Although Benjamin Netanyahu began his speech to a joint session of Congress on Tuesday by saying he “regretted” that his appearance had come to be seen as partisan, he pulled no punches in criticizing reported outlines of the Obama administration’s talks with Iran. He warned the administration about accepting a “very bad deal” to curb Iran’s nuclear ambitions, and suggested that the United States and its Western partners in the negotiations are seriously misjudging the ideology and goals of Iran’s leaders. Invoking the story of this week’s celebration of Purim, he warned that Jews defeated their enemies in the past, and Israel would stand alone if that is what it had to do to survive.
Netanyahu made his address to a room that lacked any representative from the White House, as well as 56 Democratic lawmakers who did not want to contribute to what they felt was an insulting breach of protocol. Even among the Democrats who stayed, like House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, their discomfort was apparent, with Pelosi calling Netanyahu’s speech an “insult to the intelligence of the United States.”
At the same moment, delegates to the annual policy conference of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee were fanning out across Capitol Hill, meeting with Republican and Democratic lawmakers and assuring them that, policy differences aside, neither Israel nor its supporters want to see the U.S.-Israel relationship damaged by partisan politics. At the moment, this message may seem like a hard sell. But AIPAC and others understand that Israel needs friends in high places and that the fate of the vital friendship between the two countries cannot be placed in the hands of one party or the other.
Netanyahu, who has made it his life’s mission to neutralize the Iranian threat, may have felt that threatening that bipartisanship was a necessary price to be paid to get his message across. But prime ministers, like presidents, come and go. For supporters of Israel, repairing the frayed ties between the two countries, while continuing to sound the alarm on the Iranian threat, must remain a priority.