Yesterday, when I watched Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's speech before Congress, I shuddered. I cringed. I pulled at my hair and winced and squirmed, and then I decided to write this. Not because I am a "self-hating" Jew or because I loathe Israel. I love my people, I love both of my countries (Israel and the U.S.), and I care deeply for the people in the Middle East who are facing terrifying Islamic and right-wing radicalism. Israel needs our military support for the safety of precious, innocent civilians, just like so many other countries in the region do, too.
Even Netanyahu himself is a man to be respected. He is a great diplomat, a powerful speaker, an honored veteran of the armed services in Israel and has helped keep the Israeli people safe in so many ways, perhaps most notably with the Iron Dome system.
Now, Netanyahu and Israel face another threat: Iran. The things you are hearing about Iran are not the weekly news cycle terror that goes away in two days. This is not the overblown United States-based Ebola scare. This is not missing planes.
The future of relations with Iran and Israel is the potential for another war, for dead soldiers, for dead civilians, for crippling amounts of money spent on the military, for another lengthy conflict like the Iraq War. This an extremely important moment in the statehood, livelihood, and political futures of Israel, Iran and America.
And these things need to be cleared up:
1. Iran is not ISIS.
Netanyahu compared Iran to ISIS in his speech, essentially reminding us that just because Iran is an enemy of ISIS doesn't mean they are our friend.
"Iran and [the Islamic State] are competing for the crown of militant Islam. One calls itself the Islamic Republic. The other calls itself the Islamic State," Netanyahu said. "Both want to impose a militant Islamic empire first on the region and then on the entire world. They just disagree among themselves who will be the ruler of that empire."
Let me be clear: Iran is not ISIS. There are Iranians living in Israel. There are Iranian Jews. There are Jews in Iran. There are also a significant number of moderate Muslims in Iran, many of whom are similarly concerned with the growing threat of ISIS.
From Washington Post's Ishaan Tharoor (emphasis mine):
"There are obvious and important differences between Iran and the Islamic State — even beyond the simple fact that the former is a country of 80 million people whose government is desperately trying to destroy the latter, an extremist, criminal organization buoyed by ranks of foreign fighters...
As flawed as it may be, the regime's democracy is more genuine and competitive than what one finds in a host of other Arab states that stir far less outrage from Netanyahu. Critics of Tehran say its elected leaders, including "moderate" President Hassan Rouhani, are ciphers for Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei. Even so, the heated battles within Iran over its negotiations with the West present a clear sign of the complexity of its politics."
2. Americans now have the perception that everyone in Israel is scared of Iran.
They aren't. Many people want Netanyahu to stop talking about Iran (see below) and start fixing their skyrocketing housing costs, the ones that have gone up 55 percent in five years. Israel is a well-educated, beautiful, loyal, democratic country, full of differing opinions and political stances.
Here is a simple fact you should know: Obama is more popular in the United States than Netanyahu is in Israel. Yes, this may be a reflection of the many parties in the Israeli electorate, but here are the numbers:
Once Netanyahu arrived in the United States, Obama's approval rating jumped from 44 percent to 49 percent.
Just last month, Netanyahu's approval rating was 41 percent in Israel.
According to Gallup polls, Netanyahu is actually more popular in America than he is in Israel, the country where people are most familiar with his politics.
The same way Barack Obama does not speak for all Americans, Benjamin Netanyahu does not speak for all Israelis. That said, Israeli politicians in the Knesset have expressed that the Israeli legislature unanimously supports Netanyahu's belief that Iran cannot be given nuclear capabilities.
Still, though, that didn't stop 200 Israeli Security veterans, a well-respected group in Israel, from denouncing Netanyahu as a threat to Israel.
3. He has been wrong before. Many, many times.
Let me be clear: There is little to no doubt that Iran wants nuclear weapon capabilities. Just like there is little to no doubt that Netanyahu has been saying that since the mid-'90s.
"Despite this heady rhetoric, Netanyahu's estimates of an imminent Iranian nuclear bomb have consistently been at odds with analyses made by his own intelligence agency...
Over the course of more than 20 years, Benjamin Netanyahu has made false claims about nuclear weapons programs in both Iran and Iraq, inventing imaginary timelines for their development, and making public statements that contradicted the analysis of his own intelligence advisers."
For anyone who is intimate with Israeli politics, it would come as no surprise or shock to hear this kind of rhetoric from Netanyahu. For an older generation...
4. One might recall Netanyahu's father, Benzion:
5. And now his son has helped widen the divide in America.
I wonder why Barack Obama didn't want Benjamin Netanyahu to come speak in Congress?
Could it be because we are now more ignorant, scared and intolerant than we were just days ago? Because far more people watched that speech than will read this post? Could it be because we are more divided than ever, and this just drove a deeper wedge into Congress? Could it be that Netanyahu is just losing democratic support for Israel, shooting himself in the foot?