Crossing the line

Perhaps the most extreme statement in the debate over Netanyahu’s speech was made by one of the prime minister’s strongest supporters.

Rabbi Shmuley Boteach (photo credit: REUTERS)
Rabbi Shmuley Boteach
(photo credit: REUTERS)
Tempers have heated up ahead of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s speech before the US Congress, with supporters of both Netanyahu and his critics resorting to hyperboles. Some have crossed the line separating acceptable and unacceptable speech.
Those who oppose Netanyahu’s speech – arranged without Obama’s knowledge by Obama’s chief Republican rival, House Speaker John Boehner – argue that the prime minister might seriously endanger relations with the US.
Michael Oren, Israel’s ambassador to the US until 2013, has said the US-Israel relationship is now in “unchartered waters” and called the speech a “cynical political move” that could backfire. Amos Yadlin, former head of IDF Intelligence said the move was “irresponsible.”
Yet, while both accuse Netanyahu of using the speech to boost his popularity, they can hardly be considered objective.
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Oren is running for a Knesset seat with the center-right Kulanu Party against Netanyahu’s Likud, while Yadlin has joined the center-left Zionist Union. Meanwhile, members of the Obama administration have publicly upbraided Netanyahu in the strongest language.
National Security Adviser Susan Rice said that the speech is potentially “destructive” to US-Israel relations.
Particularly biting was a statement by Robert Reich, labor secretary under president Bill Clinton, who claimed the speech was “poisoning” the US-Israel relationship.”
“It is having a polarizing effect here in the US, pushing many Americans to side against Israel, and thereby posing a long-term threat to Israel’s security. Meanwhile, many American Jews who have refrained from speaking out against the right-wing radicalism that has taken hold in Israel – a radicalism that rejects a ‘two-state solution’ and continues to build new settlements on the West Bank, and which we believe imperils the future of Israel – are now feeling emboldened to do so.”
But perhaps the most extreme statement in the debate over Netanyahu’s speech was made by one of the prime minister’s strongest supporters.
Rabbi Shmuley Boteach took out an advertisement in which he attacked Rice for portraying Netanyahu’s “desperate plea for his nation’s existence to a joint session of Congress as ‘destructive.’”
In the ad, Boteach went on to say that Rice was “blind” to genocide, “both the Jewish people’s and Rwanda’s.”
Boteach’s reference to Rwanda was a criticism of Rice’s role while serving on the National Security Council in April 1994. At least 800,000 Tutsis and moderate Hutus were massacred as the US looked on. Rice was initially opposed to calling the massacre genocide out of concern that doing so would compound the US’s crime of failing to intervene.
Boteach’s ad crossed a line. Instead of relating to Rice’s claim that Netanyahu’s speech was “destructive” to US-Israel relations, he launched an abusive ad hominem attack.
Rice is clearly not “blind” to genocide. What’s more, she has made a conscious effort to atone for America’s inaction during the Rwanda genocide.
In the first half of 2010, for instance, she was instrumental in ensuring that UN Security Council Resolution 1929 imposed heavy sanctions on Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, prohibited the sale of some heavy weapons to Iran, and called for the inspection of ships and airplanes suspected of carrying contraband cargo to and from Iran.
Whether you are for or against Netanyahu’s speech before the US Congress this week, we believe the event has been blown out of proportion.
A single speech outlining Israel’s concerns ahead of an imminent deal between the P5+1 (the US, France, Russia, China, and the UK, plus Germany) can hardly be expected to “destroy” relations between two countries with so many common interests and values.
At the same time, Netanyahu and Obama have legitimate differences of opinion regarding how best to deal with the Iranian threat. Inevitably these differences will become public disputes whether Netanyahu gives his speech or not. It might even be that the usually bipartisan support for Israel will split over the Iranian issue, with a majority of Democrats siding with Obama.
This should not prevent Netanyahu from articulating what he believes to be Israel's interests. There are strong emotions and political motivations on both sides of the argument. However, whether one supports or opposes Netanyahu’s speech, there is no place for ad hominem attacks like the one launched by Boteach against Rice.