A few weeks ago, House Speaker John Boehner and Israeli Ambassador Ron Dermer cooked up what they thought was a surefire way to stick a finger in the eye of their nemesis, Pres. Barack Obama, advance Israel’s anti-Iran interests, and ensure Bibi wins the next election. Boehner invited Bibi Netanyahu to address a joint session of Congress two weeks before the Israeli elections. The topic of his talk would be Iran: why the mullahs are untrustworthy; why sanctions should be tightened; and why a nuclear deal will be bad for the world, but good for Iran.
One thing I’ve discovered about politics is that if you act with extreme hubris by taking maximal advantage of your own strength and your adversary’s weakness, you inevitably overlook your own weakness and your adversary’s strength. The electorate, at least in the U.S. is in no mood to stomach triumphalism by either Party. So when Republicans shoot the moon, as they did during the Bush presidency, they overreach. As long as everything went their way as it did after 9/11, they were golden. But once events like Katrina and the degenerating Iraq War transpired against them, they had nothing to fall back on. They’d chosen to be maximalists. When it was time for humility or contrition, there was none they could muster.
That’s indeed what happened with Bibi’s speech. There were so many advantages to the speech that none of the co-conspirators bothered to contemplate what could go wrong. They believed their opponent would be shoehorned into accepting the inevitability of things. But thanks to the overreaching of the GOP and Israel, it gave the Democrats much more latitude to defy the Speaker and Netanyahu himself.
Now, not only have the ten Democratic senators who were championing new sanctions against Iran backed down (temporarily), but the Vice-President and at least three Congressmembers (John Lewis, Earl Blumenauer and Jim McDermott) have announced a boycott of Bibi’s speech. None other than the ADL’s Abe Foxman and Rabbi Rick Jacobs of the Union for Reform Judaism have decried the timing of the speech and called for it to be cancelled.
Dan Margalit, Yisrael HaYom’s popular columnist, warned the prime minister that he was causing political damage to Israel. Margalit is known as a journalist who has the ear of the politically powerful. Besides which he writes for Bibiton, Sheldon Adelson’s paper, which is largely responsible for making and keeping Bibi prime minister. Consider the multiple ironies involved in that! Also, an Army Radio poll finds that 47% of Israelis want Bibi to cancel the speech. Nearly 20% said the speech would make it less likely they would vote for him.
My sense is that this ultimately could go one of two ways: either Bibi plows ahead in his inimitable Israeli macho fashion and goes right to the bitter end, giving the speech; or discretion becomes the better part of valor and he retreats from his position.
Today’s news isn’t very hopeful. Bibi doubled down, declaring that his mission as Prime Minister was, as JFK admonished, to “pay any price and bear any burden” on behalf of America. In other words, Bibi will go anywhere to speak on behalf of the interests of the Jewish people (and himself). He likened his Congressional speech to his travel to France on behalf of Jews beset by Islamist terror:
…Netanyahu said on Sunday that despite the growing criticism both in Israel and the United States, he plans to address a joint session of the U.S. Congress to lobby against a nuclear deal with Iran, just as he went to Paris last month after the attack on a kosher supermarket.
“I went to Paris not just as the prime minister of Israel but as a representative of the entire Jewish people…
The truth is that neither the French nor the American leadership (Hollande and Obama) wanted Bibi there. He is a combustible force who stirs up rancor wherever he goes. There are times in politics when what’s needed is soothing, compromise and humility. Bibi can never bring this to any situation.
As the U.S. nears a nuclear deal with Iran, we do not need the shrill, sour, hectoring notes of Netanyahu. As far as I’m concerned though, Bibi’s speech is a good thing. Whenever the far-right, whether here in the U.S. or in Israel, overplays its hand it exposes their own fanaticism. Though voters may not understand this immediately, eventually the message creeps in. Not that this means, there are pragmatic parties who might take their place. There aren’t. I don’t consider the Zionist Camp to be pragmatic. They’re only slightly better Likud. They will not bring major changes in policy.
But eventually, as Gideon Levy wrote this week in Middle East Eye, the international community will be persuaded as well. It will act, whether after being forced to do so or voluntarily, to bring this ongoing tragic bloodbath to an end. The worse Israel’s politics are, the nastier its leaders are, the closer we come to that day. That’s why I root for Bibi to maintain that heart of stone which, like Pharaoh, will get him into the most possible political trouble.
Finally, please sign the petition I’ve created saying NO to Bibi’s speech. Tell him he doesn’t speak in your name. Not only #SkiptheSpeech as in Jewish Voice for Peace’s hashtag, but #CanceltheSpeech.