Moshe Rabeynu, Moses our teacher, taught by word and deed. His actions could be described as audacious, courageous, and bold. Those same adjectives can also be applied to Benjamin Netanyahu. Moses was also described as, "a very humble man, more humble than anyone else on the face of the earth." And therein lies the difference between the Israeli Prime Minister and Moses.
Netanyahu carries a sense of superiority, self-importance, and an overbearing assumption that only he is correct. When it comes to the the very serious issues of Iran's nuclear capabilities and a Palestinian state the stakes are extremely high as the Prime Minister, correctly, reminds us. He has clearly drawn a very bleak analysis and conclusion when it comes to both. He is not alone in his conclusions; many share them, but his conclusions are not the only ones. It is his dismissive tone which is not becoming of the important political leader he is as the Prime Minister of the modern State of Israel.
That attitude feeds the latest spat between Bibi and the White House which has become a classic example of domestic and foreign policies intertwined in an unhealthy imbroglio. House Speaker John Boehner invited the Prime Minister to address Congress about a foreign policy issue but was actually motivated by U.S. domestic politics. That is clear in his extending the invitation to Prime Minister by not first coordinating with the White House. In a classic Machiavellian move the Speaker setup anyone who opposes his invitation to hear the Prime Minister address a joint session of Congress as being anti-Israel. Read closely the statement of Senator Patrick Leahy why he will not attend the Prime Minister's speech and you will see domestic and Congressional issues are his main concern.
Leahy's statement in full reads, "The unfortunate way that House leaders have unilaterally arranged this, and then heavily politicized it, has demolished the potential constructive value of this Joint Meeting. They have orchestrated a tawdry and high-handed stunt that has embarrassed not only Israel but the Congress itself. It has long been an unwritten rule and practice through the decades that when it comes to American foreign policy, we speak and act thoughtfully, with one voice when we can, with the national interests of the United States as our uppermost consideration, and with caution about the unintended consequences of unilateral actions like this. They have diminished that valuable precedent."
A few years ago the Israeli Prime Minister was quoted saying, "I know what America is. America is a thing you can move very easily, move it in the right direction. They won't get in our way. They won't get in our way." The Prime Minister's acceptance of Boehner's invitation is a manifestation of his very arrogant approach in general, that comes with its own shortsightedness and potential pitfalls, and in particular towards the United States damaging the most important diplomatic relationship Israel has and needs. In some way Bibi's decision to address Congress is his pompous way of saying he knows America better than President Obama.
The President and his team had high hopes when it came to the Israeli-Palestinian issue the Prime Minister would play the role of de Gaulle with Algeria, Nixon in China, Begin and Sadat; the perceived right of center leader who by that very orientation is able to achieve a remarkable breakthrough when it comes to diplomatic policy. Right up until the collapse of the Secretary of State Kerry's nine month negotiations last spring the U.S. Administration held out hope Netanyahu would deliver in that breakthrough fashion. What has become all too clear in his statements, since the collapse of those negotiations, is the Prime Minister never had any such intentions. This is compounded by an Administration that may still have no back-up plan for achieving an Israeli-Palestinian accord with Netanyahu at the helm.The Obama Administration feels a sense of betrayal and a perception the Israeli Prime Minister mislead them throughout the entire process. Hell hath no fury like an Administration scorned.
When it comes to diplomatic relations there is one school of thought which says security which is not completely foolproof is by definition inadequate security. Historians James Chase and Caleb Carr point out that absolute security, 'cannot be negotiated; it can only be won." It is very clear the Prime Minister Netanyahu is in that camp and that guides his decision making when it comes to both the Iranians and the Palestinians. Recently we learned, in 2011, Bibi pulled the plug on a deal that President Peres, negotiating with Netanyahu's knowledge, had reached with Prime Minister Abbass.
While the Prime Minister is entitled to a particular school of thought, as is President Obama, the issue that underscores the present debacle is one of attitude.
This brings us back to Moses and humility. To paraphrase Hubert Humphrey, humility is not passive, it is active, and humility does not lead to appeasement, it is a form of strength. It is all of those because the practitioner of humility is able to have an encompassing view that at the end of the day is stronger because it embraces and does not push away. The Prime Minister does not operate with that demeanor.
His manner is rigid and he does not look for conversation; dictate is more his style. The Prime Minister may be right or he may be wrong, history will be the judge. What we do know now is the path he has chosen by accepting the Speaker of the House's invitation to address a joint session of Congress, not coordinated with the White House, is to say that style trumps substance. The jazz master Wynton Marsalis teaches, "Don't settle for style. Succeed in substance." A statesman however needs both. Winston Churchill more than anyone understood that. Netanyahu's address to a joint session of Congress will tie the number of times Churchill addressed the United States Congress. Israel may face Churchillian challenges, but Bibi is no Churchill.
A similar piece first appeared in the Jerusalem Post on February 18, 2015