Speechgate 15: Right message, wrong delivery

For a speech that elicited so much ire before its delivery, the March 3 congressional address by Benjamin Netanyahu deserves high marks for oratory.

It may be true that the Israeli prime minister’s speech contained “nothing new,” as President Obama said afterward, but that doesn’t mean the frightening picture he painted of a nuclear Iran — something that draws closer every day — isn’t worth pointing out.

Netanyahu is right about Iran’s role as “the foremost sponsor of global terrorism.” In his speech, he ticked off a list of past terror attacks against Western targets devised in Tehran. And how many times must the ayatollahs threaten to annihilate Israel before people understand that they mean it?

Unfortunately, the good points Netanyahu made in his speech were undercut by the maladroit manner in which his appearance before Congress was organized. Not only did Republican House Speaker John Boehner ignore protocol with disturbing insouciance, inviting the Israeli leader without bothering to inform the White House, AIPAC or the Democrats, but the entire unsavory episode has spawned a dangerous political dynamic that is making Israel a partisan issue.

Needless to say, this is a tragedy, for Israel has heretofore enjoyed widespread bipartisan support.

Sixty Democratic members of the Senate and House boycotted the speech. House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, a lifelong supporter of Israel, blasted Netanyahu’s “condescension,” calling the speech an “insult to the intelligence of the United States.” Jewish House Democrat Jared Huffman, who represents a large portion of Northern California, said, “This is a prime minister who’s never seen a war he didn’t want our country to fight.” The acrimony continues.

Whether deserved or not, the Jewish state cannot afford to have a major American political party viewing Netanyahu as the Republican senator from Israel.

With so many hard feelings, all substance in Netanyahu’s speech got lost. That undoes his stated purpose, which is to see the world stand tough against a nuclear Iran.

Israeli reaction to the speech was mixed, with some pundits praising it as “a historic moment” and others panning it. In less than two weeks, Israelis go to the polls, and we shall see if voters want Netanyahu to keep his job. If he does, he and Obama will have a lot of repair work ahead of them.