Republicans Fawn Over Benjamin Netanyahu Before, During, And After His Speech
The sun will rise in the east. The Cubs will not win the World Series. Kanye West has strong feelings about a recent awards show. These things are functional certainties in our world, as constant as the ebb and flow of tides. Oh, and here's another one: the Republicans really love Benjamin Netanyahu, as the Israeli Prime Minister's Tuesday congressional address proved. From the warm, embracing reactions he drew when he entered the House chamber to speak, to the frequent standing ovations, the Bibi lovefest was in full bloom in Washington.
It shouldn't come as much surprise, frankly. While both major American parties have always sought to appear unified and simpatico with the government of Israel, they being a keystone U.S. ally in the Middle East, the GOP has always done one better. I've personally witnessed many ostensible conservatives on social media, for example, claim that they'd rather Netanyahu were president instead of Obama, a sentiment shared by inflammatory pundits like Rudy Giuliani and Ann Coulter. High-profile conservative columnist (and notoriously poor prognosticator) Bill Kristol's also got in on the act late last week, claiming that Netanyahu loves America more than Obama does.
And the address itself is a highly political affair, at least insofar as the Republicans and Speaker of the House John Boehner are concerned — inviting a foreign head of state to combat your own country's diplomatic negotiations against the wishes of your President is, in a word, extreme.
According to Haaretz journalist Barak Ravid, the assembled congresspeople (absent scores of Democrats, who avoided the address due to its inflammatory political element) gave Netanyahu a staggering 25 standing ovations over the course of a nearly 35 minute speech, including a standing O of nearly three minutes at the conclusion of his remarks. It probably doesn't come as much surprise, but that's a hell of a lot warmer a reception than they gave President Obama in his State of the Union address — any of them, really.
In fact, Netanyahu probably has a slightly distorted notion of how easy it is to address the American congress, having netted a similar 28 ovations in a nearly 47-minute speech back in 2011. Basically, when Netanyahu arrived, he got the red carpet treatment, even though it was mostly Republicans left to roll it out.
It's worth noting that the show of support wouldn't have looked quite so overwhelming if the full slate of Democrats had been in attendance, or even if Netanyahu were speaking to a group representative of his own country's range of viewpoints. It's sometimes easy to gloss over, but Israeli political opinion is not a monolith. They're a country like any other, and Netanyahu merely a politician, representing the right-wing Likud Party. Plenty of liberal and left-wing Israelis disdain his foreign policy and rhetoric. But when we start discussing him here in America, especially insofar as the GOP is concerned. it's easy for that dissent to wash out.
It'll be interesting to see whether this speech does damage to the U.S. push for a nuclear program deal with Iran or not — after all, a majority of Americans believed the GOP's unilateral invite was a bad move going in, according to a CNN poll from February.
Images: John Boehner/YouTube