US Congresspeople shake hands with Netanyahu 311 (R).
(photo credit: REUTERS/Stelios Varias)
The overall importance of Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyanhu’s speech to a
special joint meeting of Congress on Tuesday was not in the substance – he did
not break any radical new ground – but rather in the overwhelmingly warm ovation
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Netanyahu could only dream of such a reception in Israel.
Even his wife, Sara, received a standing ovation when she entered the
The prime minister was applauded some 30 times, many of those
accompanied by standing ovations.
The nearly four-minute ovation he
received when he entered the historic chamber – including a brief period of
rhythmic clapping that sounded more like the Mann Auditorium than Congress – was
not only heard by Netanyahu, but also by US President Barack Obama, the
Palestinians and the world at large.
With all the talk of the country’s
existential loneliness, and Israel’s real sense of isolation, when Netanyahu
spoke to the most important parliament in the world, it exuded nothing but
warmth toward Israel.
Even the prime minister’s comment that Jews are not
interlopers in Judea and Samaria – not like the Belgians were in the Congo or
the British in India – received raucous applause and standing ovation by most in
Granted, Congress is not the world, and it is the US president
who in the final analysis sets American foreign policy. But Congress is not some
insignificant little body that can be lightly dismissed – not by the president
or the world – and it sets the limits to how far the president can push
With the resounding applause, on both sides of the aisle, to
Netanyahu’s comments on a unified Jerusalem, not returning to the 1967 lines,
not negotiating with Hamas, not allowing the descendants of Palestinian refugees
to enter Israel, Obama – currently tending to US business in Europe – received a
clear signal from Congress that when it comes to Israel, his hands are not free.