By Rabbi Dow Marmur.
Neither the President of the United States nor the New York Times found Netanyahu’s speech to the US Congress last Tuesday very original. Of course, it was naïve of them to expect it. The purpose of the Netanyahu spectacle in Washington wasn’t so much to solve the Iranian problem as to impress the voters in Israel.
And that it probably did. On the day that advertisements on behalf of all parties were let lose on the Israeli public on radio and television, Mr. Netanyahu’s party got terrific publicity worldwide and he got presidential treatment on Capitol Hill.
In that context, it was a very good speech. It praised the Americans, including their current president, for standing with Israel and it reiterated the misleading, perhaps hypocritical, mantra that Netanyahu doesn’t want to meddle in United States bipartisan politics but that his only aim is to protect us all from an Iranian nuclear assault.
To make sure that the Israelis got the message, he made reference to another Iranian (Persian) with evil intentions: Haman of the Book of Esther to be read on Purim that starts on Wednesday evening (except in Jerusalem where it’s celebrated a day later). As the biblical character was defeated, and his nemesis Mordechai the Jew triumphed thanks to brave Esther, so must his contemporary incarnation: Iran’s current supreme leader, the ayatollah Khamenei. But whereas Queen Esther had to use her feminine charm, her current incarnation, Netanyahu, will use his masculine strength.
To make the connection with the Holocaust as visible as possible, Elie Wiesel was seated next to Mrs. Netanyahu thus also making sure that she got camera exposure.
We’ll know two weeks from today if the Israeli public was sufficiently impressed to return Netanyahu to office and, in due course, if it’s also prepared to forgive his wife her allegedly lavish spending at the expense of the government and – if her ex-employees are to be believed – the tyranny with which she ran her household.
Should that happen, the voters will have chosen to ignore issues such as the dangerous gap between rich and poor in the land and, of course, the continued occupation, debilitating for Israel almost as much as it is for the Palestinians.
Nothing of the above should be understood to imply that the Iranian danger isn’t real, but it does suggest that, even though it cannot be resolved, it may be managed, and that President Obama is better equipped to do it than Prime Minister Netanyahu. By all accounts, many of Israel’s military and intelligence brass share this view.
But the prime minister chooses not to listen, probably because his current stance is more likely to return him to office than to serve the country well, and staying as Israel’s prime minister is said by many to be the only thing that matters to him.
This was Netanyahu’s third appearance before the United States Congress, an achievement only matched by Winston Churchill in his day. To mark the occasion, Netanyahu was presented with a bronze statute of Churchill. Christiane Amanpour commenting on it on CNN suggested that the prime minister of Israel should have taken to heart the legendary British prime minister’s words that “to jaw-jaw is always better than to war-war.”
Obama seems to have taken Churchill’s words to heart. Netanyahu has not. The crucial question: Which of them is likely to protect us better from the Iranian menace?