I’ve heard it said that after hearing Cicero speak everyone was inspired by the beauty of his rhetoric. When Demosthenes spoke, everyone said: “Let’s march!” After hearing Prime Minister Netanyahu’s speech to the US Congress last week I wanted to sit down and cry.
“I deeply regret that some perceive my being here as political. That was never my intention.” How can Mr. Netanyahu expect anyone with an ounce of intelligence to believe such a statement? His “intention” notwithstanding, his very presence before Congress was a brazen political move on the chessboard of both our national and international politics – a move initiated by Speaker John Bohner and consummated by Mr. Netanyahu’s standing behind the podium. But it’s not the politics that makes we want to weep. It’s the calculated and foolish chutzpah of an otherwise very smart man.
It’s the implied theology couched in the word “promise” with regard to both Israel and the US. (“America and Israel, we share a common destiny, the destiny of promised lands that cherish freedom and offer hope.“)
With the Fiftieth Anniversary of the march in Selma being acted out on the big screen; and with the violence and systemic prejudice our black citizens continue to experience on a daily basis, we in this country are having to face the long term effects of what it means to build a nation on the backs of slaves. With the native populations unwilling to allow us to celebrate “Columbus Day” with impunity, we are reminded of the genocide that is in bold face type in the script of the European conquest of the Americas. And with our continued willingness to use undocumented immigrants to our own advantage and then deport them, there are many who struggle to see the United States as a promised land that cherishes freedom and hope. Mt. Netanyahu was playing to a crowd who wear their blinders intentionally.
Mr. Netanyahu painted an apocalyptic picture should Iran acquire nuclear weapons. He cited example after example of the pain and destruction Iran has levied upon the US and its citizens. His rehearsal of historical events is not in question. His interpretation of that history is what is so frightening. If we in this country have learned anything, haven’t we learned that we cannot manipulate the politics of other peoples without significant and often deadly push back – if not immediately, then eventually?
While it is important to be attentive to the opinions of our allies, should we allow Mr. Netanyahu to tell us who our enemies are?
And then, there was the presence of Elie Wiesel – writer, teacher, and survivor of the Holocaust. I shudder to think that Mr. Wiesel, by his presence and being singled out by Mr. Netanyahu, intended to give legitimacy to all that Netanyahu was saying. I found myself wondering: Elie, what are you doing there? In spite of all of history which suggests otherwise, Mr. Netanyahu promised – threatened might be a better word – that “even if Israel has to stand alone, Israel will stand.” And yet the irony seemed to be lost on Israel’s prime minister – he was standing before the Congress of the United States. Should Israel continue to insist on “standing alone” it might find, to quote Mr. Netanyahu, that they have “won the battle but lost the war”.
Ironically, as Mr. Netanyahu looked up from the podium from which he was speaking, he acknowledged that the image of Moses was staring right back at him. “Be strong and resolute, neither fear nor dread them.” He spoke those words, quoting Moses first in Hebrew and then translating it into English. Mr. Netanyahu was not speaking from a place of moral strength; he was speaking from a place of political fear. It doesn’t occur to him that Iran might fear and dread Israel as much as he dreads and fears Iran. From just such a posture emerges the saber clashing rhetoric, the threats, the machismo that has been part of the insanity of Mid-East politics for generations.
Iran is not to be trifled with. But, as the poll above indicates, Mr. Netanyahu didn’t win any friends with his speech to the Congress. His presence was most out of line. His message was more of the same. His predictions are stale. But it was his “benediction” that brought tears to my eyes – doing what all our politicians seem to be doing in this increasingly secular age (so we are told): telling God to bless us – the “State of Israel” and “the United States of America”. What about the rest of the world? Lacking any prayer of blessing upon them I just sat down and cried.
CNN’s Analysis of the speech.