For years, next to my bed I kept my high school American history textbook. I enjoyed reading it as I found it to be a straightforward, simple overview of the founding and growth of one of the most powerful, influential and moral countries in history.
Deciding to leave the U.S. and make aliyah (Hebrew for moving to Israel) was not simple for me. Having grown up in the U.S and being a loyal, patriotic American, saying good bye to everything I had known was very complicated and left me with very mixed feelings. Many Jews who moved to Israel over the last 150 years or so were running away from their home countries. I, on the other hand, was not running away from anything. I was running to something, namely the eternal homeland of the Jewish people that was promised by God to Abraham and his descendants in perpetuity. It was this promise that I was running towards. I had no reason to leave the U.S.---I had a meaningful job as a community rabbi, car, home and we took family vacations once a year. It was a nice, comfortable life. We left all that behind to pursue something that generations of Jews never had an opportunity to do—to live on our own land as free people creating our own destiny. My familial ancestors could only have dreamed of such an opportunity, never imagining that it could become a reality.
It was that reality that left us with a difficult choice. In certain ways life is much simpler without choices, perhaps less rich but simpler. So after much thought and deliberation my wife and I decided to move our family from Florida to Israel, specifically to the area the world calls the West Bank which is Biblically known as Judaea. I now live in the Bible belt! The real Bible Belt where so many of the Biblical stories took place.
When we arrived in Israel nearly six years ago along with a plane load of new immigrants from the U.S, we were greeted with great fanfare at the airport. A large crowd was there, many of them were family members of the new arrivals. Signs with the words “Welcome Home” were in abundance and it gave me the chills to see them. Soldiers lined the tarmac waving small Israeli flags with music blaring in the background. We walked between the soldiers as we headed toward the main terminal building. It was impossible not to feel emotional.
In the terminal building we were met with refreshments and more music. After a short while we were bidden to take our seats for the official arrival ceremony. There were quite a few speeches of which I remember very little of the content. I was exhausted and exhilarated all at once. The one thing I do remember is Speaker of the Knesset, Yuli Edelstein telling us that each group of people that moves to Israel brings with them the culture of their home countries. He told us that it is his hope and prayer that we bring with us from the U.S good, clean government with democratic principles.
That government that he was speaking of was the same one that I read about countless times in my American history textbook saved from my high school days. An essential feature of U.S. governance is the concept of checks and balances. The world is filled with regimes that force their will upon the civilians without any opportunity for real representation, nor is there any limits places on the regime. Look at countries like Cuba, Saudi Arabia, Iran and most of the countries in the Middle East. In the U.S there are three branches of government—the Executive, the Legislative and Judicial. The intention of building three branches of government was to prevent any one branch from becoming too powerful and for each branch to be restrained by the other two. Each branch has rights and responsibilities.
When Prime Minister Netanyahu was invited by the speaker of the House John Boehner to address the Congress, he was well within his rights to extend such an invitation. While the three branches of government are meant to work together, the Legislative branch must remain independent with the power to make its own decisions in order to preserve the intention of checks and balances. The Speaker of the House determined that in his judgment it is essential for Congress to hear the opinion of the Prime Minister of Israel who has a critical voice in the world debate on Iran.
The possibility of a nuclear Iran is unfathomable and intolerable. It represents not only an existential threat to Israel but it is a serious danger to the entire world. A nuclear weapon in the hands of Iran means a nuclear weapon in the hands of terrorists. Instead of buildings being targeted, entire cities will be--whether it is NY, Jerusalem or L.A.
While President Obama is perfectly within his rights to lead the negotiations with Iran as he sees fit, the Congress is within their rights to gather information regarding Iran and to formulate an opinion independent of the Executive Branch of the U.S. government. If the Congress is just a lapdog of the President then they are not fulfilling the role that they were elected to do by the people of the U.S. Their job is to lead the country in a way that best represents and protects the people—by the people, for the people. If Congress would capitulate to the demands of the President to cancel Netanyahu’s speech, they would be no better than any dictatorial government. Their job is to oppose the President whenever they deem necessary. This is U.S. government 101 that every high school kid should be familiar with. Introducing the notion that the President was “insulted” or “offended” by not being consulted is sheer nonsense and should not be the concern of the Speaker of the House. (Besides, the fact is that we now know from a NY Times retraction that the White House was informed in advance of the invitation extended to Netanyahu.)
Here are the words of famous Harvard lawyer, Alan Dershowitz: “Whether one agrees or disagrees with Speaker John Boehner ’s decision to invite Mr. Netanyahu or Mr. Netanyahu’s decision to accept, no legal scholar can dispute that Congress has the power to act independently of the president in matters of foreign policy.”
It is not only within the rights of Congress, it is the absolute responsibility of Congress to hear what Netanyahu has to say. Israel has more experience fighting terrorism than any country in the world. Doesn’t it make sense to give Netanyahu a forum to speak? Anything less would simply be un-American.