After the Speech

Bibi had his day with Congress sans 50 or so folks who refused to grant the prime minister a full house. The applause was thunderous. The cheers were full throated and heart felt. Bibi’s speech was dramatic: his oratorical skills are legend here and back in Israel.

I must admit that I am no fan of Bibi Netanyahu. It’s not that I don’t agree with his politics. I’m not certain ultimately what his politics are, other than preserving the status quo.  And I emphatically believe that the status quo is slowly choking off more and more pathways to some beginning of a denouement with the Palestinians.

Perhaps we shouldn’t go there. I tend to veer away from overt political commentary, and I know that some of you may disagree with my positions on Israel. But remaining entirely silent about the prime minister’s speech is, I think, irresponsible. Because I think it created real fault lines in the otherwise strong US-Israel relationship.

For the first time there is an overt relationship being crafted between the Israeli prime minister and one American political party. For the first time an Israeli prime minister publicly dissed the president of the United States in his own capital.  And I wonder; was this the true goal of the speech? To make Israel a partisan issue like almost everything else in this country, from climate change to health care to gay marriage, and so forth? To shine up his image as a tough guy which will appeal to a part of his electorate back home that he needs to win for his reelection? To convince the world that he is right and Obama wrong? I don’t know but it is worrying.

An aspect of the prime minister’s speech that particularly irked me was when he pointed to Elie Wiesel who was sitting in the gallery. “My friends, standing up to Iran is not easy. Standing up to dark and murderous regimes never is. With us today is Holocaust survivor and Nobel Prize winner Elie Wiesel. Elie, your life and work inspires us to give meaning to the words, “never again.””

A BCC reporter is being criticized for describing this moment in a tweet as Bibi “playing the Holocaust card again.” But that is exactly what this was. Peter Beinart bravely called it like he saw it and was accused of belittling a man upon whom most Jews and Christians alike confer saintly credentials.  But the plain fact is that an aged Elie Wiesel has been co-opted by the prime minister. “I wish I could promise you, Elie, that the lessons of history have been learned. I can only urge the leaders of the world not to repeat the mistakes of the past.”

By drawing a direct correlation between Hitler and the current Iranian regime, Bibi infers that this is an all or nothing gambit, a notion his best intelligence officials reject. Teheran is not Berlin.

The Holocaust is a permanent part of Jewish life and Jewish history. It lurks in shadows. It is used and abused. Israel is of course the reification of ‘Never again.’ I get that. We live that. But are we not, at last, strong enough, secure enough, and clear enough, not to have to show the world our scars to justify our desire for safety and peace? After all the accomplishments of the Jewish people since 1945, must we still use Holocaust imagery in our statecraft?

So many issues to discuss. So much in the balance. Let’s never be afraid to discuss things in an honest and open way, even when we disagree.

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