An amazing scene today, as a rightwing foreign leader told the Congress that our president is pursuing a “very bad” foreign policy and the Congress jumped up to cheer him. On the cables the analysts are falling over one another to praise Netanyahu’s speech. Jake Tapper said it was a “very very effective speech,” particularly in Netanyahu’s references to Holocaust survivor Elie Wiesel sitting in the gallery. Dianne Feinstein said it was a “very powerful speech” — and then sold out the White House negotiators, saying we should be getting 20 year promises from Iran, not ten. Jeffrey Goldberg said the biblical imagery will speak to Christian Americans.
But sanity is breaking through. Christiane Amanpour called the speech “dark, Strangelovian” in its hysteria about Iran as Nazi Germany. Ambassador Marc Ginsberg said Netanyahu played “guardian of the Jewish galaxy” and the only thing missing was comparing Obama to Neville Chamberlain and saying the talks are taking place in Munich, not Montreux. Ginsberg said the speech precipitates the Congress on a “steep slope” and “collision course” with Obama.
And here is part of Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi’s important statement.
“I was near tears throughout the Prime Minister’s speech – 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 and our broader commitment to preventing nuclear proliferation.”
President Obama just rebutted the speech in comments to reporters. Here is part of the pool report:
Obama said he did not watch the Netanyahu speech, that instead he was on a conference video call with European leaders. But:
“I did have a chance to take a look at the transcript, and as far as I can tell there was nothing new,” he said….
POTUS said that he also agrees with Netanyahu that Iran is a dangerous regime has repeatedly threatened Israel, and that “no one can dispute” that Iran has used anti-Semitic language against Israelis.
“But on the core issue, which is how do we prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon, which would make it far more dangerous and would give it scope for even greater action in the region, the prime minister didn’t offer any viable alternatives.”
CNN’s John King says the remarkable back-and-forth shows that the relationship between the leaders is “not icy, it’s broken.”
House Democrats are lining up behind Obama. They just gave a press conference:
I’ve never seen anything like that press conference by House Democrats… Full rejection of the propriety & substance of Netanyahu’s speech
Matt Lee of AP reminds us of the context:
What speech? Where? #Iran nuclear talks between #SecKerry and #Iran FM Zarif enter second day in #Montreux.The White House
The New York Times comment section on the news includes the observation that Sheldon Adelson was in the gallery, the giant funder of the Republican Party who has called on Obama to nuke Iran. Alan Dershowitz was also there, in a line with Elie Wiesel, Wiesel’s wife Marion, and Sara Netanyahu. The NYT commenters are critical of the speech by 4-to-1 or more and many of the comments are inspiring in their criticism of Netanyahu’s chutzpah, saying he is trying to get the world to overlook the Palestinian issue.
Amnesty International agrees:
#NetanyahuSpeech No mention of how #Israel builds Jewish-only settlements by forcing Palestinians out of their homes
The Institute for Middle East Understanding experts are weighing in. Phyllis Bennis: “This was a speech threatening war.”
Yousef Munayyer says the speech was aimed at distracting from Palestinian human rights abuses: “Netanyahu’s goal is to ensure the Iranian issue remains at the top of the international agenda. Not because he is afraid of the Iranian threat, but because he is afraid of the threat of international focus shifting to Israel’s human rights abuses of Palestinians. He doesn’t want to talk about the fact that his brutal regime denies the basic human rights of millions of Palestinians.”
Diana Buttu says that the words “Conquest, subjugation, and terror” Netanyahu used apply to Israel’s own conduct, while Rebecca Vilkomerson sees the upside:
“[T]hat over 55 Senators and Representatives skipped his speech shows that the reflexive bi-partisan consensus in support of all Israeli policies is splintering.”
University of Maryland released a poll by Shibley Telhami showing that Americans overwhelmingly support Obama in his negotiations:
[A] clear majority of Americans – 61 percent – support an agreement that would limit Iran’s enrichment capacity and impose additional intrusive inspections in exchange for the lifting of some sanctions. This included 61 percent of Republicans, 66 percent of Democrats and 54 percent of independents.
The alternative option, being promoted by some members of Congress, calls for ending the current negotiations, and increasing sanctions in an effort to get Iran to stop all uranium enrichment. This approach was recommended by 36 percent.
Liberal Zionists are lining up behind President Obama in his talks with Iran. J Street lobbyist:
Truly surprised that Netanyahu offered no alternative besides banging the table harder. He had the Congressional floor and missed his moment
— Dylan Williams (@dylanotes) March 3, 2015
Peter Beinart notes the bathetic use of Wiesel by Netanyahu to claim that the Iranians are Nazis: “really hard to explain what it means for those of us who grew up revering Elie Wiesel to see him defiled in this way.” But Wiesel clearly went along with that use. Here is Netanyahu’s use of Wiesel to the most militant ends:
My friend, standing up to Iran is not easy. Standing up to dark and murderous regimes never is. With us today is Holocaust survivor and Nobel Prize winner Elie Wiesel. Elie, your life and work inspires to give meaning to the words, “never again.” And I wish I could promise you, Elie, that the lessons of history have been learned. I can only urge the leaders of the world not to repeat the mistakes of the past. Not to sacrifice the future for the present; not to ignore aggression in the hopes of gaining an illusory peace.
But I can guarantee you this, the days when the Jewish people remained passive in the face of genocidal enemies, those days are over. We are no longer scattered among the nations, powerless to defend ourselves. We restored our sovereignty in our ancient home. And the soldiers who defend our home have boundless courage. For the first time in 100 generations, we, the Jewish people, can defend ourselves.
This is why — this is why, as a prime minister of Israel, I can promise you one more thing: Even if Israel has to stand alone, Israel will stand.
Max Blumenthal comments that the speech
insults memory of Jews who resisted fascism in their native lands. True to the Zionist narrative, he called them weaklings.
Eli Clifton demolishes Netanyahu’s track record on dire predictions:
This isn’t the first time Netanyahu has lobbied Congress with dire warnings security threats in the Middle East.
In 1995, Netanyahu wrote that Iran would have a nuclear weapon in “three to five years,” and, in 1996, speaking before a joint session of Congress, he warned that the deadline for Iran acquiring a nuclear weapon was “getting extremely close.”
Those predictions, while terrifying, were also inaccurate.
By the 2000s, Netanyahu had shifted his short-term focus to Iraq. Testifying before Congress in 2002, Netanyahu warned that Iraq was operating “centrifuges the size of washing machines” and asserted that there was “no question whatsoever that Saddam is seeking and working and is advancing toward the development of nuclear weapons.”
Here’s the speech, by the way. Transcript, and video:
We’ll be updating this post today as more reactions come in.
Thanks to James North, Adam Horowitz and Peter Voskamp.