Shadow Government

A front-row seat to the Republicans' debate over foreign policy, including their critique of the Biden administration.

Netanyahu’s rebuttal to Obama

By Kristen Silverberg A number of U.S. commentators are reading Prime Minister Netanyahu’s speech as a bow to President Obama. I had the opposite reaction. Netanyahu’s speech reads to me to be, at least in part, a rebuttal, including to Obama’s Cairo speech. It is unlikely the treatment of Iran in the Cairo speech escaped ...

By Kristen Silverberg

A number of U.S. commentators are reading Prime Minister Netanyahu's speech as a bow to President Obama. I had the opposite reaction. Netanyahu's speech reads to me to be, at least in part, a rebuttal, including to Obama's Cairo speech.

It is unlikely the treatment of Iran in the Cairo speech escaped Israeli notice. To the extent Obama addressed the Iranian nuclear issue, it was largely to reiterate U.S. concessions to the Iranian government: He accepted U.S. responsibility for overthrowing the leader of Iran, restated U.S. willingness to move forward with negotiations with the Iranian government, and reaffirmed Iran's rights to peaceful nuclear power. The sole sentence critical of Iran stated only that "Iran played a role in acts of hostage-taking and violence against U.S. troops and civilians," but then expressed our willingness to let bygones be bygones. This approach, combined with Obama's declaration that the United States would give Iran until the end of the year to demonstrate good faith, as well as his view that progress in the Peace Process is a prerequisite to progress on Iran, undoubtedly has left the impression that the U.S. urgency on Iranian issues has flagged.

By Kristen Silverberg

A number of U.S. commentators are reading Prime Minister Netanyahu’s speech as a bow to President Obama. I had the opposite reaction. Netanyahu’s speech reads to me to be, at least in part, a rebuttal, including to Obama’s Cairo speech.

It is unlikely the treatment of Iran in the Cairo speech escaped Israeli notice. To the extent Obama addressed the Iranian nuclear issue, it was largely to reiterate U.S. concessions to the Iranian government: He accepted U.S. responsibility for overthrowing the leader of Iran, restated U.S. willingness to move forward with negotiations with the Iranian government, and reaffirmed Iran’s rights to peaceful nuclear power. The sole sentence critical of Iran stated only that "Iran played a role in acts of hostage-taking and violence against U.S. troops and civilians," but then expressed our willingness to let bygones be bygones. This approach, combined with Obama’s declaration that the United States would give Iran until the end of the year to demonstrate good faith, as well as his view that progress in the Peace Process is a prerequisite to progress on Iran, undoubtedly has left the impression that the U.S. urgency on Iranian issues has flagged.

For Netanyahu, in contrast, Iran is the first issue he mentioned and is at the top of the list of the "three tremendous challenges" facing the world today. He stated clearly,

The Iranian threat still is before us in full force, as became quite clear yesterday. The greatest danger to Israel, to the Middle East, and to all humanity, is the encounter between extremist Islam and nuclear weapons…. I have been working tirelessly for many years to form an international front against Iran arming itself with nuclear weapons.

Likewise, Netanyahu disputed Obama on the origins of the Arab-Israeli conflict. While Obama’s Cairo speech adopted the Arab view that Jewish claims to a homeland in Israel are rooted solely in the Holocaust, Netanyahu explained at length:

The connection of the Jewish People to the Land has been in existence for more than 3,500 years. Judea and Samaria, the places where our forefathers Abraham, Isaac and Jacob walked, our forefathers David, Solomon, Isaiah and Jeremiah. This is not a foreign land, this is the Land of our Forefathers.

The right of the Jewish People to a state in the Land of Israel does not arise from the series of disasters that befell the Jewish People over 2,000 years — persecutions, expulsions, pogroms, blood libels, murders, which reached its climax in the Holocaust, an unprecedented tragedy in the history of nations…. The right to establish our sovereign state here, in the Land of Israel, arises from one simple fact: Eretz Israel is the birthplace of the Jewish People.

These aren’t minor, rhetorical issues — both our treatment of the Iranian question and U.S. views on the legitimacy of Israeli claims are at the core of the U.S.-Israel relationship. This was further confirmation that we have leaders with profoundly different worldviews, and suggests at least some reason for concern about the state of the U.S.-Israel relationship going forward.

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