Why did Nancy Pelosi choke up? The Democratic Party leader in America’s House of Representatives stormed from the floor of the House before Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had finished saying his goodbyes following his speech to Congress.
Pelosi was “near tears,” she said, over what she had heard.
What had so upset her? She was, she said, “saddened by the insult to the intelligence of the United States” and “by the condescension toward our knowledge of the threat posed by Iran and our broader commitment to preventing nuclear proliferation.”
The relationship with Israel, which she said she “loves,” was a “deep and abiding friendship that will always reach beyond party.”
A curious reaction, perhaps. After all, Netanyahu had explicitly thanked Democrats and Republicans for their common support for Israel. He had paid gracious compliments to President Obama for supporting Israel over the years.
The speech was factual and reasoned.
Eschewing partisan points, Netanyahu merely laid out the devastating case against the deal with Iran that he fears is about to be done.
So with what exactly did Nancy Pelosi feel she could not associate herself? Netanyahu pointed out the terrible threat Iran poses not just to Israel but to the world through its regional advances.
He warned of the supreme folly of treating Iran as an ally against Islamic Sate when both are competing to impose a militant Islamic empire upon the region and the world.
He laid out the threat posed by Iran to America, hundreds of whose citizens it has killed in more than three decades of attacks on American interests.
Careful to give away no secrets of the nuclear negotiations, he set out how the imminent deal with Iran would leave this terrorist and genocidal regime with a vast nuclear infrastructure that would enable it to amass enough weapons-grade uranium or plutonium for a nuclear bomb in a matter of months or even weeks. And through its intercontinental ballistic missile program, which wasn’t even on the negotiating table, Iran could deliver nuclear weapons to every part of the US.
He nailed the canard endlessly repeated by President Obama that there was no alternative to this deal other than war. Not true, said Netanyahu: The alternative to a bad deal was a better deal, to be achieved only by holding Iran’s feet to the fire. And he made one new and specific suggestion: that if Iran didn’t agree to change its behavior before the deal was signed, at the very least it should be required to do so before the deal’s timeline elapsed.
It was a good speech which provoked a stunning reaction. Indeed, the reaction was what it was actually all about.
For the repeated standing ovations and cheering from Congress made a number of points crystal clear.
First, this was the most pointed rebuke possible to Obama. For his campaign of smears, snubs, insults and naked attempts stop Netanyahu from speaking boomeranged badly against the president. It turned a speech that might otherwise have been played down into a global event, and ensured that Republican Congress would feel duty bound to stand up for America’s beleaguered ally against the White House bully.
Most significant of all, however, was what Congress cheered the loudest. When Netanyahu said, “The days when the Jewish people remained passive in the face of genocidal enemies” had gone, Congress erupted. When he said, “Even if Israel has to stand alone, Israel will stand,” it went wild.
The warning from Netanyahu was unmissable. If this rotten deal goes ahead and Obama enables Iran to achieve nuclear breakout capacity, Israel will do what it must to stop it, including military attack.
That is what Congress was cheering. It was giving Israel permission to attack Iran.
It was saying that the American people will understand and support it if it is forced to do so.
What those cheers also signified is that Obama and those Democrats who support him have been left isolated in an odious place. Contrary to what Pelosi said, it is the deal being cooked up with Iran which is an insult to the intelligence. And through its cheering, Congress was saying that America will never support such a deal that exposes the Jewish people to another genocide.
Here lay the real power of that speech but also its danger. It lined up Congress behind Israel and left Obama stranded on the other side.
Obama said in response what he always says: that there is no alternative to this deal. In the light of what Netanyahu so unsparingly laid out, Obama is therefore saying there is no alternative to empowering a nuclear Iran.
What Netanyahu did was to lay out exactly whom Obama is now siding with and whom he stands against. Stunningly, Sunni Arab states are behind Netanyahu.
In the Saudi Arabian daily Al-Jazirah, columnist Dr. Ahmad al-Faraj wrote before the speech: “I believe that Netanyahu’s conduct will serve our interests, the people of the Gulf, much more than the foolish behavior of one of the worst American presidents.” The editor-in-chief of Al-Arabiya English, Faisal J. Abbas, wrote a piece titled “President Obama, Listen to Netanyahu on Iran.”
And the speech drew a stark line within America itself. It showed that Republican- dominated Congress will stand with Israel against genocide while Obama will make that genocide a possibility.
Undeniably the issue of Israel, for so long enjoying bipartisan support, has become dangerously politicized. The risk is that supporting Israel will become a Republican issue with Democrats becoming indifferent or opposed.
Some blame the Republicans for opening up that perilous divide. Others may conclude it is Obama who has politicized the Israel issue and smashed the consensus by subsuming Israel’s security into his lethally deluded belief that appeasing Iran or the Palestinians will promote peace rather than mass murder, genocide and war.
Regardless, there are Democrats who are truly pro-Israel and also truly committed to stopping Iran getting the bomb. The problem is that they are truly deluded about how to do so.
Those Democrats now find they are going to have to make a choice they cannot bear: either back a deal that will expose Israel to the threat of genocide, or oppose Obama.
That is surely why Nancy Pelosi choked up.
Melanie Phillips is a columnist for
The Times (UK).