This is a difficult post for me to write. The Middle East is a complicated place, and people with far better credentials than mine have not been able to create a diplomatic solution to the region's longstanding problems. That said, I think my views are typical of many American Jews when I say that I love Israel and want it to have peace and security, but I also want to see a two-state solution, where Palestinians and Israelis live side by side and get along with each other. Although many of us support such a goal, it has seemed like an impossible dream for far too long. The mistrust between Israeli Jews and Palestinian Muslims runs deep: each side has its own narratives, accusations, and grievances, and each side can offer many examples of trying to reach out to the other side only to be rebuffed.
And speaking of longstanding mistrust, that brings me to American politics. In several days, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin "Bibi" Netanyahu will come to the US to address Congress; he will be making a speech in opposition to the Obama administration's efforts to negotiate a deal with Iran, to prevent that country from developing its nuclear program: http://www.washingtonpost.com/world/middle_east/netanyahus-address-to-congress-will-be-most-important-speech-of-his-life/2015/02/28/679aa694-bd10-11e4-9dfb-03366e719af8_story.html?hpid=z1. But the circumstances surrounding the speech are controversial; by all accounts, it was Speaker of the House John Boehner and congressional Republicans who invited the prime minister, without notifying President Obama or congressional Democrats. Such a lack of protocol is highly unusual. Whether you like the president or hate him, having the opposition political party go behind his back and invite a foreign leader to address congress certainly seems disrespectful. Further, the speech comes right before Israel's elections, and Mr. Netanyahu's critics are accusing him of using this speech to fear-monger about Iran in order to win voter support at home.
The controversy is compounded by the well-known contentious relationship between Mr. Netanyahu and President Obama. Mr. Netanyahu has made his dislike of the president quite public, and even seemed to overtly support Republican Mitt Romney in the 2012 presidential election. In fact, every time there is a disagreement between Prime Minister Netanyahu and President Obama, I think it's safe to say that the majority of Republicans believe that Bibi the good guy in this fight, and Barack is the bad guy. I've received countless "forward this to everyone you know!" e-mails claiming Barack Obama hates Israel, or hates the Jews, or both. This discourse can also be heard frequently on conservative talk shows, for example this one from Fox News: http://www.newshounds.us/andrea_tantaros_just_asks_if_this_white_house_anti_semitic_022615 .
Of course, there are several problems with this claim: for one, President Obama's policies towards Israel are no different from those of President Bush or other recent presidents. For another, disagreeing with Mr. Netanyahu is NOT the same as "hating Israel." As I have pointed out in previous conversations, I was not a fan of President Bush's policies, but does the fact that I disliked him mean I "hate America"? I think not. And yet, repeatedly, I hear that President Obama is "hostile" to Israel; this is usually accompanied by some taken-out-of-context quote that allegedly "proves" the president's bad intentions. (Fortunately, fact-checking websites like Politifact, Factcheck.org, and Snopes have refuted most of this. But so have Jewish sources like JTA.org, the Jerusalem Report, and The Forward, none of which have found evidence that Mr. Obama is anti-Israel or anti-Jewish. And yet these beliefs, along with the scary e-mail screeds, persist.)
So, now what? A number of newspapers, the Boston Globe among them, have come to the conclusion that Mr. Netanyahu's up-coming speech is a very bad idea: http://www.bostonglobe.com/opinion/editorials/2015/02/27/benjamin-netanyahu-hurts-israel-wading-into-politics/U5EkZV1s5AWj4lNszyUNlL/story.html. Support for Israel has historically been non-partisan, but now, suddenly, the prime minister seems to have cast his lot with only the Republicans. I wish he would reconsider. President Obama is certainly not as hawkish as Bibi seems to wish he were, but it's unrealistic to expect world leaders to agree on every issue. Meanwhile, it's a proven fact that many Democrats, the president among them, have a long history of caring about and defending Israel. I cannot fathom why Mr. Netanyahu believes putting that friendship in jeopardy is the right thing to do. Some in the media are being very unhelpful by stirring up partisanship and spreading misinformation. But Mr. Netanyahu is also being unhelpful by putting his own political needs ahead of common sense: while trying to torpedo the president's effort to negotiate with Iran may play well at home and help him get another term in office, I don't think most Americans are eager for another war to break out. Granted, Iran may not be negotiating in good faith, and there are many reasons to be skeptical of their intentions; but why not give diplomacy a chance? Alas, that doesn't seem to be something the prime minister is willing to permit.