During his speech to both Houses of Congress on March 3, 2015, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was either delusional or believed he was addressing a delusional audience. Whichever one it was, Netanyahu unfairly mischaracterized Israeli foreign policy and the nature of its relationship with Iran.
Netanyahu was invited by house speaker John Boehner to address the US-Iranian nuclear negotiations. In opening his address, after several witty jokes and trite expressions, Netanyahu invoked the spirit of Purim to introduce his views on dealing with the Iranians. He remarked that, “tomorrow night, on the Jewish holiday of Purim, we’ll read the Book of Esther. We’ll read of a powerful Persian viceroy named Haman, who plotted to destroy the Jewish people…the plot was foiled. Our people were saved.”
For good reason, the applause from both Houses could not be contained: who doesn’t like a good story? Even aged congressmen could not resist the emotional frenzy of finding out that the good guys won out in the end.
However, Netanyahu wasn’t just trying to rile Congress up with their favorite tales of the Old Testament to score bible-study points. He invoked the tale of Purim to make a political case against Iran. And if the connection was not evident enough, Bibi asserts that Ayatollah Khamenei, the theocratic leader of Iran’s Islamic Republic, is Haman of ancient Persia.
Netanyahu drew an unjustifiable parallel between Haman — a man that attempted to destroy the Jewish people of Ancient pre-Islamic Persia — and Khamenei, who is the head of an Islamic government. Khamenei has been Iran’s Supreme leader for almost 26 years. There are 20,000 Jews still living in Iran. They have 11 synagogues, and two Kosher restaurants. They have a representative in parliament. There is no Jewish genocide in Iran. If anything, Netanyahu could have done a closer reading of the Book of Esther, as the King of Persia ends up saving the Jews from Haman, and not Esther herself.
But regardless, such analogies are pointless at best. Living on apocalyptic fantasies derived from ancient, unverified religious text is fear mongering at its finest. It is beyond egregious to come to the US Congress, and try to stir up irrational fears based. The rest of Netanyahu’s speech follows a similar path of half-truths and fabrications. For example, he claims that Iran is on a “quest for nuclear weapons.” He believes that Iran would be armed with “intercontinental ballistic missiles and nuclear bombs.” However, more credible sources believe otherwise. For example, in 2007, 2010 and 2012, America’s 16 intelligence agencies agreed that Iran had abandoned its nuclear weapons program since 2003. Even the Mossad’s assessment of Iran’s nuclear program stated that “Iran was not performing the activity necessary to produce weapons.”
Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, has openly stated that “Iran has no intention of destroying Israel and has actually saved the Jews three times in history, but the current Israeli regime is a threat to Tehran.” Uncritically establishing a connection between past sufferings of the Jewish people with modern day politics has grave political repercussions.
The United States and Iran are currently in one of the most important negotiations of the decade. The United States is adamant that Iran does not obtain a bomb; however, it is essential for Iran to be allowed to re-enter the global system. Continued alienation will further embolden Iranian hard-liners to want to obtain nuclear weapons.
In the past, the United States— in coalition with Britain— overthrew Iran’s democratically elected Prime minister, Mohammad Mosaddegh, and installed a dictator. This created the perfect situation for anti-American sentiment, and ultimately to the formation of the Islamic republic in 1979. Iran has been under sanctions since 1995. These punitive measures have ushered in an era of distrust and miscommunication.
Netanyahu is attempting to sway Congress to believe that Iran is a state that cannot be trusted, with a fanatical and “radical” regime. This is far from reality. Even if the Iranian regime’s rhetoric is overtly aggressive, their actions prove otherwise. Peter Beinart, contributing editor to the The Atlantic, makes a powerful analysis on the issue. He points out that Iran’s actions throughout the Middle East mimic actions of any regional leader during a cold war, similar to Saudi Arabia or Turkey. Furthermore, if Iran was so diabolical than how come it has not invaded “a Saudi ally in the Persian gulf or launching chemical or biological weapons at Israel.” In short, Iran has not done anything to put itself or its people at great risk. Its moves are entirely calculated and self-interested. Netanyahu’s claims do not seriously take into account Iran’s 36 years of rational foreign policy.
Clearly, what Netanyahu brought to Congress was a sham. Jake Tapper, chief Washington correspondent, put it best: “Literally, not one new idea; not one single concrete alternative; all rhetoric, no action.” Such fear mongering is a sign of weakness on Netanyahu’s part, as it takes a great man to want to strive for peace instead of war. It easy to continue US imposed sanctions. It is a much more monumental task to approach Iran as a friend and not an enemy— to want to open up, and start living peacefully with his neighbors. Viewing Iran as an existential threat to the Jewish people shows just how far on the brink Netanyahu has gone. Yes, as the situation currently exists, Iran is a threat to Israel. Diplomatic negotiations do not mean the end of Israel, but rather the ushering of a new era of mutual understanding. Calling for war only causes more war.
With Israel’s latest elections, it is clear that Netanyahu’s inflammatory rhetoric is part of a political ploy: From his latest statement that he will not allow a Palestinian state under his watch, to his racist remarks about the dangers of allowing the Arab coalition to vote, it makes one wonder if his claims at Congress weren’t made as a similar attempt to win an election. If that is true, the world may lose an essential deal between the United States and Iran. One of which will bring long needed peace and stability in the Middle East.