No Holds Barred: Farcical objections to Bibi’s speech to Congress

I did not see the president stand up for democracy when he recently met with the unelected king of Jordan.

US President Barack Obama  and First Lady Michelle Obama meet members of the Saudi royal family, government officials and guests (photo credit: REUTERS)
US President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama meet members of the Saudi royal family, government officials and guests
(photo credit: REUTERS)
To call it ironic would be an understatement.
A president of the United States says at a press conference with the chancellor of Germany, a nation that slaughtered six million Jews 70 years ago, that he will not meet the prime minister of Israel to discuss Iranian nuclear annihilatory threats because it would interfere with Israeli democracy.
Now, it would be nice if President Barack Obama were more generally caring about democracy and not just when it becomes a pretext to snub the Israeli prime minister.
I did not see the president stand up for democracy when he recently met with the unelected king of Jordan.
I did not see him stand up for democracy when two weeks ago he traveled to Saudi Arabia to pay his respects upon the death of the autocrat and arch-misogynist King Abdullah.
I did not see the president care much for democracy when he decided to renew relations with Cuba, with the Castro brothers’ continuing to run the country as a private fief.
I did not see the president stand up for democracy in his many meetings with Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey, who – having already banned Twitter and YouTube – further entrenches himself as a dictator with every passing day.
And I did not see the president bring up democracy upon his innumerable meetings with Vladimir Putin, the new czar of Russia.
No, it seems that only when it comes to Israel and Benjamin Netanyahu does the president suddenly recall his democratic principles.
But at least the president has an honest pretext as to why he will not meet with Netanyahu and why he dislikes him. Netanyahu plans to get up in front of Congress and say the emperor has no clothes. That the president’s Iran policy is dangerous and has failed.
The talks with Iran have led to the unfreezing of hundreds of millions of dollars for the mullahs while they have barely dismantled even a bit of their nuclear program. And they talks are never-ending and always extended.
If the stakes were not so great – if this weren’t an existential threat to Israel’s survival – then perhaps it would have been best for Netanyahu to bite his lip. But given the choice between offending an American leader and rolling the dice on Iran carrying out its stated intention of wiping Israel off the map, the prime minister is right to speak up.
Perhaps it’s providential that the prime minister will be speaking the day before Purim with its ancient story of Esther being presented with a choice of popularity with the king or speaking up for her people.
But what pretext do the Anti-Defamation League’s Abraham Foxman and the Union for Reform Judaism’s Rabbi Rick Jacobs have to publicly come out against the prime minister’s speech? The ADL’s mandate is to fight anti-Semitism.
How does publicly upbraiding the prime minister for wanting to address the congressional leadership on the Iranian nuclear threat fulfill that mission? Abe Foxman has given decades of his life to the Jewish people and is about to retire. I salute his courage and leadership. He commands respect. But he more than most is well aware that Iran is the single greatest threat to Jewish life on planet Earth. And Iran’s threats aren’t mere words. They come from a government that is the world’s foremost sponsor of terrorism, particularly against Jews. Would the head of the ADL really tell Israel’s elected leader to turn down an opportunity to address the parliament of the most powerful nation on earth about its greatest single threat?
As for Rick Jacobs, his public condemnation of the Netanyahu speech as “a bad idea” begs the question of what would constitute a better idea in its place. Should Netanyahu be silent and allow the American-led negotiations to drag out endlessly? What makes no sense to me is how all this criticism comes as a result of not wanting to offend President Obama.
America is a democracy. The president gets offended every single day. It’s countries such as Turkey, Russia and Cuba where the leader never suffers offense.
Did President Obama himself not just offend the leaders of China by publicly welcoming and acknowledging the Dalai Lama at the National Prayer Breakfast? Truth be told, I believe President Obama should have given more offense to the leaders of Saudi Arabia when he visited the country last month. He should have offended them by decrying their record on human rights and the treatment of women. Indeed, a culture of offense is central to democratic institutions just as a culture of deference is central to one-party states.
In 1953, president Harry Truman fired America’s greatest general and war hero, Douglas MacArthur, for insubordination in Korea. But Congress invited MacArthur to address a joint session in April 1951. It would become one of the most famous speeches of the 20th century, bearing the famous line: “Old soldiers never die; they just fade away.” I bet the congressional leadership understood just what an insult it was to the president to invite the man he’d just publicly fired. But as an independent branch of government, they did it anyway.
Truman survived and went on to become one of the most distinguished presidents of the 20th century.
I just finished reading Lawrence Wright’s book Thirteen Days in September: Carter, Begin, and Sadat at Camp David with its inside account of the Camp David Accords of 1978. The book lays out Menachem Begin’s reasoning for giving Egypt the entire Sinai Peninsula for a peace deal. Begin believed that returning any land would only reward Egypt for its repeated aggression. Why, then, did he do the deal? Because he believed that it would strengthen his relationship with Jimmy Carter and win the president over as a friend to Israel. Well, we all know how that turned out.
Despite Israel having given away a land mass three times its entire size and which it had won in a defensive war, Carter still became the single biggest critic of Israel on the Western stage, going so far as to libel Israel with the preposterous charge of apartheid. And his criticism never abates. The lesson: Don’t cut deals to make friends. On the contrary, an agreement should be signed only based on its ability to bring about real peace.
Does anyone truly believe that if Netanyahu were to cancel this speech it would improve his standing in Obama’s eyes? President Obama seems to want what Netanyahu cannot deliver, namely, a small Middle Eastern client nation that takes orders from the United States and allows American policy to dictate its security policy. But even if Obama’s policies were sound – and on Iran they most definitely are not – this undermines the very idea of a sovereign Jewish state.
US Jews of every stripe – Republicans and Democrats – must be grateful to President Obama for all he has done to strengthen Israel’s security with increased military and intelligence cooperation between Israel and the United States. And we must be equally grateful to the Republican Party for the courageous decision to invite the prime minister to present his plan to prevent Iran from carrying out its stated intention of perpetrating yet another genocide of the Jews.
Rabbi Shmuley Boteach is the founder of This World: The Values Network, an organization defending Israel in world media. He is the author of Judaism for Everyone and 30 other books, including his most recent, Kosher Lust. Follow him on Twitter @RabbiShmuley.