By Rabbi Dow Marmur.
Time for the old joke again. In the early days of Israel, when the country was in dire economic straits, it was suggested that the Jewish state should declare war against the United States. The Americans would win, of course, and thus be obliged to provide for Israel. That was the optimistic view. The pessimists said: “And what if Israel conquers America?”
Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu hopes to conquer America. As a first step he defied the president of the United States. Reports have it that Obama asked Netanyahu not to accept the invitation to address both houses of Congress – now probably postponed until March, days before the elections in Israel – and thus refrain from openly challenging the president’s refusal to impose more sanctions on Iran in view of the possibility of an agreement about nuclear weapons.
By all accounts, Netanyahu refused, even if conquering America may mean losing Israel, at least its most important ally. There’re even rumours that the top brass in the Israel Defense Forces and the intelligence services have come out on Obama’s side expressing opinions that harsher sanctions against Iran aren’t in the interest of Israel.
Iran is, of course, Netanyahu’s pet hate. It doesn’t mean that he’s wrong in principle. The presence of an Iranian general on Israel’s border illustrates the threat. Though his death during the alleged Israeli attack was originally thought to have been unintended, it’s also possible that it was a deliberate Israeli warning to Iran.
But the reason why Netanyahu didn’t accede to Obama’s request is probably because he believes that speaking in Washington will help him in Jerusalem. Staying in power seems to be more important to him than having the support of the president of the United States and what such support means for Israel. Netanyahu may be addressing the US Congress but his intended audience is the voter in Israel.
He’s no doubt prompted and supported in this his bizarre endeavour by casino mogul Sheldon Adelson, who sees himself as the Republicans’ king maker, and by Israel’s ambassador in Washington Ron Dermer, who used to work for the Republicans before he came on aliyah.
Obama no doubt also remembers that Netanyahu came out strongly for his republican rival Mitch Romney. This may also have contributed to the reason why he, Vice President Biden and Secretary of State Kerry will be otherwise engaged when Netanyahu comes to Washington.
But AIPAC, the pro-Israeli lobby supported by much of the Jewish establishment in the United States, will provide another opportunity for Netanyahu to electioneer in Israel while in America. The Jewish audience is likely to give him free range to paint Herzog and Livni as two deranged lefties bent on wrecking the country.
A reminder of what journalists are currently speculating about: Binyamin Netanyahu may even join forces with Naftali Bennett, whom he’s said to despise – which is mild in probably comparison to what Mrs. Netanyahu is said to think of Bennett – just to hang on to power, even if he’ll have to share it.
Will Israelis see through all his and make sure that their country will be taken in another, more prudent and safer, direction after March 17? I dare not predict.