The decision by House Speaker John Boehner to invite Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to speak before a joint session of Congress before the Israeli elections is both outrageous and offensive.
Some have even suggested that for American lawmakers to effectively do an end run around President Obama and side with a foreign head of state - and allow that leader to speak before Congress for the sole purpose of embarrassing the president and undermining his policy regarding Iran’s nuclear program - amounts to treason. However, Boehner’s move is by no means surprising. Nevertheless, all of this should leave you wondering if they are treating the president in such a manner because he is black. And you need not wonder for too long.
In this case, any discussions about improper protocol and legitimate disagreements over foreign policy, however valid, miss the point. Both the GOP and Netanyahu’s Likud Party have a people of color problem. In other words, they don’t respect them. But they will scapegoat them as the outsider, the “other” and the foreign threat. And this attitude is reflected in their policies towards those people, and their treatment towards someone who is far above their pay grade.
To be sure, the Republican Party has made race card politics their crack habit. And they cannot help themselves. With a Southern Strategy that was perfected by Lee Atwater, the modern-day GOP has capitalized on white xenophobia, racial hysteria and resentment over civil rights by presenting the embodiment of their problems packaged in a black or brown face. Whether it is the specter of the “welfare queen” getting rich from government programs, or the African-American criminal who will rape and murder white women, or the undocumented Latino immigrant, or the Islamic terrorist, the boogeyman is out to get you. They are not “us” and not like “us,” the reasoning goes, but rather they are a threat to our way of life. And we must marginalize, punish, banish, block, disenfranchise and otherwise disassociate ourselves from the “other” and any government programs that serve to bolster them.
This is why Steve Scalise (R-La.), the House Majority Whip, faces no sanctions for speaking to a white supremacist group. And this is why the Republicans blocked the Spanish-language networkUnivision from the 2016 presidential primary debates. To have an honest debate on hate groups, or immigration, for example, is to begin to unravel the white nationalist underpinnings of current GOP policy.
Now, it is one thing when you can scapegoat people of color, but imagine if the president—the very symbol of the nation and American strength before the world—is a black man. From his candidacy, Obama was tarred and feathered by the rightwing as unauthentic and illegitimate, a Kenyan-Socialist- Muslim who was“palling around with terrorists” as Sarah Palin said in the 2008 election, or even worse as she said recently, an “overgrown little boy.” Meanwhile, domestic homegrown terrorists used the threat of Obama as a recruiting tool, as they, in turn, threatened him and amassed more weaponry, with the scapegoating of Obama serving as a stimulus program for an arms industry benefiting from record gun production.
Like the Republicans and their Tea Party base, Netanyahu has curried favor with his rightwing settler base, thriving on racial scapegoating and division for political gain.
As this was happening, conservative lawmakers fell over each other demonizing the president and his signature program, Obamacare. When Rep. Joe Wilson (R-S.C.) shouted “you lie!” during Obama’s September 2009 speech before a special joint session of Congress, it reflected the public humiliation of black people to which white conservatives were accustomed during Jim Crow.
This brings us to Benjamin Netanyahu. Netanyahu is at home with the Republican Party because his Likud Party shares their donors, as more than 90 percent of his campaign funds come from mostly conservative American donors. Further, he has hired a Republican strategist in what is an election year for the Israeli leader.
Netanyahu’s alliance with the GOP to undermine Obama was evident in the 2012 election season, when the prime minister, a friend of GOP contender Mitt Romney, addressed Congress - a blatant attempt to influence the 2012 election, and a finger in the eye of the president, who had just called for a Palestinian state with 1967 borders.
Like the Republicans and their Tea Party base, Netanyahu has curried favor with his rightwing settler base, thriving on racial scapegoating and division for political gain. And his government has no interest in a resolution of the occupation, as is evidenced by the land grabs and the perennial massacres by the IDF in Gaza. “We are outraged that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was invited to speak before Congress,” said Jewish Voice for Peace in a petition to Congress. “He does not speak about peace in good faith—illegal settlements and human rights violations against Palestinians have only increased under his leadership.”
Calling Israel “an island of democracy” in a region of despots, and attempting to attract European Jews to move to Israel by characterizing the nation as the only place where Jews are safe, the Netanyahu government seeks to perpetuate the occupation of Palestinians as prisoners in their own country, and discrimination against Arab Israelis, who are second- and third-class citizens (Israeli Jews of African and Arab descent face racism as well). In an attempt to further his interests in a war with Iran rather than diplomacy, and to quash any calls for Palestinian self-determination, Bibi has relied on “Axis of Evil” Islamophobia that conflates ISIS and Al Qaeda with the freedom struggles of the Palestinian people.
Further, Netanyahu has exploited the issue of African refugees in Israel much as the Republicans have capitalized on undocumented immigrants from Mexico and Central America. There are around47,000 African refugees in Israel, most of them fleeing war and genocide in Sudan, Eritrea and the Congo. Yet, Israel has recognized fewer than 1 percent of asylum claims. Under Likud, Israel has used anti-infiltrator laws to criminalize Africans, with the power to randomly round them up Africans and lock them up in detention centers, and make life so unbearable for Africans that they would return to the torture they escaped. Around 2,200 African refugees are detained in Holot, an open-air desert camp. Likening these African refugees and migrant workers to the Ebola plague, Netanyahu has said that “illegal infiltrators flooding the country” threaten Israel’s existence as a Jewish democratic state. "This phenomenon is very grave and threatens the social fabric of society, our national security and our national identity," he added.
The leader of a nation whose people once fled genocide as refugees should know better. One commentator in the Jerusalem Post called Israel’s treatment of asylum seekers a “desecration of the name of God… a dark blot on Israel’s reputation and a shame for the Jewish people, especially when committed ostensibly in the name of Judaism and Jewish values.”
Meanwhile, the latest snubbing of Obama, treating the president like a stranger in the government he leads, is yet another example of a mentality widely reflected in both the Republican and Likud parties. We know how they regard black people in their policies, so should we expect any better treatment of a black president?
David A. Love