Two Takes on Netanyahu’s Speech in the Boston Globe

It is remarkable how differently two Boston Globe columnists viewed Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s address to the United States Congress on March 3, 2015. Michael Cohen summarized the speech as “talking loud, and saying nothing.” Throughout Netanyahu’s address he tweeted sarcastic comments demeaning the Prime Minister, his motives and those of the Speaker of the House, John Boehner, who issued the invitation. Joan Vennochi, however, thought Netanyahu laid down a forceful argument that demanded a thoughtful response. According to Vennochi, “Americans heard Netanyahu make a powerful case for why a still unfinalized nuclear weapons agreement with Iran is a bad deal.”

In contrast to Vennochi, Cohen didn’t hear Netanyahu offer anything. He wrote,

According to Netanyahu, the alternative to the allegedly “bad deal” being negotiated by President Obama is a “good deal.” What does a good deal look like? Basically it means Iran giving into all of the international community’s demands on uranium enrichment and even going a step further by ending its support for terrorism and its generally destabilizing behavior in the region. That’s not going to happen.

Cohen further confers upon himself a superior knowledge to what Netanyahu possesses over the contents of the deal – a dubious proposition. He brashly tweeted, “Literally much of what Netanyahu is saying about a possible deal is just lies.”

Yet for all his smug self-assurance, in another tweet Cohen reveals a lack of awareness of crucial events roiling the region. After Netanyahu described Iranian aggression throughout the region, Cohen tweeted, with unmistakable sarcasm, “Iran’s march of conquest?” What is one to make of his retort? Did Cohen somehow miss the news reports that an Iranian proxy called the Houthis seized control of Sana, the capital of Yemen, about a month ago? Has he been so disinterested in events in the Middle East that he is unaware of Iran’s ever increasing control over the Syrian regime or its expanding influence with the Iraqi Shiite regime? What about Hezbollah in Lebanon?

Cohen fails to address the issues that Netanyahu made a point of focusing on: Iranian aggression, the failure of the proposed deal (as Netanyahu understands it) to address Iran’s threat to annihilate Israel and continuing promulgation of terrorism. Netanyahu specifically spoke of the danger of what he called the “sunset” provision that would allow Iran unfettered ability to produce nuclear weapons after a ten year period.

Cohen’s column and his accompanying tweets reveal that for him nothing rises above partisan politics. The cynicism is abundantly evident in tweets like, “I almost find it too painful to watch this. No exaggeration. You think you get inured to this stuff, but you don’t” and “Congress: don’t forget to smile … you’re cutting a campaign ad” and “Bibi says speech not political .. and we have our first fib of the day.” He seems so mired in cynicism that he cannot even imagine that Netanyahu’s decision to accept the invitation to address the Congress arises out of a genuine sense of urgency over what he sees as a dangerous and misguided deal.

Vennochi, unlike Cohen, was willing to remove the ideological blinders and listen to what Netanyahu had to say. She feels that there has been far too little discussion about the negotiations with Iran over its nuclear program. She believes that Netanyahu has done a public service by raising the issue’s profile. Vennochi writes,

Of course, he presented a strictly one-sided view — his own. But until Netanyahu forced Obama to rebut the Israeli leader’s perspective, it’s all Americans had.

One week, millions of Americans were debating whether an Internet-generated dress was white and gold or blue and black; the next week, a slice of the same population went out of its way to tune into a talk given in Washington by a foreign leader who spoke about “centrifuges.”

That doesn’t happen very often in the land of Kim Kardashian.

In sharp contrast to Cohen, Vennochi is impressed with Netanyahu’s message:

The man knows how to give a speech. It was delivered with passion and purpose and filled with memorable lines… If Netanyahu exploited the situation, as critics complain, whining about it accomplishes nothing. Obama needs to sell his own strategy for dealing with Iran.

Vennochi concludes,

Netanyahu got in the way of that strategy. Now for Obama, the best case scenario is for Netanyahu to lose in the upcoming Israeli election — and for this country’s attention to return to the superficial…

Michael Cohen is perfectly content to head off any discussion or debate about the nuclear deal. But Joan Vennochi is willing to accept the messenger and hear what he has to say. She believes that Netanyahu has provided a real service by igniting an important public debate over the nature of the Iranian regime and its drive for nuclear weapons.

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