Why Is Chuck Schumer Inviting Netanyahu to Address Congress?

This post originally appeared in Jonathan Chait’s &c. newsletter, which you can sign up for here.

Benjamin Netanyahu’s maneuvers always boil down to a combination of two motives. One is the prevention of a Palestinian state. The other is political survival. At times, the two motives tug against each other. More often, especially of late, they run in the same direction.

That is the case now, when Netanyahu is the unpopular leader of a wartime government. His creaking political coalition includes far-right parties that will desert him if he makes even the slightest gesture toward Palestinian self-rule, and halting the war will trigger elections that will probably end his tenure.

A CIA analysis predicts he will defy American pressure to commit to some kind of postwar plan for Gaza. If he can keep the fighting going past November, he can probably outlast the Biden administration, and a Trump presidency would give him the chance to reoccupy Gaza. He might even take the chance to undertake some horrific mass population transfer.

All in all, his incentives are directly counter not only to American foreign policy, but also to the liberal Zionist project. In that light, Senator Charles Schumer’s decision to invite Netanyahu to address Congress is unfathomable.

Schumer, who previously called on Netanyahu to resignsays he is inviting him anyway as a sign of America’s “ironclad” alliance with Israel. But Schumer had previously articulated why Netanyahu’s vision poses an existential threat to Israel’s long-term survival.

“Israel moving closer to a single state entirely under its control would further rupture its relationship with the rest of the world, including the United States,” Schumer said. “Support for Israel has declined worldwide in the last few months, and this trend will only get worse if the Israeli government continues to follow its current path.”

The same speech explained frankly why Netanyahu refuses to veer from this suicidal path. Schumer received harsh blowback for allegedly dictating to Israelis how they should choose their leaders, and maybe Schumer feels stung by that. But if the criticism is that he should put his thumb on the scale of Israeli elections against Netanyahu, the answer surely can’t be to put his thumb on the scale for Netanyahu.

That’s what inviting him to Congress does: It gives Netanyahu the grandest possible world stage to posture as a statesman. While his Israeli critics charge him with isolating Israel, his speech to Congress will give him an apparent answer. There he will be, basking in bipartisan applause. It will undercut the domestic critique of his ineffective and extreme policy toward the Palestinians and make the hard task of correcting Israel’s course even harder.

It is hard for me to think of an explanation for Schumer’s action other than sheer spinelessness.

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