Sunday, January 25, 2015

King Bibi, Messiah Bibi

The furor over Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's shock-and-awe campaign for stricter sanctions against Iran took a new turn this week when US Speaker of the House John Boehner dropped a diplomatic bombshell: Netanyahu would be invited to deliver a speech to a joint session of Congress on March 3, in defiance of the Obama White House. Truth be told, the invitation had been negotiated in a closely-held round of talks between Boehner's office and the Israeli ambassador to Washington, Ron Dermer. On the day of the announcement, Dermer had held a two hour meeting with US Secretary of State John Kerry, and uttered not a word about the pending trip.
In Israel, the surprise announcement has been roundly criticized in the media and amongst Netanyahu's political opponents, but it remains to be seen how the ploy will play with Netanyahu's base and with undecided voters in national elections to be held exactly two weeks after the speech. Even Dan Margalit, columnist for Israel Hayom - the Sheldon Adelson-financed free newspaper which many identify as an organ for Netanyahu's amen corner - criticized the timing and stylistics of what otherwise Margalit regards as a just cause.
In the United States, the Republicans are crowing over the poke-in-the-eye delivered to a President they believe coddles the dithering and duplicitous Iranians. Democrats are furious with Netanyahu, and the White House can hardly contain its anger. American Jews are collectively wringing their hands, No less an Israel supporter than Abe Foxman has called the invitation "ill-advised."
Time Magazine once proclaimed Netanyahu "King Bibi." But I think he is going for something more. When, I asked myself, was the last time a Jew has traveled to the Emperor's doorstep to admonish the Emperor? It's been nearly 750 years since a Jew challenged the reigning hegemon of his day. In 1280 the Jewish mystic Abraham Abulafia travelled to Rome to convert Pope Nicholas III to Judaism. The Pope was at his palace in Soriano, and defying a threat to be burned at the stake, Abulafia traveled to the castle, and was immediately placed under arrest for his insolence, and was ordered to be put to death for his outrage. Only when learning that the Pope himself died was Abulafia released, and from there he went on to Sicily to pronounce himself Messiah. Abulafia, who has left us dozens of books, some of an autobiographical nature, soon disappeared from the historical record. To this day we do not know the precise date of his death. As with all false messiahs, he didn't deliver.
Is that the new role that Netanyahu is taking on for himself? Netanyahu's father was a medieval historian, his brother a lionized martyr from the 1976 Entebbe raid. Netanyahu sees himself on an historic mission to deliver his nation from an Iranian nuclear armageddon. He is a Prime Minister soon to be reelected and to thereby become the longest-serving Prime Minister in Israeli history, even outdistancing the historic founder David Ben-Gurion.
Is Bibi maneuvering to something more than King of the Jewish state? Is he going for the ultimate crown?
This won't end well.

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