Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s speech to Congress today will illustrate a fact that was largely obscured by the controversy over President Obama’s Middle East policy speech. The Jewish state enjoys overwhelming and bipartisan support in this country.
Cynics will ascribe the support to the “Israel Lobby”—a.k.a. AIPAC—which has been holding its annual conference in the capital the last couple of days — or some other pro-Zionist force. But what conspiracy theorists like Stephen Walt and John Mearsheimer (authors of The Israel Lobby) and their media ilk never seem to understand is that the cabal they believe manipulates U.S. policy is so large it encompasses both major political parties and an overwhelming majority of the American people.
As some have noted, the Republican Party seems to be trending more pro-Israel and the Democrats less in recent years. Yet as Alana reported earlier this morning, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and the House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer both implicitly rebuked the president in their speeches to AIPAC. The reservoir of support for Israel and even for Netanyahu, who has again become something of a lightening rod for those who dislike his country, is strong both in Congress and the country. In spite of the fact that Obama specifically chose to ambush Netanyahu by lobbing his bombshell about the 1967 lines a day before the Israeli arrived in Washington for a visit, then—an almost unprecedented discourtesy for an ally—the prime minister will be loudly cheered today when he explains why Israel will not and cannot be forced back to those insecure borders.
Obama’s policy shift has made Israel’s diplomatic position more difficult and has presented an undeserved gift to the Palestinian Authority, which is determined in any event to torpedo negotiations by going to the United Nations to acquire a state without recognizing Israel’s legitimacy or promising an end to the conflict. But the alliance, based on both common values and a level of security cooperation that is so entrenched that it is almost beyond the capacity of any president now to destroy it, is still solid.
It is important to keep things in perspective. Last week, over at Jewish Ideas Daily, Elliot Jager wrote about the difficulties that David Ben Gurion, Israel’s first prime minister encountered on a trip to the United States in 1962 to meet President Kennedy. Kennedy wouldn’t even receive Ben Gurion at the White House, insisting instead on a “private” meeting at a New York hotel. Ben Gurion did not walk away with much from the summit. JFK prevaricated about selling—not giving—Israel anti-aircraft missiles (he would later agree to the sale) and demanded that the tiny Jewish state consider admitting Arab refugees. Kennedy and the State Department hoped that such a gesture would mollify Israel’s hostile Arab neighbors who were not prepared to accept it even within the borders that are now associated with the date 1967.
In spite of the criticism he has taken for having the chutzpah to talk back to Obama, Netanyahu will return home with the cheers of Congress still echoing in his ears secure in the knowledge that there is only so far that the president can go in his campaign to pressure Israel. That is a feeling that David Ben Gurion would have loved to experience.