This article is from the archive of The New York Sun before the launch of its new website in 2022. The Sun has neither altered nor updated such articles but will seek to correct any errors, mis-categorizations or other problems introduced during transfer.
The one constant in respect of the practice of receiving foreign leaders to address a joint meeting of Congress is that the tradition rarely fails to inspire. Your editor has seen a lot of them. The most moving was the speech in which Corazon Aquino — after saying that when she’d left America a few months earlier she thought it had been but to bury her recently-murdered husband Ninoy and his restless dream of Philippines freedom — declared, “Today I have returned as the president of a free people.” Some of the most dignified figures of the congress had come dressed in yellow, the color of her revolution, and others wore yellow roses pinned to their lapels. Some wept openly as she spoke of her nation’s redemption.
Prime Minister Netanyahu’s performance this morning packed its own wallop, all the more so because of the parlous nature of American-Israel relations in the wake of President Obama’s speech at the State Department. Mr. Obama, by delivering his own speeches before Mr. Netanyahu was scheduled to go up to Capitol Hill, left it to the Israeli leader to have the last word — the honor to sum things up and give the speech that people will talk about. He left to Mr. Netanyahu the more magnificent platform, and Mr. Netanyahu made the most of it. He was interrupted to applause and cheers throughout, drawing a standing ovation — as he had 15 years ago before a joint meeting of the Congress — for the assertion that Jerusalem must never again be divided and must remain the undivided capital of Israel.
If Mr. Netanyahu seemed relaxed, almost intimate in his remarks, it was no doubt because this was his second time addressing a joint meeting of Congress. This time was different from the first. The first time, he had come as a right-of-center upstart, so to speak, who had toppled the Labor establishment. He was bypassing a president who didn’t see eye to eye with him and going to a Capitol that had been recently conquered by another young upstart, Newt Gingrich. The partisan nature of Mr. Netanyahu’s demarche back then was palpable. This time around, he marked as pointedly as anyone could that the amity between America and Israel was bipartisan, involving Democrats and Republicans, and he could not have been more pointed in his congratulations to Mr. Obama for the triumph over bin Laden.
The gesture was returned in the extraordinary warmth and rousing nature of his reception by members of both parties. The premier “received so many standing ovations that at times it appeared that the lawmakers were listening to his speech standing up,” is the way the New York Times put it. A long newspaper life has taught us to be wary of relying on the Congress, which endorsed the Vietnam war overwhelmingly only to halt support for the war in a sudden vote as Vietnam came under what turned out to be a fatal attack from the communists. But that is only a whisper in the ear. As Mr. Netanyahu was enveloped by the warmth of the Congress we wondered what would be made of it all by, say, James Madison, who spoke Hebrew, or John Adams, who voiced the hope for “the Jews again in Judea an independent nation,” tinged by supercessionism though his words may have been. Or by William Bradford, who, President Bush reminded the Knesset in his speech on the 60th anniversary of Israel, upon stepping off the Mayflower quoted the words of Jeremiah: “Come let us declare in Zion the word of God.”