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March 19, 2015 12:46 am

How Obama Elected Netanyahu

avatar by George Jochnowitz

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President Barack Obama. Photo: White House.

In February, House Speaker John Boehner said he had invited Pope Francis to address a joint meeting of Congress. The Pope is scheduled to appear on September 24.

This invitation was technically a breach of protocol. Nevertheless, nobody much noticed. There have been no condemnations from the White House, and in all likelihood, President Obama will meet with the Pope when he is in the United States.

The contrast with the reaction to Boehner’s invitation to Prime Minister Netanyahu is striking. Vice President Joe Biden did not attend Netanyahu’s speech to Congress, even though the Vice President is also President of the Senate. Eight Senators and 50 House Representatives also did not attend.

All of them might have attended had President Obama agreed to meet, however briefly, with Netanyahu. It would have been the polite thing to do, even though the invitation itself was a breach of protocol. Netanyahu and Obama could have exchanged any new information about Iran’s nuclear plans, even though they probably couldn’t have changed any views.

Instead, the reaction everywhere was that the breach of protocol was an absolute outrage. One of the factors leading to this view was that Netanyahu was running for re-election, and that he was going to Congress to help get votes for his party. It is indeed possible that one of the reasons Netanyahu accepted the invitation was that he felt it might help him win. I can’t read his mind – or anyone else’s – but I believe that the big issue motivating him was his fear of Iran’s increasing nuclear capabilities.

Israel has every reason to fear Iran’s nuclear ambitions. That is what Netanyahu spoke about in his address to Congress. President Obama should understand – and share – Netanyahu’s fear. In his speech, Netanyahu said, “We appreciate all that President Obama has done for Israel.”

Nowhere did Netanyahu say anything that might have offended Obama. Obama, unfortunately, had already been offended, and Netanyahu’s words couldn’t change that. Obama did not offer any conciliatory gesture after the speech. Netanyahu went back to Israel knowing that the President of Israel’s chief ally in the world was rigidly opposed to both Netanyahu and to his desire to control Iran’s attempts at getting the bomb.

Israeli politics are very complicated. It became simpler when President Obama’s rigidity convinced many Israelis that nothing could be gained by working with the United States to bring about a peaceful withdrawal from disputed territories or on Iran. Obama made some Israelis decide that a tough stand was required. The Israelis who decided at the last minute to vote for Netanyahu probably did so because of Obama’s lack of flexibility.

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