Las Vegas Sun

February 15, 2019

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Where I Stand:

Relationship between U.S., Israel is what matters

When it comes to Israel, I have to admit, I am biased.

Call me sentimental, but I believe that the State of Israel, which was created by the United Nations in 1948 with the blessing of the United States and practically every other nation on Earth following the Holocaust, has a right to exist. It has a right to live secure from the malice of others and the right to secure the blessings of peace and tranquility for its citizens.

Just like every other country on the planet!

You can also accuse me of being sentimental because I believe that, as one of the most loyal and dependable allies the United States has ever had — or will ever have — Israel is entitled to the same understanding for its mistakes as we expect our allies to give us when we err on occasion. Say, every week or so.

But sentimentalism only goes so far. We live in a real world that often demands that sentiment be damned and realpolitik be praised. The reality of the politics of the Middle East requires that we all take a step back so we can heed the lessons of history.

The question of the day is whether Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s planned speech before a joint session of Congress on Tuesday should (1) take place and, if it does happen, whether (2) Democrats supportive of President Barack Obama and concerned about a breach of diplomatic and constitutional protocol, should attend?

Those are only two questions. There is a subset of at least a dozen questions surrounding Bibi’s speech that has engendered hundreds of different answers. So much so that it is almost impossible to decide which answer is the right one.

When that kind of confusion abounds, I always find it helpful to take a breath, back away from the middle and simplify.

So here it is, as simple as I can make it.

Iran — a country run by religious zealots, hell-bent on destroying Israel and any Western country that exhibits signs of a democracy in which women have rights and liberties along with men, where religious freedom is available to all people, and where peace is preferable to war — wants to have the ability to make a nuclear weapon.

Iran — a country that has embraced the notion that the Holocaust, Adolf Hitler’s way of murdering 6 million Jewish men, women and children, never happened, and that has sworn to finish what Hitler started (or didn’t, if you listen to them) by driving every last Israeli into the sea — wants to arm its long-range missiles with nuclear devices. All of which will be pointed at Israel.

Iran — a country that has been providing men, weapons and other means of murder to practically every country in the Arab Middle East as a way of destabilizing governments, destroying civil institutions and creating panic among tens of millions of Arabs just yearning to be free — wants to be able to hold the viable threat of nuclear winter over the heads of its enemies, almost all of whom are either allies of the United States or, at the very least, owners of a major portion of the world’s oil supply. And each of whom will have no choice but to build their own nuclear arsenals!

I could go on, but you get the point.

Prime Minister Netanyahu thinks it is a very bad idea — even an existentially bad idea — to let that happen. And he thinks President Obama and his major world power colleagues negotiating with Iran to stop all that from happening aren’t doing enough and won’t go far enough to prevent Iran from going nuclear. And that limits Israel’s choices about how it must protect itself. Almost all of those choices will be military responses, which I have to believe no one in their right mind wants to see happen.

When the threat is existential, the rules of war quickly give way to the absolute necessity of victory — at all costs.

So, enter politics.

It is fair to say that the issue of a nuclear Iran is a matter that should be debated in every home in this country. After all, we will pay the price of nuclear war should Iran decide to push the button it is trying to build. And if Netanyahu has a point of view he is obligated to share it with us, for our sake as well as Israel’s.

It is also fair — and constitutionally correct — to say that conducting foreign policy is the president’s job, not Congress’. Congress can argue with President Obama’s policy toward Iran’s designs but it should do so as prescribed by the Constitution.

On Tuesday, these issues are about to be conflated. Speaker of the House John Boehner has invited Netanyahu to speak to a joint session of Congress, presumably to directly contradict the policy of the U.S. president regarding negotiations with Iran. Netanyahu, it must be noted, is running for re-election in Israel, and a picture of him addressing Congress just days before the vote in Israel will go a long way toward securing the votes needed to return him to office.

So, now, the problem.

There are Democrats who believe Obama is acting in the best interests of the American people, consistent with the Constitution and for the benefit of all of our allies, including Israel. They also believe Boehner’s invitation and Bibi’s acceptance is nothing more than a blatant political stunt designed to show that Republicans support Israel and Democrats, especially if they refuse to go to the speech, do not.

This is a very dangerous game that is being played. For the sake of politics and even a heartfelt belief in the Constitution of the United States the long-revered bipartisan support that has always defined the U.S.-Israeli relationship is being threatened.

I don’t blame Bibi for wanting to shout to the heavens his concern for a nuclear-tipped Iran. I wish he would have chosen a different, less divisive and less dangerous forum for doing so.

I do blame Boehner for making the hall available when he knew the political wedge he would be driving into the essential bipartisan relationship with Israel could do great damage.

And, while I understand the dilemma Democrats have, it is not compelling enough to force them into an ill-conceived and harmful retreat that will show our Israeli allies (and our enemies around the world) that Americans can be divided when it comes to supporting a long-term and steadfast ally. They should go to the speech, if for no other reason than as a sign of respect for Israel and our special relationship.

There will be plenty of time to play politics after Netanyahu is done. But that will be after the American people hear what Israel has to say about nuclear weapons in Iran and before — long before — any ally or enemy of ours or Israel’s sees a hint of daylight between our two great countries.

Truth is, I have a bias toward my country, America. I want her to continue to lead the world. I want her to continue to lead at home. And I believe she has to do that even if our own leaders can’t lead themselves.

Brian Greenspun is owner, publisher and editor of the Las Vegas Sun.

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