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February 1, 2015 5:35 pm

Iran Threat – When Principle Trumps Protocol

avatar by Moshe Phillips and Benyamin Korn

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Obama administration officials have strongly expressed opposition to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's upcoming address at Congress in which he is to discuss the Iranian nuclear threat. Photo: Cherie Cullen.

Are there circumstances under which breaching diplomatic protocol is justified, even if it offends a friendly government?

In recent days, Obama administration officials have loudly criticized Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu for accepting an invitation to address the United States Congress about the Iranian nuclear threat, without first consulting the White House. But one US official’s own track record on the subject raises some interesting questions.

One may safely assume that Prime Minister Netanyahu realized, in advance, that the White House would vehemently object when the invitation was announced. After all, he has served as prime minister twice before, and has had to manage some occasionally rocky periods in the relationship between the Israeli and American governments.

Having been raised in the United States, Netanyahu has a particularly deep understanding of American politics and is acutely sensitive to the twists and turns of the political and diplomatic currents flowing between Washington and Jerusalem. He is far too experienced and sophisticated to just stumble blindly into a controversy of this nature. He had to have known what he was getting into by accepting the invitation.

Moreover, Prime Minister Netanyahu had to have known that this administration in particular would react strongly. He has dealt extensively with President Obama and US Mideast negotiators. He has been the target of their barbs and pressure before. He has bent over backwards in his efforts to please them — by agreeing to accept a (demilitarized) Palestinian state, by freeing imprisoned Arab terrorists, by freezing construction in Judea-Samaria, and more.

Yet he even though he surely anticipated the hurricane of criticism he is now enduring, Prime Minister Netanyahu accepted the invitation. He must perceive the Iranian nuclear threat, and the danger of US concessions to Iran, as such a serious danger that he had no choice but to breach protocol.

He knew that if he consulted the White House first, Obama would object. So rather than set up a situation where he was forced to clash directly with the president, he opted to breach protocol. With Israel’s very existence on the line, Netanyahu felt he had to act. Principle trumped protocol.

Daniel Kurtzer, the former US ambassador to Israel, has strongly criticized Israel for this breach. But surely he understands the wrenching dilemma one faces when principles clash with protocol. He has faced such trying situations in his own political life.

In 1978, Kurtzer, who was just 29 years old, was the youngest-ever dean of Yeshiva College, the undergraduate division of Yeshiva University. That spring, the Y.U. administration decided to present an honorary doctorate to Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin.

It was a particularly difficult period in US-Israel relations. In March, Palestinian terrorists infiltrating Israel from Lebanon murdered Gail Rubin –the niece of U.S. Senator Abraham Ribicoff– and 37 other innocent people in the attack known as the Tel Aviv Highway Massacre. The Israelis responded by launching a major military action against PLO terror bases in Lebanon.  President Jimmy Carter pressured Israel to halt its operation prematurely and to withdraw its forces from the buffer zone along the Israel-Lebanon border.

That same spring –shortly before the Y.U. ceremony honoring Begin– President Carter announced plans to sell advanced U.S. jet fighters to Egypt and Saudi Arabia, both of which were at war with Israel. American Jews protested vigorously, but to no avail.

For Prime Minister Begin, the honorary doctorate conferred by Yeshiva University was not just another plaque for his wall. It was a powerful and timely gesture of support and affection by American Jews for Israel’s embattled prime minister.

For Kurtzer, however, it was a difficult moment. The Y.U. student newspaper, The Commentator, reported (May 17, 1978) what happened at the Begin ceremony:  “Dr. Daniel Kurtzer, Dean of Yeshiva College, was conspicuously absent from the proceedings. A reliable source informed The Commentator that due to political differences with the prime minister, the dean would not attend.”

One may assume it was not an easy decision for Kurtzer to make. The young dean must have worried how it would affect his position at the university. But sometimes, principles trump protocol. Sometimes, a public figure feels so strongly about a particular issue, that he is willing to breach protocol. Kurtzer obviously had very strong opinions concerning Israel’s prime minister in 1978. Whatever one thinks of the wisdom of his decision or the positions he took in 1978, it was an instructive episode which should be considered in the context of what is happening now.

The authors are president and chairman, respectively, of the Religious Zionists of America, Philadelphia, and candidates on the Religious Zionist slate ( in the current U.S. World Zionist Congress elections.

The opinions presented by Algemeiner bloggers are solely theirs and do not represent those of The Algemeiner, its publishers or editors. If you would like to share your views with a blog post on The Algemeiner, please be in touch through our Contact page.

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  • Sam

    The Iranian leadership has known for many years that any
    nuclear attack on Israel would mean destruction of millions, if not their entire country.
    So why would they do this?

    The US is tired of warmonger’s like Bibi, and
    there will be an incredible backlash if he tries
    to push us into war. Only those with their heads
    stuck in the sand do not see this. Millions of
    people around the world and in the US are up to
    his tricks, hopefully there are decent people
    in Israel who will stop him from going too far again?

  • Larry Andrews

    The Islamic Republic of Iran has the world’s second largest reserves of both oil and natural gas. Why would a country blessed with massive natural resources need nuclear energy?? The answer is obvious. The Islamic Republic of Iran wants nuclear weapons to be the dominant military power in its area, and be on equal footing with its nuclear armed neighbor Pakistan.

    Hamas is a designated foreign terrorist organization by the United States. After Hamas fired approximately 4,500 missiles into a free and democratic country, namely Israel, in an effort to deliberately kill as many innocent civilians as possible, how did President Obama describe that. These are his exact words “extraordinarily irresponsible”. President Obama is the most anti-Semitic and anti-Israel president of the United States. Period!!

  • Yale

    The real problem with Netanyahu’s decision to address Congress now is that it will enable Obama to present the inevitable over-ride debate to Democrats as a choice between him and a foreign leader. Regardless of what they then do, they’re in trouble.

  • judithg

    mr. obama doesn’t ever seem to get his priorities in order. or his lies. this administration’s vulgar low smears against Benjamin Netanyahu only reveal the depths of mr. obama’s ineptitude and cowardice at confronting the threat of islamic war mongering. and the real threat of a nuclear iran. something mr. obama doesn’t seem to think is an urgent matter. apparently, he thinks it’s clever to keep pandering and appeasing a very dangerous enemy while the mad mullahs regard mr. obama as a toy to be played. putting the rest of us in harm’s way. bad enough under ordinary circumstances we have to suffer this grifter in the WH and his bizarre administration.

  • theo

    The views of Obama and Netanyahu differ so radically that this visit is an imperative for the very existence of the State of Israel
    By embarking on the visit Netanyahu is telling Obama “your approach is wrong !) Not only that but it is highly dangerous for Israel and the region! ”
    There is no logic in treating with the Iranians
    For Obama to think he can persuade the Iranians to forego the nuclear option is foolhardy in the extreme
    This unbridgeable gap in the thinking of the two is the result; Netanyahu driven by the desire to protect Israel ,and Obama driven by no such desire at all
    Obama also sees his legacy in tatters should he be proven wrong on this nuclear issue
    The rift ,or chasm, is not about protocol per se but about different world views in addition to ,in Israel’s case ,its very existence is at stake In these circumstances protocol has to defer to the life and death issue ,which is a nuclear Iran

  • CSBG

    Kurtzer never should have said a word. It does not concern him, and if he is so principled, he should know the effect on all Jews going public has. Kurtzer
    is not responsible for the lives of 6million plus Jews of Israel, many Christians whom Muslim terrorists are killing around the world with impunity, as well as Druses and Muslims, who serve in the military and contribute to the maitenance of their own freedoms given under Israeli Law that the terrorists want to eradicate. Kurtzer is not responsible for Israel’s Intel, its Military, its borders’security. In summation, he is nothing. He has consistently undercut Israel’s security and existence. frankly, one can say he is a turncoat to his own People. Does he really think he has led a principled life? Does he honestly think he will be exempt from being murdered by the terrorists as a Jew and an American anywhere in the world? Netanyahu is the democratically elected Prime Minister of Israel responsible for the survival and security of his sovereign Nation. Kurtzer is, apparently, too cowardly to move to Israel and run for office to be able to have any standing on any issue. At least, this op-ed records his name for history.



    Joseph Biden visits Israel. A lower level Israeli bureaucracy announces one of many steps in authorizing housing in a section of Jerusalem. This is not the 1st step nor is it the last step in this lengthily bureaucratic process. The US State Department goes ballistic, publicly blaming Israel and Prime Minister Netanyahu for this “slap in the face”. The same weekend the Palestinian Authority names a square after a bloody terrorist who is responsible for the murder of numerous Israeli schoolchildren. And yet not a peep out of Joe Biden. Not a peep out of the State Department. Where is the indignation of the Israeli left? Where is the indignation of American Jews? Where is the media criticism?

    Nancy Pelosi and John Kerry visited Assad in Syria and gave him support. This was an attempt to undercut US policy… Where is the media criticism?

    Pres. Obama released five Taliban terrorists in his swap for. Bowe Bergdahl,. He did this without discussing this with or even notifying Congress… which is against the law… Where is the media criticism?

    Pres. Obama unilaterally reversed long-standing US policy relating to Cuba without discussing this with or even notifying Congress… Where is the media criticism?

    Pres. Obama insulted visiting head of state Prime Minister Netanyahu very publicly during a previous visit by Prime Minister Netanyahu to the White House. He did this by blindsiding Israel and the Prime Minister by announcing his “decision” about Israel’s future borders while Prime Minister Netanyahu was on the airplane on his way to Washington and then by leaving Prime Minister Netanyahu alone to “cool his heels” while the president went off to have dinner with his family. Where the indignation of Israel’s left-wing? Where is the indignation of American Jews? Where is the media criticism?

    Pres. Obama has “high level administration officials” call Prime Minister Netanyahu chicken shift and other such insults. Where is the indignation of Israel’s left-wing? Where is the indignation of American Jews? Where is the media criticism?



  • Efram

    I think trying to control the elections of another country represent a far greater breach of protocol than Bibi addressing congress. But, of course, as our terrorist-in-chief has abandoned any pretext of fighting terrorism (as he wishes for it to succeed), Bibi must do whatever he can to stop the most terrorist regime since the Nazis from getting nuclear weapons. Obama wants Iran to succeed, and refuses to consider any other options, because he believes that terrorism should succeed. If there is any way to stop Obama from handing nuclear weapons to Iran, Bibi, and any human being with a conscience, needs to do what they can to stop this.

  • Leslie D.

    The above article appeared to portrait Prime Minister Netanyahu as if he did something wrong by accepting the invitation to address his legitimate concern about the Iran nuk. The Prime Minister is doing what he thinks is the right thing to do at the moment…every effort to protect his Nation and its people. In contrast, a high level of disrespect
    from the United States towards PM Netanyahu is very obvious, and it is a shame. Why embarrass a true Leader in front of the world? At what cost? Why instead of the double standard talk don’t we address clearly the issues of anti-semitism; rockets still now directed at Israel; and the ridiculous investigation against Israel for war crime during the operation Protective edge? Who are they kidding? Why is the UN and most part of the world so blind to the realities threatening not only Israel but the entire world?

  • Principles over protocol always. The principle here is that Iran must not get a bomb. Do you, or do you not trust the foreign policy apparatus of the United States, or do you think the political branch of our government, and a candidate standing for election in Israel will do better. The fact that the political branch, and the PM have colluded to embarass the President of the United States shows that they are more interested in politics than policy. The fact that the POTUS said in the State of the Union address that he would back up negotiations with the threat of war, shows he is serious. That’s what we need.

    • Reform School

      When did Barry ever back any threats from big mouth with actions from his limp schmuck? Can’t you tell a serial liar when you see one? I see one whenever his lips move. John Boehner is another nutcase. Maybe we should meet. Bring your wallet. A fool and his money are soon parted.

  • Pinchos Woolstone

    Netanyahu will be judged as making the correct decision.
    American lives are not on the line, Jewish lives are.
    Iran will launch against Israel if they can, they must be stopped.
    Obama is both naïve and too inexperienced to make the correct judgments regarding the Ayatollah in Teheran

  • steven L

    From day 1 this Adm has undermined Il at every corner even on security issues (Suspension of Hellfire rockets).
    What to do when your main ally back stab you and try to torpedo the next election???
    BB is 1000% right to go to Washington.

    • theo

      The crucial thing is ,once Iran has nuclear ability there is no reversing this fact
      Obama cannot say we made a mistake ,let’s correct it
      It is done ! There is no going back The dye has been cast This “mistake ” can never be rectified A nuclear Iran will change the whole world position – not only the Middle East
      That is why Netanyahu has to speak up ! There is no alternative To entrust nuclear weapons in the hands of a rogue regime is madness compounded