There’s a famous scene in Monty Python’s immortal film "Life of Brian" in which an alien spaceship suddenly swoops down on first century Jerusalem to save Brian from imminent death, seconds after he jumps off a tower to flee the Roman soldiers pursuing him.
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After the one-eyed monster-pilots crash the spaceship and Brian escapes unscathed, a jealous bystander calls him a lucky bastard. From that point on, the spaceship and aliens are mentioned no more.
That’s what Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu really needs now: a miracle from heaven, no matter how ludicrous, a deus ex machina that will extricate him from the deep hole he dug for himself when he accepted House Speaker John Boehner’s invitation to speak before the U.S. Congress in early March.
Surely Netanyahu now appreciates what should have been obvious to him from the outset: that with each passing day, more and more harm is done to U.S.-Israeli relations.
Nonetheless, he finds himself wedged between a rock and hard place, because if he cancels for the greater good he will be branded a wimp by those right-wing voters for whom weakness is a capital offense and retreat is a cardinal sin.
In the interim, however, a scorched earth is steadily spreading over the very infrastructure of U.S.-Israeli ties: not only the relations between the two leaders, poisoned long ago, but bipartisan support for Israel, now diminished; opposition to a nuclear deal with Iran, now weakened; Israel’s prestige in Congress, now tarnished; the stature of the pro-Israel lobby, now lessened; the confidence of American Jewish leadership in Jerusalem’s judgment, now dwindled; and the trust of many Americans – at least those who don’t view Barack Obama as evil incarnate – who can’t quite comprehend what makes any Israeli leader thumb his nose at their president with such brazen abandon.
According to Politico, however, Netanyahu’s supporters in the U.S. are in no mood to cut their heavy losses; instead they are doubling down, going for broke, aiming to launch a full frontal assault on Democratic lawmakers who would dare put their president’s honor before the Israeli prime minister’s prestige by staying away from his March 3 address.
The leaders of the pro-Netanyahu lobby not only believe that the prime minister’s speech is essential, they are convinced that the White House is inciting Congressional Democrats against Bibi; they are seeking to exploit the situation in order to eat away at traditional Jewish support for their political rivals and they have, of course, one more critical characteristic in common.
“It’s really an anti-American, anti-patriotic position to take”, according to Mort Klein, president of Zionist Organization of America, a group heavily funded by Sheldon Adelson. We will make sure people know that the Bibi’s boycotters “chose partisan interests and to stand with President Obama,” says Matt Brooks, executive director of the Republican Jewish Coalition (RJC), a group that basks in the largesse of Adelson, Sheldon. “If they boycott the speech, they’ll be casting their lot with the more liberal, not pro-Israel base of the party,” is the formulation proposed by Ari Fleischer, an RJC director who is also, you guessed it, close to Adelson. “There really isn’t any debate as to what the right decision is,”, says the sole Jewish Republican in Congress, Lee Zeldin, whose winning election campaign in November was helped by generous donations, direct and otherwise, from Adelson et al.
So this is their plan: to inject even more inter-party venom into hitherto bipartisan support for Israel, to pour high-octane political fuel on the already burning fires, to stain Obama loyalists as Israel-haters whose place is outside the fence, where they should remain.
This is the favored, exclusionist modus operandi, after all, of many Netanyahu adherents and other right-wingers of similar ilk, in the American Jewish community and in Israel itself. Instead of a multi-decade policy of ensuring wall-to-wall Congressional support for Israel, from the deep left to the extreme right, we will now have the Netanyahu litmus test, whoever isn’t with us is against us, let’s go for the jugular and the future be damned.
Netanyahu’s speech may have once seemed like a brilliant ploy but it is now placing an ever growing burden on relations between Jerusalem and Washington and, current polls notwithstanding, could still turn out to be an albatross around Netanyahu’s electoral neck as well.
Over the weekend the prime minister looked less a resolute statesman who knows what he’s doing and more like a frightened animal caught in the headlights of an approaching car, an image not lost on Isaac Herzog and other opposition leaders who suddenly found their voice and called on the prime minister to cancel his speech. Former Labor Party leader Shelly Yachimovich even promised to praise Netanyahu if he did.
No one doubts Netanyahu’s intelligence or his deep knowledge of all things U.S., but the combination of hubris and paranoia that he shares with some of his closest confidantes appear to have clouded his judgment and brought him to the edge of a diplomatic abyss: it has all the ingredients of a classical tragedy, both his and ours. Netanyahu’s supporters may have provided him with an ace up his sleeve that he will brandish at just the right moment; otherwise he may soon be left with only one viable option: pray for divine intervention.