This week, Republicans took some time out from bellyaching about the deficiencies of their 2012 presidential contenders and the demagogic Democratic campaign to undermine Rep. Paul Ryan’s Medicare proposals to hear Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu address a joint session of Congress. One wonders how many of them went away wishing there was a way to put the man so many know as “Bibi” at the head of their ticket next year, instead of the actual possibilities.
The most mischievous among them might want to start a “birther” movement of their own, but in reverse of the one that last took place. What if they could prove that, contrary to what has been reported in the Israeli press, Netanyahu, whose command of the English language exceeds that of many his Congressional listeners and who gives greater voice to the values that make the United States an exceptional nation than does the current president, was not born in Israel, but in the Philadelphia suburbs where he spent part of his formative years. So what if the Israeli history books record that “Bibi” was the first prime minister born in the Jewish state? (The term for “native born” in Israel is “Sabra.”) There will be others. But, thanks to the wisdom of the framers, all American presidents had to have been native born. Bibi would be the latest of a line that needs improvement. [See political cartoons on the Middle East unrest.]
Rather than allow this conspiracy to bubble up from the party’s base, with its leaders saying that they had “no idea” where “Bibi” was born or that they did not “tell people what to think” about his origins, this one would come from the top down-the way Republicans really like to do things. Congressional Republicans could state that if the Israeli intelligence services are as good as the world knows them to be, Israel will provide proof, not of Netanyahu’s birth certificate (everyone knows it is in a vault somewhere in the bowels of Independence Hall), but of his immigration papers to Israel. Once they are produced, all that would be required would be an act of Congress restoring Bibi’s American citizenship. Then it would be off to Iowa and New Hampshire.
For the GOP the idea of a presidential contender who says what he knows to be the truth rather than what focus groups tell him voters want to hear, sticks to his guns year in and year out, whatever the fluctuations of world opinion; and who exudes a sense of confidence and command, with a healthy bit of humor tossed in, would certainly be a welcome change. And just when they had convinced themselves that “Reagan was not coming back,” here he is again!
We already have a glimpse of how a Netanyahu-Barack Obama race would progress. One tells the same story to Jewish audiences as he would to Muslim ones, if he could persuade any to invite him. The other nuances, dissembles, and disengages. [Vote now: Will Glenn Beck's Israel rally hurt U.S. foreign policy?]
Case in point, 1, 2008: Obama told AIPAC (the principal Jewish-American lobbying group) that Jerusalem would remain undivided. He changed his stance slightly when Palestinian groups criticized him. Now, his spinners say, what he really objected to was the construction of fences or walls within the city. But, he said at the time that he did not know how such barriers might be feasible. Go figure.
Case in point, 2, 2008: May 19, 2011, Obama proposed a return to the 1967 borders with appropriate “land swaps.” May 23, 2011: After complaining that he was criticized for what he did not say, Obama said he would repeat what he said. But he didn’t. His failure for the second time to state his views on the Palestinian “right of return” to lands now deemed part of Israel proper sowed the seeds of new and additional doubts among his listeners. [Check out a roundup of political cartoons on Obama.]
Case in point, 3: May 22, 2011, After proclaiming that real friends talk honestly and openly with one another, Obama stated one truth, one untruth, and one bit of mush in his assessment of the current state of affairs in the Middle East. He was correct that, in the absence of newly established borders, demography would make Jews a minority in what is now a state that is primarily Jewish and democratic. (That would force Israelis to choose between these two long-stated objectives.) He offered no evidence in support of his claim that, in the absence of a “genuine peace” (which he never defined) “technology will make it harder” for Israel to defend itself. How? (Even its most steadfast enemies give Israel the technological edge and multiple times over.) The mush was in Obama’s declaration of the obvious, that “a just and lasting peace can no longer be forged with one or two Arab leaders.” This from a man who delivered his first major address as president on foreign soil in Mubarak’s Egypt, where he said nothing about his recently discovered Arab craving for democracy, but apologized for his own country and criticized Israel.
One surmises that the president is being disingenuous again. He tells Israel and its supporters that, while the United States will always remain in Israel's corner, the rest of the world may not. He does not say whether he is pressuring his European partners to stand with him and with Israel or leading them to conclude that he is hoping someone else (be it they, or a U.N. General Assembly comprised primarily of one-party dictatorships) to rid him of this “meddlesome priest”--this time in the form of a nation Henry Kissinger used to call "intransigent," Israel. How politically incorrect can it be for this pesky, little country that reminds America so much of its inner self, refuses to commit suicide.
It takes a special sense of courage as well as an inner peace and serenity to speak truth to power. As the junior partner of the special friendship that exists between the United States and Israel, Netanyahu did just that in his speech to Congress. No wonder so many--and in both parties--wish they could nominate him.