Thursday, March 05, 2015

Netanyahu's speech debacle shows the ugly face of politics (again)

I don't usually comment much on purely political issues, what you might call politics for politics' sake. To tell you the truth, it doesn't really interest me much; in fact, it bores as well as depresses me. But Benjamin Netanyahu's speech to the US Congress probably takes politics-for-politics'-sake into the realms of the transcendental and psychological.
The whole episode has a bad taste from start to finish, from Republic Speaker of the House John Boehner's initial invitation for Netanyahu to speak at Congress without the usual protocol of asking President Barack Obama's permission, to the speech itself, which seems to have been more aimed at an Israeli audience than an American one, given that Netanyahu is fighting for his political life in a tight election race. Incredibly, he had the audacity to begin the speech by saying, " I deeply regret that some perceive my being here as political. That was never my intention."
The whole thing may, however, still backfire on the Republicans. The main US network television stations refused to cover the speech live. Polls of Americans-on-the-street have expressed their disapproval of Boehner's tactics. Then, a hurried attempt by Republican Leader Mitch McConnell, shortly after Netanyahu's speech (and three weeks before the currently agreed timeline), to fast-track and push through the currently-debated legislation calling for congressional approval for any nuclear deal with Iran met with disapproval in both Democratic and Republic quarters, and failed miserably.
Whether the vote ultimately succeeds in taking away the President's power on this issue or not, the recent shenanigans has probably poisoned and soured the process irrevocably. Certainly, Netanyahu has burnt his boats and destroyed whatever vestiges of respect may have remained between himself and President Obama.
I have never understood the North American love affair with Israel, which I have always seen as a militaristic, repressive and unstable regime, operating a system disturbingly reminiscent of South African apartheid. And yet decades of American politicians (and now our own Stephen Harper, who is perhaps the ultimate Israel cheerleader) have kowtowed to Israeli sensibilities, and bent over backwards to ignore the more egregious missteps and political drivel that seem to keep emanating from that unfortunate country. To some extent, Canada has recently taken over the traditional US role of shielding Israel from the rest of the world in UN sessions. Barack Obama is the only American President in living memory to treat Israel with the skepticism and wariness it deserves.
I know the Jewish lobby in North America (and particularly in the USA) is both disproportionately rich and powerful, but I'm always surprised at just how influential they seem to be. I can't believe they merit such attention by sheer electoral numbers (in fact, I checked: the Jewish population of the USA is in the region of 6 million, about as many as live in Israel itself, but this is only about 2% of the overall US population; the percentage in Canada is even less, about 1%). But surely this local influence can be the only explanation for America's (and Canada's) continued support for such a dubious administration (Wikipedia has a good article on the extent and sources of this influence).
Neither have I ever understood why we should listen to one nuclear weapon power vociferously denouncing the rights of an antagonistic neighbour's right to the same. Israeli nuclear weapons are arguably the single biggest obstacle to a long-term solution to the Iranian nuclear problem.
Ah, well, time to stop: I have probably offended enough people now (another good reason not to comment on politics).

Despite many polls consistently showing Benjamin Netanyahu's rightist Likud to be trailing the centre-leftist Zionist Union party in popularity, on the day of the election, Netanyahu did in fact win enough seats to allow him to form another coalition government. This turnaround is widely attributed to his election day Facebook campaign in which he adopted bare-faced and racist scare tactics, alleging that "Right-wing rule is in danger. Arab voters are going to the polls in droves. Left-wing organisations are bringing them in buses."
In addition, the day before the election, he completely reversed his position in the previous election by assuring Israeli right-wingers that there would be no two-state solution to the Palestinian problem under his leadership. The day after his victory, however, he back-tracked once again (at least when interviewed for an American audience), saying that he DID want a two-state solution after all! He said that he is proud to represent both Arab and Jewish citizens.
Basically, this guy will do whatever he has to in order to retain power and, amazingly, it seem to work for him. Just don't believe a word he says.

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