With only hours to go, the carnage caused by Netanyahu’s visit to Congress is impressive. In no particular order this is a sampling of what the Prime Minister has managed to achieve. Several US senators and congressmen including Jewish representatives have said they will boycott his speech. Americans in general and most Israelis disapprove of Netanyahu’s speech. US nuclear negotiators have stopped giving Israel full updates on negotiations with Iran. Five former Israeli ambassadors have come out against the speech. Obama’s national security advisor Susan Rice called Netanyahu’s actions “destructive”. The PM spurned a Democratic Party olive branch to meet senators and congressmen. Reports have surfaced that AIPAC is against the visit. Rumours abound that the Iranians are happy with the way Netanyahu is pursuing his agenda. Former Mossad head Meir Dagan is quoted as saying that the PM is taking intolerable risks with Israeli security. A group of more than 200 retired IDF commanders have criticized the PM’s speech. Former Jewish Clinton cabinet member Robert Reich highlights the very obvious consequence that the speech is pitting Jews against Israel.
Although the man is one of the longest serving leaders in Israel’s short history, he is very likely the worst prime minister Israel has ever had. He hasn’t had any significant achievements, the peace talks are going nowhere and the world feels that Israel, under Netanyahu’s guidance is the cause. According to the Prime Minister, Iran is on the verge of getting the bomb and hardly anyone cares to hear from him. His only remaining leverage is to threaten to bomb Iran, which gives him some notice. Economically speaking, Israelis are more polarized between rich and poor than almost any other country in the OECD. Housing is incredibly expensive. Arab citizens are becoming Palestinianized, while he offers them little vision on the benefits of being Arab Israelis. He calls on European Jews to immigrate, but only because of Anti-Semitism in their home countries, and not because of the calling of Zionist ideology. It seems the Prime Minister is unaffected by the consequences of his actions.
Returning to his speech to Congress, it isn’t that the substance of what the Prime Minister has to say is wrong it is just that he himself is becoming the issue. The people who need to be convinced of his arguments do not want to hear from him. Netanyahu has become the annoying sales person you try to avoid when you walk into your favourite store. You might love the product, but you can’t stand the sales clerk who is serving you. Moreover, if you aren’t sure of the product, then certainly having an annoying clerk to deal with makes you turn right around and out the door. It shouldn’t be the case that leaders of countries are equated with annoying sales people but how else can you explain the reception Netanyahu is getting in some of the world’s most important countries. Obama can’t stand him. When commemorating the Charlie Hebdo/Hyper Cacher attacks, President Francois Hollande of France preferred that Bibi stay home, and when he couldn’t avoid the Israeli leader, Hollande felt he needed to invite Abu Mazen to counterbalance the Prime Minister’s presence.
You would be hard pressed to find more than a handful of important foreign capitals where Netanyahu would be welcome. It isn’t Netanyahu that they open their arms for, but rather the State of Israel and what it stands for in the Middle East. In other words, although Netanyahu might be welcomed as Prime Minister in various capitals around the world, his credentials are that of a used car salesman. All that’s missing is the plaid jacket, jet black dyed hair, and the waxed moustache.
Of course some of the blame is due to Israel’s unique electoral system where certain fringe interest groups can prop up or defeat a government. Netanyahu has become the master of selling out the long term interests of Israel for the glory of becoming Prime Minister. How else can you explain Netanyahu’s theft of the 2009 elections, when Tzipi Livni garnered more seats than any other party, only to fall victim to Bibi’s thirst for power and his submission to Shas’s extortionist demands. Had Livni succumbed to the same demands no doubt she would have felt that she sold her soul.
Another illustration of Netanyahu’s desire to surrender Israel’s interests for his own glory is his decision to allow Lieberman to become the most implausible Foreign Minister in Israel’s history. The chance that in 2009, Livni would have offered him the foreign ministry portfolio was non-existent, so how else can you explain Netanyahu’s concession except that he cares more for his own interests than that of the state of Israel. Till this day I have never heard Avigdor Lieberman speak a word of English, not very helpful if your most important allies speak English and not Russian.
So why did Netanyahu accept to speak to Congress? Well, if his past actions can explain his behaviour, it seems quite likely this stems from a not too smart decision to influence the Israeli elections. If this is the case and I certainly do believe that it is, then his headlong rush into what will become the worst decision any Israeli leader could possibly make, took root in the following simple calculation. The Prime Minister heads into Obama’s backyard, the president most Israelis mistrust. He speaks to Congress and garners another 29 standing ovations. He returns to Israel a hero after leaving Obama to heal his wounds. Two weeks later he earns another mandate from a very grateful Israeli public. It’s a nice dream, isn’t it?
The presumption that this had anything to do with influencing the mindset of elected officials in Washington proved implausible once Democratic congressmen and senators started bowing out of attending the speech. If the intention was to gain enough support to override a presidential veto then how can that be achieved when the needed votes are not even in the room?
We are certain to witness a fiasco Tuesday night. The only hope is that the Israeli public will rebel against the obvious manipulation and end Netanyahu’s tenure in the Knesset.