Democrats would have been wise to ignore this pathetic political posturing, but instead they made their feelings known with some 40 Congresspersons choosing not to attend the speech. The White House expressed its disapproval, with Susan Rice and Samantha Power both condemning the speech.
Bibi has been struggling to gain leverage in the upcoming Israeli parliamentary elections, as he finds his coalition falling apart. He crashed the Paris March earlier this year and issued an open invitation for all European Jews to come to Israel in the wake of the terrorist attack in Copenhagen, which also tangentially targeted Jews. Not like Jews are any safer in Tel Aviv or Jerusalem, but Bibi likes to play these emotional cards for his political gain. He even took time out to visit the Wailing Wall before coming to Washington. So, to say this speech wasn't political on his part is disingenuous to say the least.
In Congress, Republicans and quite a few Democrats have made it known they love Israel unequivocally. It doesn't matter who the head of state is, even though Netanyahu has basically sabotaged any attempt at a lasting peace in the Middle East with continued expansion into the West Bank of the Palestinian Territory.
This isn't the first time Bibi has ruffled feathers in Washington. He loved to show up unannounced when he was first Prime Minister from 1996-1998. The Clinton administration had made major inroads into a Peace deal with the previous Israeli governments of Yitzhak Rabin and Shimon Peres, but Netanyahu brought all those efforts to a grinding halt for two years, greatly increasing settlements in the West Bank, and refusing to budge on any of the sticking points that had thwarted the previous efforts. His tenure was short lived as a result, and the US rebooted Israel-Palestinian negotiations with Ehud Barak, who succeeded Netanyahu. Then came the Second Intifada and the War in Iraq and any attempt at negotiating a settlement was over.
This is pretty much how conservatives in the US and Israel want it. George W. Bush made some feeble efforts to restart negotiations, but it didn't go anywhere because his administration was too preoccupied with Iraq and Afghanistan. Israel no longer felt any pressure from the US to accommodate Palestine, and chose to start erecting its infamous wall, claiming more disputed land for itself in the process.
The Obama administration has likewise not pressed the issue, similarly preoccupied with the two wars and the Arab Spring that broke out across North Africa. Palestine has become the forgotten corner of the Arab world, at least in the American mind, as it is now 15 years since serious attempts were made to forge a two-state solution, which Netanyahu is on record as opposing. Under his administration, Palestine will remain an isolated ward of Israel, for security reasons of course.
Once again, we hear American conservatives claiming there are no such things as Palestinians. So said Mike Huckabee, after his tour of the Holy Land, hoping to create some semblance of foreign policy credentials. These are the persons Bibi is appealing to -- Christian evangelicals and fundamentalists, who believe that the state of Israel "protects" its spiritual homeland, when most of the Christian "Holy Lands" are within the Palestinian territories and administered by the Palestinian Authority, notably Bethlehem. Huckabee couldn't get to Jesus' birthplace without going to Palestine, but then it is an "Old Testament" Christianity that these religious conservatives extol, not a New Testament one, with Huck spending most of his time visiting historical Jewish sites like the Masada.
|Boehner and Bibi|
This brings us to the point of Bibi's visit, to pressure wayward American Congresspersons and the President to further isolate Iran, which has long served as the Muslim "bogeyman" in American and Israeli politics. Iran is regarded as the principal sponsor of radical Islamism around the world, when much of the terrorism we see today is Sunni, not Shi'a, driven. Iran is a Shi'a state, but no matter. For Bibi and Republicans it is all one in the same and the very thought of Iran developing a nuclear weapons program is enough to make these conservatives go ballistic.
The GOP doesn't want Obama to establish diplomatic ties with Iran, still nursing the wound from 1979, when Iran held over 50 Americans hostage for more than 400 days, giving the US one of its worst black eyes in Foreign Policy. For Bibi, it was the outlandish comments of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, the former President of Iran, that helped propel him to a second tenure as Prime Minister of Israel. Iran is a convenient foil for their political ambitions. To remove it would mean they would have to look for a new "bogeyman."
If Bibi's speech was meant to rally a few Democrats in support of the new sanctions, it seems to have failed. There are plenty of Democrats who don't agree with Obama's diplomatic attempt to bring Iran to the nuclear negotiation table, but they don't like to be bullied into supporting a bill that undercuts his authority in the matter.
After 6 years of playing the Iran card, Bibi's time appears up in Israel. It will take a mighty heroic effort to salvage a ruling coalition in the Knesset, given that this great existential threat has failed to materialize.