I will leave it to my partners to analyze the content of Prime Minister Netanyahu’s speech to Congress this morning as it relates it Iran. Instead, I want to make some observations about the reception that he received from the joint session of Congress.
To say that Netanyahu’s welcome was warm would be an understatement: it was rapturous. President Obama has never gotten such an enthusiastic reception for a State of the Union speech before the same audience. And the enthusiasm was bipartisan: Democrats were on their feet cheering, just like Republicans. True, some Democrats stayed away, generally those who either have safe seats or will not soon face the voters. Their absence reflects the fact that there are, indeed, partisan differences between Democrats and Republicans on the Middle East and Israel. One suspects that more Democrats would have liked to stay away. But those partisan differences were not on display this morning.
Why is that significant? American support for Israel has always been bipartisan, a fact that Netanyahu emphasized. Enemies of Israel insinuate that Congress’s consistent support for that country is a function of lobbying by AIPAC, or of campaign contributions by American Jews. But that is myopic at best. Congress supports Israel because the American people support Israel. The polls have shown this for decades. It isn’t a matter of political clout; as we have noted before, some of the states where Israel is most popular have almost no Jewish population. Americans support Israel out of ideological conviction, as well as religious affinity in the case of many Christians and Jews.
That broad support by the American people was manifested in the reception that Congress gave the Prime Minister this morning. Whatever partisan winds may be blowing at the moment, Senators and Congressmen know what their constituents think. Upon reflection, I suspect that this may be why the Obama administration so strongly objected to Netanyahu’s addressing Congress (which, as he pointed out, he had already done on a couple of occasions). Netanyahu has been arguing against allowing Iran to acquire nuclear weapons and ICBMs for quite a while now. Perhaps the administration didn’t fear his making the arguments one more time, as much as it feared what we saw before the speech even began: a stark demonstration of where the American people stand in the conflict between Iran’s mullahs and, not just Israel, but Western civilization.