[By: N. Aaron Troodler, Esq.]
Diplomatic protocol is sacrosanct to world leaders. Adherence to the unofficial rules of international diplomacy is universally expected and any deviation from those rubrics is viewed as a serious breach of this unwritten code.
As savvy as he is, Ron Dermer, Israel’s Ambassador to the United States, committed a big blunder when he worked exclusively with House Speaker John Boehner to arrange for Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to address Congress in March.
Let us forget for a moment that the speech was scheduled to take place just a short time prior to the upcoming Israeli elections for the Knesset. That alone elevated the Ambassador’s actions to a major faux pas. Let us instead focus on what the core of the problem appears to be, namely, that the White House and the Democratic leadership in Congress were kept in the dark until just shortly before the Prime Minister’s plans were made public.
By collaborating with Speaker Boehner, to the exclusion of his colleagues across the political aisle and without involving the President, Ambassador Dermer committed a gross miscalculation that appears to have thrown the state of the U.S.-Israel relationship into utter turmoil. Amidst angry statements from the White House and threats from Democratic lawmakers that they will boycott the Prime Minister’s address, the once seemingly unbreakable bond between the United States and Israel appears to have ruptured to a certain extent.
Vice President Biden announced that he would not attend the speech, and a slew of Senators and Representatives stated that they would boycott the address. Viewing the speech as a sign of disrespect to President Obama, many members of the Congressional Black Caucus declared their intent to boycott the Prime Minister’s address, including renowned civil rights leader Rep. John Lewis.
I understand why the White House and the Democratic lawmakers, many of whom are strong supporters of Israel, are angry. This entire situation was handled poorly from the outset and the controversy that ultimately arose could have easily been avoided. That being said, it is time to move on and to look at the bigger picture.
U.S. Congressional leaders need to coalesce around Prime Minister Netanyahu’s planned speech to Congress and not allow the partisan debate surrounding the speech to undercut the strong U.S.-Israel relationship. The Prime Minister’s address, which is scheduled to take place shortly before the March 31 deadline to reach a deal concerning Iran’s nuclear program, is expected to focus on the grave threat posed by a nuclear-armed Iran and spotlight the ramifications of a potential agreement that softens the sanctions and empowers one of the world’s most notorious and active state sponsors of terrorism.
With the deadline to reach an agreement with Iran regarding its nuclear capabilities rapidly approaching, an address by the Israeli Prime Minister, who has long warned about the existential threat that a nuclear Iran poses to the world, not only makes sense, but is vitally important. As someone who has closely monitored the Iranian situation and whose country and citizens have repeatedly been the targets of terrorist groups intent on destroying them, Prime Minister Netanyahu’s perspective on Iran is a credible and critical piece to a very complex diplomatic puzzle.
At the same time, while I fully support Prime Minister Netanyahu’s decision to accept an invitation to address Congress, I am deeply troubled by the partisan divide that has ensued and the political rancor that it has engendered.
I am extraordinarily grateful for the United States’ longstanding and resolute relationship with the State of Israel and recognize that the enduring nature of the U.S.-Israel relationship has always been rooted in bipartisan support. It is my hope that Prime Minister Netanyahu will proceed with his address to Congress as planned and that lawmakers from both major political parties will attend and listen to what he has to say on an issue that has global implications and with which the Prime Minister is intimately familiar.
We cannot afford to allow partisan politics to overshadow a key issue that warrants bipartisan support. In this instance, where the status of the United States’ relationship with its key ally in the Middle East seemingly hangs in the balance, bipartisanship and cooperation must transcend party politics.
“Israel’s survival is not a partisan issue, not in Israel nor in the United States,” said Prime Minister Netanyahu. “I am going to the United States not because I seek a confrontation with the President, but because I must fulfill my obligation to speak up on a matter that affects the very survival of my country.”
There is no question that the planning process surrounding the Prime Minister’s Congressional address may have been flawed, but that should not diminish the importance of the subject matter to be discussed. Lawmakers in Washington, DC need to break through the partisan squabble that developed after plans for Prime Minister Netanyahu’s speech were announced, check their egos and emotions at the door, and come hear what he has to say.
Can’t we all just get along? For Israel’s sake, I hope that the answer is “yes.”
N. Aaron Troodler is an attorney and principal of Paul Revere Public Relations, a public relations and political consulting firm. Visit him on the Web at TroodlersTake.blogspot.com, www.PaulReverePR.com, or www.JewishWorldPR.com. You can also follow him on Twitter: @troodler