That was quite a performance Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu delivered on the floor of the House of Representatives, courtesy of Speaker John Boehner in his continuing campaign to impede and discredit the presidency of Barack Obama.

It seemed an unprecedented exercise to embarrass the occupant of the Oval Office before Congress on his pursuit of foreign policy. The speech raised rapturous cheers and applause from the Republicans present, and many Democrats demonstrated courtesy far beyond what the occasion warranted.


Politically, the Bibi and Boehner show no doubt made great television in Israel as Mr. Netanyahu, after cynically voicing his esteem for Mr. Obama, shilled for his own re-election back home on March 17.

Meanwhile, down Pennsylvania Avenue at the White House, Mr. Obama professed not have watched and brushed off what the visitor called "a bad deal" that Secretary of State John Kerry was negotiating with Iran to impede its quest for a nuclear weapon.

The president insisted that Mr. Netanyahu's remarks did not offer "any viable alternatives," and that his own efforts remained Israel's best protection against a nuclear holocaust against, as Bibi put it, "the one and only Jewish state."

Beyond the theatrics that temporarily captivated the nation's capital, the event provided a classic example of chutzpah, which described Mr. Boehner's behavior in extending the invitation and Mr. Netanyahu's in accepting it to attack the foreign policy of an American president.

Some House Democrats boycotted the speech, but House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi chose to endure the impudence. She sat in front of the rostrum and applauded appropriately when the visitor praised past American help to Israel.

But later she reported that she was "near tears" throughout his harangue, "saddened by the insult to the intelligence of the United States" and by "the condescension toward our knowledge of the threat posed by Iran."

If there was any justice in the day's activities on the House floor, it came subsequently when Mr. Boehner suffered a personal and political humiliation at the hands of his own House Republican caucus. Conservative Republicans forced him to rely on Democratic members to approve full funding of the Department of Homeland Security without amendments touching Mr. Obama's humanitarian hold on the deportation of some 5 million undocumented immigrants and their children.

In one fell swoop, the boast of Mr. Boehner and his new GOP leadership sidekick Sen. Mitch McConnell that they were bringing a new era of bipartisanship to Capitol Hill came conspicuously crashing down.

At the same time, it was assured that an already icy personal relationship between Messrs. Obama and Netanyahu would go into a deeper freeze than ever, especially at a critical juncture of the negotiations with Iran led by Secretary Kerry on behalf of a broad Western coalition.

If there were any ray of light shining on the ill-conceived Boehner invitation and Mr. Netanyahu's swift exploitation of it, it came in the strong bipartisan demonstration of congressional solidarity on the House floor for the state of Israel itself, quite apart from Mr. Netanyahu's injudicious intrusion on the Obama administration's diplomatic efforts to hold off Iran's nuclear plans.

On entering and later leaving the chamber, the Israeli prime minister basked in boisterous welcome, taking his time getting to the rostrum, waving and shaking hands in the same manner of a president delivering a State of the Union speech. It was probably just as well that Mr. Obama did not tune in. Witnessing that spectacle might have been the last straw for him.

The visitor's sharp denunciation of what he called "a bad deal" that he believes Mr. Obama is seeking with Iran is not going to deter the administration's efforts. But the outcome of Israel's March 17 election will be watched in terms of the possible political impact of the speech and Mr. Netanyahu's hold on his post as prime minister.

As for his bold appeal to the American Congress to derail Mr. Obama's negotiations, the main consequence is likely to assure an even more frigid relationship between the U.S. and Israel, and their respective affronted leaders.

Jules Witcover is a syndicated columnist and former long-time writer for The Baltimore Sun. His latest book is "The American Vice Presidency: From Irrelevance to Power" (Smithsonian Books). His email is