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Netanyahu's Speech to Congress Was Polarizing, to Say the Least

Benjamin Netanyahu addresses the US Congress (Source: The Prime Minister of Israel Facebook Page)

Benjamin Netanyahu addresses the US Congress (Source: The Prime Minister of Israel Facebook Page)

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu‘s speech at a joint session of the US Congress was, to say the least, highly controversial. In his attempt to thwart a deal with Iran on nuclear weapons, Netanyahu was invited by Republican Speaker of the US House of Representatives John Boehner. Netanyahu spoke for 39 minutes (eliciting 26 standing ovations), during which he said a US nuclear deal with Iran “paves its way to a[n atomic] bomb.” Meanwhile in Switzerland, US Secretary of State John Kerry and his Iranian counterpart Mohammad Jawad Zarif announced progress on the nuclear talks, set to resume on March 15. In the United States, reactions by prominent liberals were unusually negative. MSNBC host Chris Matthews called it a “takeover attempt,” saying “Think it through—what country in the world would let a foreign leader come in and attempt to wrest from the president control of the US foreign policy?” Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi called it an “insult to the intelligence of the US,” while CNN‘s Christiane Amanpour called it “dark” and “Strangelovian.” President Obama said that he did not watch the speech (while Vice President Biden, 50 Democratic House members, and 8 senators who caucus with the Democrats boycotted or skipped it), adding that “there was nothing new” and pointing out that Netanyahu did not provide any alternative.

This isn't the first time Netanyahu has claimed Iran is close to getting a nuclear weapon. In fact, he has said it so many times that The Intercept‘s Murtaza Hussain wrote an article titled “Benjamin Netanyahu's Long History of Crying Wolf about Iran's Nuclear Weapons.” As the title suggests, it reviews all times Netanyahu has made this claim: in 1995 (“3 to 5 years”), 1996 (“it's getting extremely close”), 2009 (“probably one or two years away”), and again in 2012 (“a few months away”). Responding to Netanyahu's comparison of ISIS and Iran, Electronic Intifada founder Ali Abunimah emphasized that Iran is at war with ISIS, too, accusing the US Congress of Islamophobia:

The Daily Show host Jon Stewart mocked the speech and Obama's reaction, saying that “[Netanyahu] comes here, publicly slaps Obama in the face, and the president’s response is, ‘It’s OK, everyone should know I’m buying him gloves so when he hits me, it doesn’t hurt his hand as much.” The editors of the progressive Jewish website Mondoweiss published an article fact checking Netanyahu's speech titled “Factchecking Netanyahu: An Annotated Guide to the Israeli PM’s Speech to Congress.” In it, they provide context to substantiate some of his remarks, while debunking others. For example, when Netanyahu praised US opposition to what he called “anti-Israel resolutions at the UN,” Mondoweiss explains that the US used its only veto in 2011 to oppose a UN motion that condemned Israel's expansion of settlements in the West Bank. On Twitter, known American-Jewish activist and author Max Blumenthal, who was in Gaza during Israel's so-called “Operation Protective Edge,” accused Netanyahu of insulting the memory of anti-fascist Jews:

A senior Columnist at Israeli newspaper Haaretz, Peter Beinart, lamented Netanyahu's reference to Elie Wiesel, the Holocaust survivor whose controversial New York Times advertisement during “Protective Edge” prompted outrage from other Holocaust survivors.

LibyaLiberty reminded the world of the time when Netanyahu claimed that invading Iraq would have “positive reverberations throughout the region”:

Al Jazeera‘s AJ+ aired a report summarizing the reactions of many Iranians to Netanyahu's speech On Twitter, Iranians used the hashtag #ShutUpNetanyahu to voice their anger:

Netanyahu makes so many demands and is so frustrated because he misses the golden days of Ahmadinejad. The days he passed and he [Ahmadinejad] scored. #Shutupnetanyahu

Lebanese satirist Karl Sharo of the blog KarlreMarks quipped:

Mahsa Alimardani helped contribute to this post by translating from Farsi.
  • George Kafantaris

    The real damage Netanyahu has done to Israel is that he prompted ordinary Americans to ask, “Why are the U.S. and Israel so close?”

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