By Rabbi Aryeh Spero
It was fitting that Barack Obama was out of the country on the day when a leader walked into a joint session of Congress and spoke the way an American President should.
Benjamin Netanyahu's speech extolled America and the ideals for which it stands. The enthusiasm of the members of both the House and Senate was born not only of their admiration and love for the State of Israel, but also because a man of stature stood before them and announced something they haven't heard during the last two years, namely, that America represents the best the world has ever seen. Unlike President Obama, who has reminded us that American values may not be suitable for most countries, Mr. Netanyahu spoke of his pride that his country, Israel, mirrors the idealism and nobility of America. Contrary to Barack Obama, Netanyahu believes in American exceptionalism.
Having actually been in the House Chamber to witness the event, I was able to see a panorama that one doesn't see on television. The thrill and excitement on the faces, in the applause, in the thirty standing ovations, was internalized by all those who had the privilege of being an immediate participant in this historic moment. They loved the Prime Minister and they loved his speech because he showed his love for America.
When speaking of justice and liberty, Netanyahu spoke about them as enduring principles of the American personality, as opposed to the current President who speaks of them in terms of class warfare, not to mention an America at fault for those within our country he claims have not yet received justice or liberty. He spoke with awe when referring to our Founders and their inscriptions on the monuments that line the Potomac, America's River Jordan. There was nothing in his remarks, unlike the President, that appeared ambivalent about these great men. For Mr. Netanyahu and the members of Congress who rapturously drank in his words of praise about America, it was a refreshing moment.
When speaking of the narrative of his country, Israel, he found no better model than that of America's own narrative. They cheered because, on that spot, where Presidents normally deliver an annual message to our citizens, stood a man who they knew revered what they revere and finds precious what is precious in the hearts of the countrymen whom they represent.
He spoke truth and he spoke as a statesman -- as a leader. Finally, the people's representatives heard a leader casting Iran as the foremost threat to civilization. He spoke of a world divided between liberty and tyranny. The public has starved over the last two years for words of moral clarity. What it has received, instead, has been diplomatic, U.N.-type language that speaks about Iran as if it is but a problem in need of a solution, as opposed to the cataclysmic and moral challenge that it really is. Mr. Netanyahu speaks of ultimate victory, intoning a self-confident righteousness in our cause, whereas Mr. Obama uses the standard, lipid political jargon characteristic of bureaucrats dealing with problems of "de-stabilization".
Instead of a president continually dodging the ideological threat that is Islam and, worse, denying the danger it poses, Mr. Netanyahu spoke forthrightly about the worldwide threat of extreme Islam. He did not speak like a community organizer, nor did he speak as one whose priority is to protect particular constituencies or befriend him to diplomats who populate the United Nations. Unlike the present occupant of the White House, Mr. Netanyahu spoke as a world-class statesman, at times Reagan-esque, and even Churchill-ian.
I saw the faces, the body language, the enthusiasm, the immediacy on each of those filling the seats of august ancestors. Remember, a man such as Eric Cantor, for example, does not simply represent Culpepper, Virginia, but is heir to the seat of James Madison himself. And so it is with so many of our current representatives who are scions of great predecessors. For one hour on May, 24, 2011, our representatives, most of whom see themselves first as Americans, were allowed to imbibe feelings of America's majesty. Finally, the joint session of Congress was not victim of chastisement from a haughty overseer, but a recipient of sweet and reinforcing acknowledgment of our country's greatness. Today, no Supreme Court Justice was reviled, instead the justice of America was extolled.
It was evident from Mr. Netanyahu that not only does he love America, but also loves Americans. Over the last two years, the America people have heard how they "cling to their religion and their guns." They have been forced to listen how their police, such as in Cambridge, are "stupid." They have been humiliated by a man who has gone across the world apologizing for America and its precipitation of so many of the world's ills. They have heard their own president characterize this nation as "sometimes arrogant". Perhaps, worst of all, they have had to endure a nauseating rewriting of their own history and sacrifice by a President who errantly speaks of the great contributions that Islam made from early on in our history in the development of this country. Today Mr. Netanyahu came in front of the entire Congress of the United States "not to bury her, but to praise her." It was as if for one day we had an American President again.
Rabbi Spero is president of Caucus For America, and can be reached at (212) 252-6861, or caucusforamerica.com