Netanyahu’s Speech: A Theater of the Absurd

Netanyahu’s speech on March 3, 2015 to a joint Congressional Session was a frontal assault on President Obama’s Iran policy. The speech was a direct attempt at derailing the on-going negotiations and the desire to prevent Obama and the US from signing a nuclear deal with Iran. According to the Prime Minister such a deal is not good for Israel and thus should be rejected by the US. Sure to form and style, Netanyahu used the Bible and recalling, “the Book of Esther … of a powerful Persian viceroy named Haman, who plotted to destroy the Jewish people some 2,500 years ago.” Making further and immediate connection to biblical narrative and how “a courageous Jewish woman, Queen Esther,” who “exposed the plot and gave for the Jewish people the right to defend themselves against their enemies”, countered Haman’s efforts.

Netanyahu’s biblical framing is a reading of the past into the present by making the comparison to modern Zionism and the claim that it represents all Jews on the one hand and the need to save the Jewish people from another Persian threat, an Islamic threat in Persian garb. Declaring that Haman’s “plot was foiled. Our people were saved” was a direct call to stop the possible US-Iranian agreement from taking place because in Netanyahu’s mind and his allies in America it is in reality a plot against the Jewish people. Netanyahu proclaimed, “today the Jewish people face another attempt by yet another Persian potentate to destroy us,” thus the biblical past is re-read into the present and what is needed from the US is a belligerent and militaristic response not negotiations. Make no mistake about it Netanyahu is calling for war but he wants the US to fight it on Israel’s behalf!

Not being content with the Bible as exhibit A to stop President Obama and Secretary of State Kerry from harming the Jewish people, Netanyahu jumps into exhibit B, the Holocaust. In this context, Netanyahu asserts, “Iran’s regime is not merely a Jewish problem, any more than the Nazi regime was merely a Jewish problem.” The call for harsher sanctions and threat of military action is being sold with a future Holocaust looming above both President Obama and the Congress. Netanyahu asserts that “the 6 million Jews murdered by the Nazis were but a fraction of the 60 million people killed”… and “Iran’s regime poses a grave threat, not only to Israel, but also the peace of the entire world.”

By fusing the ancient history with the modern Holocaust Netanyahu is appealing to the religious right on the one hand while on the other exploiting Western guilt associated with the failure to save the Jews during WWII so as to get the desired change in U.S. policy. The comparisons to Nazi Germany was pushed further by claiming that Iran is in direct control of four capitals in the Middle East and strategically is controlling two strategic waterways, the Bab al-Mandeb on the mouth of the red sea and the Strait of Hormuz in the Persian Gulf.

One would think that the problem of the Iranian control would be the possible or real loss of life and destruction in the region but that is not the case or focus for Netanyahu. Loss of life, no worries for such a deep thinking ‘humanitarian’ figure that recently demonstrated his human rights credentials in the massive bombing and attacks on Gaza. Indeed, the Prime Minister was speaking to those supposedly in power and care most about strategy and wealth not regular Arabs or Muslims. Netanyahu’s warning about Iran’s supposed control of the waterways is due to these locations being “choke-point” for “the world’s oil supply”, which is certainly far more important than to worry about the people in the countries mentioned. The concern for the Arab world is so gnawing at Netanyahu’s heart that it can be felt all the way in Gaza and all over the West Bank.

What Netanyahu and his right wing supporters are saying is that President Obama is appeasing Iran and the Muslim world, which will only embolden them to further action. Certainly, the comparison between Islam and Nazi Germany has become the past time endeavor of the Islamophobes and Netanyahu is headmaster in this field.

From that point forward in the speech, Netanyahu setout to develop his arguments for why President Obama should be stopped from reaching a deal with Iran, which is in the US’s national interest but might not be to the liking of the Israeli or American rightwing. The litany of supposed Iranian crimes were introduced to remind Congress and by extension the American public about why it is important to heed Netanyahu’s warnings and abandon President Obama’s approach and take the preferred and more hawkish Israeli recommended policy. America is being asked to listen and follow Netanyahu’s lead just as we did in the invasion of Iraq!

Not content with the above framing, Netanyahu jumped head first into militant Islam and the threat posed by both ISIS and Iran. “Iran and ISIS are competing for the crown of militant Islam”; Netanyahu possibly thought this line was funny but we are not laughing at such a distorted comparison. The association is so faulty and lacking in logic that calling it a joke would be a generous description. Pushing the association further insulted the collective intelligence of the American public but we must exclude those setting inside the champers for they applauded the Prime Minister at every opportunity. Netanyahu was at ease in proclaiming: “One calls itself the Islamic Republic. The other calls itself the Islamic State. Both want to impose a militant Islamic empire first on the region and then on the entire world. They just disagree among themselves who will be the ruler of that empire.”

Everyone with sound intelligence will recognize that ISIS and Iran are not the same nor share the basic assumptions about Islam or the world. The fusing of both was a sinister attempt by Netanyahu to capitalize on America and the world utter disgust and disdain for what ISIS stands for and on-going mayhem and terrorist acts. More critically and a direct question as to Netanyahu’s own responsibility in pushing for the Iraq war with his Neoconservative buddies who assured us all that this will have “reverberations” and a positive impact on the region and will give birth to a ‘New Middle East’. Mr. Netanyahu’s “reverberations” and positive results led directly to the collapse of Iraq and then ISIS’s formation as a byproduct of the created vacuum. Mr. Netanyahu and Neoconservative should claim and take responsibility for ISIS for they broke the barn, shamed the anti-war movement and pushed the country into supporting the war and invading a sovereign state. Netanyahu and the Neoconservative own Iraq and everything that grows or nurtured in it including the death and destruction as well as the torture they authorized and the sexual imaginary they unleashed from the depth of their Orientalist wet-dreams about Arab and Muslim subjects. “Shock and awe” as well as “The Iron Wall” creates the epistemic conditions that gave birth to ISIS and their ilk.

America’s rightwing and many of its rank and file as well as its mouthpiece, Fox News, have been pressing President Obama on defining the ‘War on Terrorism’ as a war on ‘Islamic terrorism’ and Netanyahu’s speech delivered the nuggets and one could see all high-fiving each other and being fixated on every line their true leader is uttering. The framing is yet another swipe at part of President Obama’s foreign policy agenda and is celebrated by a Congressional leadership ready to support a foreign leader against its own president. Had a Democratic Speaker of the House invited a foreign leader to oppose Bush’s or Reagan’s foreign policies in Iraq or El Salvador, I am sure they will label it a seditious act and hearings will be held on the matter but not so when it is Netanyahu and the GOP in the driver seat at the Hill.

I counted 43 applauses for Mr. Netanyahu by a Congress that was ready to throw the President under the bus and embrace a foreign leader that receives direct military and economic aid from this President and the country he supposedly leads.

Yet the most absurd part of the speech is the actual text itself for it was nothing more than a long list of one-liners that were dimly stitched together and hardly can move anyone to embrace the Israeli rightwing belligerent articulation for war. The American public was not impressed and by a wide margin did not approve of the message or how Netanyahu was given the floor to nudge America into another war in the Middle East. When you pack so many one-liners in the hope that it will be quoted in the press you end-up with a speech fit for Comedy Central than a serious policy formulation. In the long run, Netanyahu’s speech and Israel’s rightwing policies will further drive the wedge between the U.S. and Israel, and once coupled with a lack of progress on the ‘peace’ front with the Palestinians then the change will be sooner than later.

Netanyahu’s willful silence in the speech on the Palestinians, expansion of settlement, and the siege on Gaza left much to be desired and caused many to see through this diversion effort. Prime Minister Netanyahu had had a lack of readiness to deal with the problems inside his country and opting regularly to see a distant enemy behind Palestinians demands for freedom, dignity and right of return. Israel’s problems are of its own making and emerge at the same moment that Zionism focused on creating an exclusivist nationalist state at the expense of the indigenous Palestinians. Consequently, as long as Israel and Prime Minister Netanyahu keep denying that the Palestinians are under Israeli occupation and that the Nekba was caused by Zionist efforts at expulsion then it will not be possible to address the broader issues. Pointing to Iraq in the past and Iran at present is an act of denial and point to Netanyahu’s total refusal to account for Israel’s responsibility for the dispossession of the Palestinians.