Image Credit: Ramachandra Babu/©Gulf News

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is slated to address the US Congress tomorrow following an invitation by Speaker of the House, Republican John Boehner. The speech, intended to press the US to continue to pursue an aggressive policy towards Iran, comes two weeks before Israeli elections. Considered to be a diplomatic faux pas to speak in Congress without an invitation from the White House, politicians are stepping forward to state that they will not attend Netanyahu’s speech.

From the President Barack Obama, who has indicated that he will not meet Netanyahu during his visit owing to the proximity of the Israeli elections, to the Vice- President Joe Biden, who claims to have a previous engagement — to more than two dozen Democrats, the speech is turning into a partisan issue in the US Congress between Republicans and Democrats who seem to have divergent opinions on virtually all issues, except Israel. National security adviser Susan E. Rice has even called the partisanship, “destructive of [sic] the fabric of the [US-Israel] relationship.”

Media and pundits have been focused on the outcome; that an Israeli prime minister who, only four years ago received 29 standing ovations during his speech in Congress is now facing a boycott by some Democrats. Yet, the reasons set forth for this boycott are an Israeli diplomatic misstep and not due to the policies of Netanyahu, his right-wing extremist government or the ideology of Jewish supremacy that Netanyahu represents. These policies evidently are of no concern to the boycotting Democrats, however. They only fear that the US president’s efforts on Iran are being undermined and that Boehner intended to humiliate Obama.

Humiliating US leaders

What is also pointedly ignored is that this is not the first time that an Israeli prime minister has attempted to humiliate a US president. Netanyahu, and every previous Israeli prime minister, made it their mission to fly in the face of US policies, irrespective of whether the president was a Republican or a Democrat.

Take, for example, the Netanyahu government’s announcement of 1,600 new Jewish-only illegal colony units in 2010, on the eve of the US vice-president’s arrival to Israel. Biden condemned the move as “precisely the kind of step that undermines the trust we need right now.”

His words echo those of former secretary of state James Baker who similarly noted back in 1991 that “[n]othing has made my job of trying to find Arab and Palestinian partners for Israel more difficult than being greeted by a new settlement [colony] every time I arrive.”

Then US President George W. Bush demanded that Israeli PM Ariel Sharon pull out of the West Bank “now, not tomorrow” following its 2002 invasion, only to be told that Israel would continue its military assault for as long as it chose. But the humiliation does not stop there: Every US president has urged Israel to stop its illegal colony expansion only to see a tripling of the number of colonies under the farcical US-led “peace process”.

But herein lies the problem with the US: While its leaders often make demands of Israel, the US continues to reward Israel’s brazen and illegal, behaviour. While Israel flies in the face of US demands, the US — whether led by a Republican or a Democrat — continues to provide billions of dollars of US assistance to Israel, with the contributions last year totalling more than $3 billion (Dh11 billion), more than provided by the US to any other country around the world. And the support does stop there. The US consistently vetoes UN resolutions condemning Israeli illegal acts and provided Israel with some of the most sophisticated weaponry, which Israel uses to bomb the defenceless, refugee population of Gaza (more than half of whom are children under the age of 18). And the US condones Israel’s continued illegal blockade and obstruction of the Gaza Strip’s reconstruction. In short, Republicans and Democrats continue to stand shoulder-to-shoulder with a country that has, for more than six decades, destroyed any US credibility in the Middle East.

And while a handful Democrats will boycott the Netanyahu speech, the much-needed discussion — on the unbridled support for a regime that supports ethnic cleansing, colonisation and bombing refugee camps — does not appear to be on the agenda.

Instead, now is the time for this debate finally to take place in the US and for the American people, who are increasingly realising that their support for Israel comes at a heavy price, to openly challenge Israel’s racist policies. Boycotting a speech due to lack of protocol is missing the point: It is time for Israeli practices to be sanctioned too.

Diana Buttu is a Ramallah-based analyst, former adviser to Palestine Liberation Organisation chairman Mahmoud Abbas and Palestinian negotiators and policy adviser to Al Shabaka: The Palestinian Policy Network.