Something to never forget about politicians: They never mean what they say, or at least rarely do. Let’s take the remarks of Republican House Speaker John Boehner’s spokesman that Boehner is about to travel to Israel. (Is it me, or is it slightly strange that a “speaker” has a spokesman to speak for him? But I digress.) The stated reason? To discuss “our shared priorities for peace and security in the region, and further strengthening the bond between the United States and Israel.”
Yeah, sure, whatever. If anyone thinks it doesn’t also have a lot to do with the GOP trying to put a wedge between American Jews and the Democrats, for whom they traditionally vote by margins of as high as 3-1, I have some land in the Golan Heights I’d like to sell him.
Boehner will be meeting with Benjamin Netanyahu and celebrating his election victory with him. And why not? That invitation behind the back of President Barack Obama for Netanyahu to speak before a joint meeting of Congress may have contributed to his victory — Bibi’s, not Boehner’s. Although it probably didn’t hurt the speaker’s cause with his far-right members back in D.C., the ones who have been making John Boehner’s leadership of them an empty shell. Maybe they’ll appreciate his going to such outlandish lengths to stick it to the man … the man in this case being the president of the United States they so despise.
And let’s not forget that letter to the Iranians signed by 47 GOP senators seeking to advance Netanyahu’s efforts to sabotage the deal that seems to be in the works to inhibit Iran’s nuclear ambitions. You know the one: It’s being negotiated between the U.S. administration and Iran, along with European leaders, the Russians and the Chinese. That Republican letter even has been called “treason,” which it is not, but it is widely described as clownish judgment, which it definitely is, unless one factors in the party’s efforts to gain support among Americans who support the existence of Israel, which of course includes most of us, Jews and non-Jews alike.
It certainly also would include one Barack Obama. A reminder for Republicans: He is the man elected twice to be the nation’s chief executive. He also is making it clear that he’s not about to carry on the tradition of genuflecting to Israeli leaders. In fact, Obama has gone out of his way to display his personal disregard for Netanyahu, particularly Bibi’s last-minute moves to appeal to his country’s far right and survive the election. Netanyahu has been backtracking and apologizing every chance he gets, but Obama is having none of it. He’s also even expressing disdain for Bibi’s immediate back-stepping. The bad blood is flowing out there for all of us to see.
But with all the public hopelessness , maybe it’s time for the Pollyannas to step in and remember our thesis: Politicians rarely mean what they say.
Messrs. Netanyahu and Obama definitely are politicians. So maybe all this show of contempt is largely just that — a show. Perhaps the two are just jockeying for position, trying to establish the basis for genuine negotiations. That is opposed to the years of futility where all sides have demonstrated only one common characteristic: slipperiness.
If there’s anyone in Israel who could credibly participate in an accommodation, it’s the hard-liner Benjamin Netanyahu. If there is anyone who can deal with him, now that the foul air is clearing, it’s Mr. Obama.
But to make sure we don’t get carried away with optimism, let’s not forget the politicians who are currently trying to undermine any bargain with Iran, which would be the Republicans, whose real intention is just to advance their own interests, even at the expense of their country’s.
Bob Franken is a longtime broadcast journalist, including 20 years at CNN.