Op-Ed

Netanyahu’s speech an exercise in futility

CAPITOL HILL: Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu received a warm reception from lawmakers when he spoke before a joint session of Congress on Tuesday.
CAPITOL HILL: Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu received a warm reception from lawmakers when he spoke before a joint session of Congress on Tuesday. AP

Now that the applause after Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu’s speech in Congress has faded away, we are left with the question: Was he right or wrong to deliver that speech?

Opponents of the move (like myself) believe that the speech has accomplished nothing except to further alienate the White House and make the support of Israel in America look like a partisan issue. Supporters argue with the same level of conviction that it was the right thing to do, in order to raise the alarm against the bad Iranian deal the administration has been cooking up.

In such case of ambiguity, Jews tend to find comfort in a joke, even if they heard it thousands of times before:

Two Jews come to the Rabbi for arbitration. The first one makes his case, and the Rabbi says: You’re right. Then the second Jew presents his grievances, to which the Rabbi, again, says: You’re right. When they leave, the Rabbi’s wife, who has been listening from the kitchen, asks him: How can they both be right? The Rabbi sighs: You’re right, too.

The problem is that beside the brief smile this joke produces, it doesn’t lead us anywhere. The two Jews go home even more frustrated, the Rabbi’s wife may question the wisdom of her husband, and the Rabbi himself might wonder why he ever took a position above his capabilities.

The same with Netanyahu’s speech. I have to admit that despite my previous reservations, I was glued to the TV screen when he delivered his great speech (no bit of cynicism here), and at times I was moved by the standing ovations it generated.

However, with the speech behind us, we are left with specific questions: Will the Members of the House who gave Netanyahu those standing ovations decide now to amass the majority needed to overcome a veto of the president on the Iranian issue? Will President Obama, who will still reside in the White House for almost two years, become more attentive now to the prime minister’s entreaties if the latter is reelected? Will two out of every three American Jews, who traditionally vote for Democrats, now feel more comfortable vis-à-vis the issue of American support for Israel, which the Netanyahu speech seem to have tainted with Republican colors?

And here is the most important question of them all: Under the watch of which Israeli prime minister has Iran reached the nuclear threshold, if not under Netanyahu himself?

To his credit, Netanyahu’s persistent cries of alarm (including another remarkable speech before the U.N. General Assembly last September) helped keep the pressure on Iran. However, in a situation where America is exhausted by the long Iraqi and Afghan wars, and weary of being policeman of the world, it’s no wonder that a recent poll reported in The Washington Post shows “more than six in ten Americans support a deal with Iran allowing enrichment, including similar numbers of Democrats and Republicans.”

In that case, with chances slim that senators and congressmen will act against the will of their constituencies, and with the White House turning a deaf ear to him anyway, Netanyahu’s speech — while masterfully delivered — seems like an exercise in futility.

There are, however, things that an Israeli prime minister can do himself, like ordering the IDF to strike the Iranian nuclear facilities. According to the Israeli media, Netanyahu was actually keen about doing exactly that, except that he was repeatedly and strongly opposed by the IDF’s chief of staff and the heads of the Mossad and the Israeli Security Services. They warned that the damage would not suffice to stop the Iranian nuclear enterprise altogether, but it might have grave consequences.

Netanyahu likes to compare himself to Winston Churchill, who, eight decades ago, raised a lone voice against the appeasement of aggressive dictators. However, during World War II, Churchill kept firing generals in the North African theater who seemed defeatist, until Gen. Bernard Montgomery brought him victory.

The same with President Lincoln, who replaced the foot-dragging Gen. Meade and his likes with the victorious Gen. Grant. Netanyahu did nothing of the sort, probably because the Israeli chiefs of military and security — not known at all for their squeamishness — were convincing enough in their assessments of the limits of power.

Readers have ridiculed my gamble in my last column that Netanyahu would eventually cancel his speech. The truth is that I long lost hope that my prime minister might ever read any of my Miami Herald columns (although Ron Dermer, Israel’s ambassador in Washington and an ally of House Speaker John Boehner in cooking the speech in Congress, is originally from Miami Beach).

For sure, Netanyahu didn’t heed my warning since I started writing in the Herald in 2000 that unless Israel works toward a two-state solution, we will wind up with one, bi-national, state, where Israel will either lose its Jewish identity or its democracy, or both. Indeed, in 2009 Netanyahu delivered an eloquent speech advocating a Palestinian state next to Israel, but again, under his watch, as in the Iranian case, we are closer than ever to a situation that is disastrous for Israel.

So how shall we conclude, without hurting anybody, that what you do is more important than what you say? Obviously, with a Jewish joke:

When the Israelites left Egypt, Moses was surprised that his aides hadn’t prepared any means for the crossing of the Red Sea. “What do you expect me to do”, he exclaimed, “to raise my hand and part the sea?” To which his PR man responded: “Sir, if you do that, I can get you two pages in the Bible”.

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