In early 2015, as the Obama administration was deep into negotiations with Iran over its nuclear program, Republican House Speaker John Boehner invited Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who stridently opposed the deal, to address a joint session of Congress. The speech itself, which was intended to convince Congress to scuttle the agreement, turned out to be a dud. Instead of shaming Democrats into opposing the deal, Bibi seemed to unify them in support of it. But the public spectacle of a foreign leader attempting to undermine the American president on U.S. soil at the request of his political adversaries was symbolically striking. Later, polling would show that GOP voters generally felt more warmly about Netanyahu than their actual commander in chief. “Republicans haven’t just rejected Obama. They have adopted Netanyahu as their leader,” Slate’s Will Saletan wrote at the time.
“Does a majority of the Republican Party identify more with Israeli interests than with American interests?” he continued. “When Israel’s prime minister speaks on the floor of Congress, do Republicans feel more allegiance to him than to their president? If so, will the feeling subside once Obama leaves office? Or does it signify an enduring rift in the fabric of this country?”
I’ve found myself thinking about Netanyahu’s speech, and its troubling optics, again this week in light of the most recent fury over Rep. Ilhan Omar, who for the second time in a month has stumbled into a controversy over anti-Semitism and Israel.