Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will address a joint session of Congress today, cautioning lawmakers against a proposed nuclear deal with Iran. The proximity of the Israeli election and the topic of Netanyahu’s address have drawn criticism from Susan Rice, Nancy Pelosi, and John Kerry. Their objections have not deterred Netanyahu from presenting his case to Congress and the American people.
Many college students consider Israel to be an imperialist power, created on the land of dispossessed Palestinians. They condemn Israel as an apartheid state, accuse its leaders of war crimes, and promote the BDS (Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions) Movement at their universities. This limited narrative serves to further complicate issues such as the Israeli presence in the West Bank, the recent war in Gaza, or the political status of Jerusalem.
Protestors chanting, “From the river to the sea, Palestine will be free,” some knowingly and others not, demand that Israelis abandon their historical and political homeland. They undermine negotiations between Israel and the Palestinian Authority, encouraging the latter to view any agreement as a placeholder. This empowers anti-Semitic factions attempting to create a new Palestine, stretching from the Jordan River to the Mediterranean Sea. Such plans ultimately preclude the existence of an Israeli state. Likewise, those who view this conflict in such black and white terms tend to view suicide bombers and missiles from Gaza as mere consequences of Israeli oppression. A more nuanced view is required for this complex situation. Israelis are threatened by internal terrorism, while absorbing missiles and raids from the Gaza Strip. Few would argue that the present situation of the Palestinians is desirable, but envisioning what concessions one would make in the role of an Israeli official is challenging. This is because a significant percentage of the entities seeking the concessions have vowed continued violence until Israel is no more.
Historical context explains Israel’s security concerns and importance to America. The State of Israel declared independence in 1948, but it traces its origin back to the time of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. As is the case, the Jewish people have a deep historical connection to the land, despite the brutal occupation of Roman, Arab, and Crusader armies. Many Jews were crucified for defying the Roman Empire, while their descendants suffered under centuries of foreign occupation. After surviving the terror of the Holocaust, the Jewish people finally seized the opportunity to declare independence for Israel. A U.N. mandate partitioned the land between Muslims and Jews, restoring a homeland to both the refugees of the Holocaust and the present Jewish occupants. As the occupying British armies departed, Israel immediately faced invading armies from Egypt, Syria, and Jordan. Over the radio, Arab League leaders advised Muslims within Israel to flee. This enabled indiscriminate bombing, handicapped Israeli industry, and made every remaining Israeli a target.
By their victory in establishing the state of Israel, the Israelis created a liberal democracy in a region of brutal dictatorships, defending their small state in several wars. Many nations in the region continue to refuse to recognize Israel as a state. Israelis live under constant threat of terrorism, but are subject to world condemnation when they attack the source of violence. It is not in dispute that Hamas uses the hospitals and schools in the Gaza Strip to launch hundreds of missiles into Israeli cities, purposefully exploiting the deaths of Palestinians it created by luring the Israelis into making retaliatory strikes. The terrorist attacks against Israel are not limited to local actors and Iran-directed Hezbollah in Lebanon has also bombed Israel in the recent past.
Iran continues to support terrorism against Israel through their proxies of Hezbollah and Hamas. The U.S. State Department has long listed Iran as a state sponsor of terrorism. As recently as last year, Iran’s Supreme Leader, the Ayatollah Khamenei, publically called for the destruction of the state of Israel. He stated that, “This barbaric, wolf like and infanticidal regime of Israel which spares no crime has no cure but to be annihilated.” Despite a democratic façade, this man and other hardline clerics control the Government of Iran. Netanyahu addresses Congress this week to ensure that these clerics never control nuclear weapons, or smuggle them to Hezbollah and Hamas.
As America’s primary ally in the Middle East, Israel gathers intelligence for America, coordinates with America’s military, and provides a guaranteed base in the Middle East. The political unrest and terrorist movements affiliated with Hezbollah in Bahrain and Qatar occasionally threaten our military bases in those countries. America can depend upon Israel for support, regardless of the coalition in power. On Tuesday, Netanyahu will ask for our support. I hope that my fellow college students will listen to his concerns, rather than dismiss his visit as a political gesture.
Tom Olohan is a history student at Notre Dame.