Bibi Netanyahu's polarizing speech before Congress today was basically a repeat of his 2012 performance at the UN, but with the level of doublethink considerably jacked up. It is pretty damn terrifying that his relentless barrage of lies and distortions won virtually incessant applause throughout—although it is a glimmer of hope that some dozen Democrats declined to attend. But most of the outrage has been over Bibi's perceived meddling in the US political process (thanks for playing right into the anti-Semitic stereotype, Bibi, very helpful)—not the outrageous dishonesty of his speech. Here's a few choice chuckles from the transcript…
Implicitly invoking Nazi Germany, Bibi twice accused Iran of "gobbling." To wit: "Iran is busy gobbling up the nations… Would Iran be less aggressive when sanctions are removed and its economy is stronger? If Iran is gobbling up four countries right now while it's under sanctions, how many more countries will Iran devour when sanctions are lifted?" He named those four countries as Iraq, Syria, Lebanon and Yemen. None of these cases constitute "gobbling"—certainly not in the Anschluss or Sudetenland sense that Bibi was clearly implying.
A little clarity. The Baghdad government is as much a client state of the US as Iran—and, in fact, Washington and Tehran are in a de facto (at least) alliance there against ISIS. In Syria, Iran is backing the dictatorship, but not controlling it—and has certainly not annexed or occupied the country. In Lebanon, Iran is backing Hezbollah—which is an opposition movement. Lebanon's actual government is balancing two rival camps: the Hezbollah-aligned "March 8 Alliance" and pro-West "March 14 Alliance." Iran is certainly playing for influence, but that is hardly the same as "gobbling." As for Yemen, Iran may be backing the Shi'ite rebels that have (partially) usurped power there, but (again) it isn't controlling them—and the Tehran ayatollahs actually consider them heretical.
Next: "And by the way, if Iran's Intercontinental Ballistic Missile program is not part of the deal, and so far, Iran refuses to even put it on the negotiating table. Well, Iran could have the means to deliver that nuclear arsenal to the far-reach corners of the earth, including to every part of the United States." The USA? Really? Does Iran even have an ICBM program? The Center for Arms Control & Non-Proliferation cites a 2014 US Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) study (PDF) finding that "Iran's Simorgh space launch vehicle shows the country's intent to develop intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) technology." But thus far, its most powerful missile falls in the 2,500-kilometer range. The Ballistic Missile fact-sheet at Space.com tells us that's within the "Theater" range. The next highest level is "Intermediate" at between 3,500 and 5,500 kilometers. ICBMs start at 5,500 klicks. Meanwhile, the Wisconsin Project on Nuclear Arms Control tells us that Israel's most powerful missile can reach 4,500 kilometers—well within the "Intermediate" range. Which brings us to the question of double standards…
Bibi bloviates: "This deal won't be a farewell to arms. It would be a farewell to arms control. And the Middle East would soon be crisscrossed by nuclear tripwires. A region where small skirmishes can trigger big wars would turn into a nuclear tinderbox." We aren't supposed to talk about the fact that Israel already has its own nuclear arsenal, and (unlike Iran) is not even a signatory to the Non-Proliferation Treaty! For reasons of deniability, Israel issues its threats to use nuclear weapons through ostensibly independent commentators rather than statesmen. But no country in the region has done more to turn the Middle East into a "nuclear tinderbox" than Israel. If Iran is really seeking The Bomb, it is just playing catch-up.
More double standards: "We can insist that restrictions on Iran's nuclear program not be lifted for as long as Iran continues its aggression in the region and in the world." How about restricting Israel's nuclear program as long as it continues its aggression in the region and defiance of international law?
And: "If Iran wants to be treated like a normal country, let it act like a normal country." Iran is a reactionary religious state, but not an illegal occupying power. Israel is in a poor position to lecture any other country about "normality."
And: "[S]top threatening to annihilate my country, Israel, the one and only Jewish state." Iran's (slightly ambiguous) threat to annihiliate Israel was made under the previous president, the ultra-hardline Ahmadinejad. The new Hassan Rouhani is a "moderate" in the context of Iranian politics. And the positive invocation of Israel as a "Jewish state" is at least slightly ironic when dissing the self-declared "Islamic Republic." As his "Jewish state" goes in an increasingly fascistic and anti-democratic direction, Bibi would deny the existence of post-Zionist, non-Zionist or anti-Zionist Jews who seek a single secular state in all of historic Palestine. (We exist, Bibi.)
Disappointingly, among those in attendance at the speech was Elie Wiesel, who received a personal shout-out from Bibi. It is disheartening that this Nobel laureate, who is portrayed as a voice of the world's conscience, has chosen to become a war propagandist for Israel—as was made all too clear in his disgraceful performance during last year's Gaza offensive. Those Jews who are on the side of peace and nuclear de-escalation are precisely those willing to break ranks with the "Jewish state."
And what of Iran? What can progressives—Jewish, Iranian and other—do to try to prod things in the right direction, outside the Great Power game? First, those who claim that Iran either "is" or "isn't" seeking nuclear weapons are both missing that the regime itself is probably divided on the question, and even the hardline Ahmadinejad cultivated a strategic ambiguity. The double standard that gives outlaw state Israel a 100% free ride on its nuclear arsenal and the threat it poses to Iran just strengthens the hands of Tehran's atomic hawks.
And—here is what nobody else is saying—we must press the point that while politicians view nuclear power as a rook in the Great Game, it also constitutes an inherent assault on human health, ecology and democracy. There is an anti-nuclear opposition within Iran—and within Israel and Palestine. Our job is to give them all the encouragement we can. Indeed, there have been hopeful signs of solidarity between anti-war and anti-nuclear forces in Israel and Iran against both their respective governments.
Most commentators—left, right and center—are so caught up in the power game that they have lost sight of the basics on the nuclear question. Albert Einstein wrote way back in 1946: "To the village square we must carry the facts of atomic energy. From there must come America's voice." Congress ain't the village square. And the same goes for Israel and Iran alike. Israel must be pressured to provide transparency on its secretive nuclear program. And the less military pressure on Iran, the easier things will be for dissidents there who would decouple the nuclear question from that of national pride and sovereignty, and allow in such factors as radiation risks, cancer rates, and internal democracy.
Yes, less military pressure on Iran; more activist pressure on Israel.