If there is anything we need in modern American society today, it’s more discomfort. In a sense, that’s what happened on Tuesday, March 3, when Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu visited Congress to address members of that body (and the nation) regarding radical Islam.
His address didn’t just focus on Iran’s nuclear program, but also on the continued bubbling that is Islamic extremism, and its violent, forceful shadow on the entirety of the Middle East. Since that rooted reality is half a world away from these shores, its impact feels significantly watered down by the time we digest it. Things happen to them over there, and we recognize that, but so often it doesn’t directly impact us. This isn’t the case for Benjamin Netanyahu, as leader of a small country in that terribly violent region of the world, surrounded by many bent on his homeland’s destruction.
Speaker of the House, John Boehner, invited “Bibi” to address Congress, as reported in January:
“In this time of challenge, I am asking the prime minister to address Congress on the grave threats radical Islam and Iran pose to our security and way of life.”
“The president warned us not to move ahead with sanctions on Iran, a state sponsor of terror. His exact message to us was: ‘Hold your fire.’ He expects us to stand idly by and do nothing while he cuts a bad deal with Iran. Two words: ‘Hell no’.”
The weeks leading up to the speech carried much speculation as to its exact content, but also much hand-wringing by liberals. Many Democrats in Congress, not fans of Bibi to begin with, threatened to skip the address claiming it would disrespect the president, would occur too close to Israeli elections, or even just broke “sacred” Washington protocol. The final tally showed 58 members of Congress chose not to attend as the prime minister spoke at the joint session.
Unfortunately for the pouting 58, they missed an extraordinary speech in a chamber not used to hearing such powerful, necessary language from an elected leader. Benjamin Netanyahu’s address is what you’d expect (and crave) from someone aware of the radical, brutal militancy which seeks to permeate all corners of the globe. The fill-in-the-blank diplomacy from our Nobel Prize winning president is tidy, and perhaps soothing to some, but does nothing to show strength in the hours we need it most.
Some of Netanyahu’s remarks before Congress:
“Why should Iran’s radical regime change for the better when it can enjoy the best of both world’s: aggression abroad, prosperity at home?
This is a question that everyone asks in our region. Israel’s neighbors — Iran’s neighbors know that Iran will become even more aggressive and sponsor even more terrorism when its economy is unshackled and it’s been given a clear path to the bomb.
And many of these neighbors say they’ll respond by racing to get nuclear weapons of their own. So this deal won’t change Iran for the better; it will only change the Middle East for the worse. A deal that’s supposed to prevent nuclear proliferation would instead spark a nuclear arms race in the most dangerous part of the planet.
This deal won’t be a farewell to arms. It would be a farewell to arms control. And the Middle East would soon be crisscrossed by nuclear tripwires. A region where small skirmishes can trigger big wars would turn into a nuclear tinderbox.”
“Iran and ISIS are competing for the crown of militant Islam. One calls itself the Islamic Republic. The other calls itself the Islamic State. Both want to impose a militant Islamic empire first on the region and then on the entire world. They just disagree among themselves who will be the ruler of that empire.
In this deadly game of thrones, there’s no place for America or for Israel, no peace for Christians, Jews or Muslims who don’t share the Islamist medieval creed, no rights for women, no freedom for anyone.
So when it comes to Iran and ISIS, the enemy of your enemy is your enemy.
The difference is that ISIS is armed with butcher knives, captured weapons and YouTube, whereas Iran could soon be armed with intercontinental ballistic missiles and nuclear bombs. We must always remember — I’ll say it one more time — the greatest dangers facing our world is the marriage of militant Islam with nuclear weapons. To defeat ISIS and let Iran get nuclear weapons would be to win the battle, but lose the war. We can’t let that happen.”
The United States, a half a world away from this turmoil, can’t let this happen, either. We owe it to our allies to be resolute, and partner with those such as Israel for the sake of the freedom we claim to prize so much. The only flimsy security we can hold on to is the distance which separates us from these horrors. For that reason, partnering in agreement and political appearance, with Netanyahu and others, is imperative.
Liberal reaction to Bibi’s address was the expected disgust we’ve grown accustomed to. David Axelrod dismissed the speech in a tweet as “apocalyptic language & GOP cheerleading”. Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi said it was condescending, and exclaimed: “I was near tears throughout the prime minister’s speech — saddened by the insult to the intelligence of the United States”. Meanwhile, an ABC news article printed that the speech “…denouncing President Barack Obama’s policy from within the grand hall of American democracy upended nearly two centuries of tradition”.
Please, spare me the emotional theatrics and plastic mourning for our customs. If we are truly a nation looking to the past, interested in protecting the present, and invested in our future, bipartisan wrangling over inviting the new kid to sit at our lunch table for a spell would not be such a problem. But it is, because American governmental leaders sit atop a cozy perch. The prime minister’s critics believe his words are more dangerous than Iran’s actions. This is why I’m glad for the discomfort that flooded their ranks and frankly, the American people entirely. We cannot sit idly by.
Benjamin Netanyahu concluded his address with:
“You stand with Israel, because you know that the story of Israel is not only the story of the Jewish people but of the human spirit that refuses again and again to succumb to history’s horrors.
Facing me right up there in the gallery, overlooking all of us in this chamber is the image of Moses. Moses led our people from slavery to the gates of the Promised Land. And before the people of Israel entered the land of Israel, Moses gave us a message that has steeled our resolve for thousands of years. I leave you with his message today, (SPEAKING IN HEBREW), ‘Be strong and resolute, neither fear nor dread them.’
My friends, may Israel and America always stand together, strong and resolute. May we neither fear nor dread the challenges ahead. May we face the future with confidence, strength and hope.
May God bless the state of Israel and may God bless the United States of America.”
Regardless of White House response, Netanyahu’s opportunity to present the stark reality of the terror climate was a historic one. The current president and his yet unknown successor should take note. Wavering and generic, empty speech makes for great news show clips, but does nothing to shift us from complacency. Discomfort is required. On March 3, Benjamin Netanyahu delivered that much needed unease.