February 28, 2020

Why Bibi shouldn’t speak — but Congressmen should come to hear him

For the third time, Israeli Prime Minister Benyamin (“Bibi”) Netanyahu believes that he has a message of such importance that both houses of the U.S. Congress need to be convened in order to hear him convey it. Republican leaders invited him to speak this week in order to embarrass President Obama, who in turn refuses to meet with Bibi during his visit. Vice President Biden, who would normally sit alongside Speaker Boehner in the House chamber to hear the speech, has wisely made himself unavailable on that day. The invitation should be rescinded immediately. If it is not, members of Congress should do the right thing and show up for the speech. Not for Bibi’s sake, but for that of all decent people who oppose Iranian terrorism and nuclear blackmail.

I have met Bibi twice (at a book festival in Tel Aviv when he was running for prime minister the first time and at a Chabad event at the Beverly Wilshire Hotel while he was prime minister), and on both occasions I was struck by his arrogance and haughtiness. Indeed, it is impossible for me to hide my personal contempt for a serial adulterer who cheated on his first wife (he’s had three) while she was pregnant with his child. Bibi cheated on his current wife with his PR advisor, inter alia, and he was the target of several corruption investigations during his first term as prime minister. Unsurprisingly, he and his wife were criticized in a recent report by the country’s comptroller that detailed their exorbitant household expenses. Israelis who voted for Bibi to serve again as PM must have had very short memories.

As much as I hold Bibi in contempt as a man, a husband, and a guardian of the public’s (misplaced) trust, the main reason that I oppose his invitation to speak is that it was improperly extended. Instead of merely informing the White House that the leader of one of our closest allies had been invited to address Congress, Republican leaders should have waited to receive a green light from the Administration before extending the invitation. Just because President Obama invited British PM Cameron to reach out to legislators on Iran doesn’t mean that he also has to invite an antagonistic Israeli PM to address Congress. So far only Winston Churchill has addressed a joint session three times, and it doesn’t seem right that an ethically-challenged pol whose party only won 25% of the seats in the Knesset during the last general election should be the one to share this distinction. 

I don’t intend to listen to or read the speech, and I hope that it doesn’t receive widespread media coverage. People who follow events in the region closely don’t need Bibi to tell them what’s going on in the Middle East, and I pray the day will never come when our country’s leaders need a bombastic egotist to enlighten us on world affairs. If congressional leaders were smart, they would have invited Bibi to speak on his achievements in foreign relations during his service as PM. That talk would have lasted about two minutes. Adulterers are by nature mendacious, and politicians in America, Europe, Latin America and Asia have grown weary of Bibi’s truth-stretching (former French President Sarkozy called him a “liar”). Bibi has managed to alienate the leaders of allied countries, and now he’s coming to lecture us on how to handle Iran. The man is chutzpah personified.

The last time Bibi addressed Congress, he proposed the creation of a Palestinian state if certain conditions were met, including direct negotiations between Israel and Palestinian leaders. How did that proposal work out? How many Palestinian leaders today would take a phone call from Bibi? His country has zero leverage on Iran and accepts billions of dollars in loan guarantees every year from the United States.  Why exactly do we need Bibi to tell us which economic and political steps we should take vis-à-vis Iran?  

So why should senators and congressmen show up to Bibi’s speech? To demonstrate a united front against the Iranian government. Iran is governed by an evil, anti-Semitic, terror-sponsoring regime that must be stopped from obtaining nuclear weapons. If we publicly diss the Israeli PM while negotiations are underway to put the brakes on Iran’s nuclear program, that invites the Iranians to become even more intransigent. As much as I wish that Bibi would contact the White House privately with his suggestions on Iran, in the end we have to support the leader of any country who publicly criticizes Iran’s nuclear program. Although Israel established its nuclear program in a duplicitous way, we can’t allow Iran to do the same. Israel is not Iran, and the consequences of an Iranian nuclear bomb, to Israel and the world, are too terrifying to contemplate.

In short, my advice to senators and congressmen is this: attend the speech – but don’t applaud.