The American Conservative Union (ACU) recently announced that it has invited Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to speak at its annual Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) in Maryland in March. The conference is attended by conservative activists and elected officials from across the United States.
This year’s speakers include a who’s who of high-profile Republicans, such as former vice presidential nominee Paul Ryan (R-Wis.), rising stars and likely future presidential candidates like Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) and Rand Paul (R-Ky.), as well as House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.). Although foreign officials have previously attended the event, including Netanyahu himself in 2001, if he accepts the invitation, the prime minister would be the first sitting head to state to address the conference.
For a group so closely aligned with the Republican Party to invite the head of state of one of America’s closest allies to speak at what is essentially an opposition rally is highly significant, especially given the already strained relationship between Netanyahu and President Obama, further highlighting Israel’s already strong influence in U.S. politics.
The theme of this year’s conference is, "America’s Future: The Next Generation of Conservatives." In a press release, American Conservative Union Chairman Al Cardenas spoke of the need to empower the “next generation of shining conservative stars,” and to give them “the tools they need to help combat the liberal agenda.” In light of Netanyahu’s invitation, a blind deference to Israeli policy is seemingly high up on the list of tools needed. It is surely crucial to combating such dangerous aspects of the liberal agenda as a consideration of legitimate grievances and rights of the Palestinians (even though most liberals in America barely do this). A speech from Netanyahu would definitely help with this.
Many who will attend the conference are among those who falsely accuse President Obama of not being supportive enough of Israel. The invite represents an attempt by conservatives to capitalize on the strained relationship between Netanyahu and Obama, and to further push their claim that Obama is somehow anti-Israel. And Netanyahu’s invite is hardly out of context for the conference, given the views noted above and the anti-Muslim, pro-Israel advocates who spoke at last year’s event on the subject in a bizarrely titled speech: "Islamic Law in America: How the Obama Justice Department Is Selling Us Out."
Netanyahu faced criticism last year for his thinly-veiled support for former Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney during the campaign, highlighted by a political advertisement featuring Netanyahu and the slogan, "The world needs American strength, not apologies." While Romney officials distanced themselves from the ad, and Israeli officials rejected claims of interference, it is pretty clear who Netanyahu would rather have won the election.
The influence of Israel in U.S. politics was clearly revealed by Netanyahu himself back in 2001. In a secretly filmed video, he boasted of his manipulation of the U.S. and the peace process and claimed: "I know what America is. America is a thing you can move very easily, move it in the right direction. They won't get in their way.”
Regardless of whether Netanyahu ends up speaking or not, inviting a sitting head of state from a country which already has a strong influence in American politics to speak at an opposition rally is highly inappropriate. It is an attempt by conservatives to exploit the cracks in the relationship between the two leaders and put further pressure on the White House regarding its relationship with Israel. It also serves to further entrench U.S-Israel relations as a domestic, and not simply a foreign, policy issue.
This all hardly seems necessary anyway, given the level of influence Israel already enjoys in U.S. politics and how much the U.S. already panders to Israel. Ties between the two countries are currently strong enough to make this article from the Onion, seem worryingly close to the truth.