Talk About Chutzpah

Let us envision for a brief moment the following scenario:

President Barack Obama announces that he has accepted an invitation to address the Israeli Knesset. It just so happens that the invitation was extended by the Knesset speaker, a fierce political foe of the prime minister. The speaker didn’t consult with the prime minister before or after issuing the invitation and, in a break of longstanding diplomatic protocol, Obama declined to even notify Netanyahu that he is coming. Also, in case you were wondering — the reason for the speech is that Obama plans to use the opportunity to express his strong opposition to Netanyahu’s position on foreign policy and to lobby the Knesset members to pass a bill that Netanyahu is vehemently opposed to.

One can only imagine the fury and outrage that such a scenario would arouse. Right-wing pundits would be tripping over each other in their haste to express condemnation. Column after column would be written by opinion writers using every imaginable synonym for the word “outrageous” to describe the astonishing chutzpah being exhibited by Obama’s unprecedented interference in a sovereign country’s internal politics.

In reality, this precise scenario is transpiring — except for the minor detail that the names are reversed. It is actually Netanyahu who is coming to address a joint session of the United States Congress. It was House Speaker John Boehner who extended the invitation so that Netanyahu can pressure members of Congress to pass an Iran sanctions bill that Obama strongly opposes.

In an incredible exhibition of rudeness, Netanyahu decided not to even give Obama the courtesy of advance notification. As can only be expected, the White House was infuriated. But the Israeli prime minister, doubtlessly eager to score some political points only two weeks before he faces a tough re-election, couldn’t care less.

Making it clear that there is no limit to his gall, Netanyahu even asked to meet with Obama during his visit. Fortunately for the president, he was able to truthfully claim that according to longstanding U.S. policy, the president doesn’t meet with foreign leaders in close proximity to their election, and had a perfectly valid reason to turn Netanyahu down.

In this latest fiasco, Netanyahu has proven that he puts his own personal political fortunes before every other consideration. If he does end up managing to put together a coalition and keep his position, Netanyahu will have to deal with Obama for another year and a half.

This move comes at a time when Israel is desperate for America to flex all its international muscle to block Palestinian attempts for statehood at the U.N. and elsewhere. Israel expects and needs that America should act like a good friend — but as far as Netanyahu is concerned, that is only a one-way street. To paraphrase a sentence repeatedly used against Obama by his pro-Israel critics:  “A friend doesn’t treat a friend this way.”

As one senior U.S. official told the media, the breach of protocol by Netanyahu is likely to affect U.S. officials working hard to support Israel on the international stage.

“They come to us with a lot of requests, but don’t have the courtesy of telling us? That is what tipped it for us,” the official reportedly said.

Even if Netanyahu would be right about the sanctions bill — and in a future article, I hope to, b’ezras Hashem, discuss why there is ample reason to assume that he isn’t — he has far more to lose with this trip than he can possibly gain. For one thing, it seems highly unlikely that the Republicans will muster enough Democratic votes to override Obama’s veto. In fact, by embarrassing the president and coming here, Netanyahu is actually doing the exact opposite of what he is seeking — he is helping to convince Democrats to vote against the sanctions bill. If by some chance the bill passes, it will be so watered down that it will have practically no impact at all.

The only tangible accomplishment that Netanyahu will have made — other than perhaps attracting some votes back home — is needlessly antagonizing an American president and worsening an already tense relationship.

It is important for the Jewish community to publicly dissociate itself from Netanyahu’s arrogant antics, which are not only embarrassing, but counterproductive. The conduct of the Israeli premier is the polar opposite of the Torah way.

As we learned in last week’s parashah, Moshe Rabbeinu showed respect when he addressed the evil tyrant Pharaoh. How much more so is the respect and gratitude that we are obligated to exhibit toward the leadership of a medinah shel chessed, one that gives billions of dollars in aid to Israel?

I can only wonder about all those pundits who are always so quick to issue scathing condemnations of Obama. Will they play it fair and turn their righteous wrath against Netanyahu? Or is it that in their eyes Obama can do no right and Bibi no wrong? I can only hope that it will be the former.