Has there ever been a moment like the one Benjamin Netanyahu had today following his meeting with President Obama? I can’t think of one. When has a president ever made a joint appearance with the leader of an ally in the wake of a controversial policy proposal, only to have that ally push back against him publicly? Netanyahu’s powerful—and surprisingly graceful, considering the context—remarks can be read in full here. The only moment that even remotely compares wasn’t a diplomatic one; it was when Elie Wiesel, during the dustup over Ronald Reagan’s visit to the Bitburg cemetary in West Germany in 1985, was given a Medal of Freedom and with beautiful understatement said to the president, “This place is not your place.” We got a glimpse of the Bibi that so electrified the world in the late 1980s and early 1990s when he was serving as Israel’s chief spokesman in the English language in this stunning passage:
We’ve been around for almost 4,000 years. We have experienced struggle and suffering like no other people. We’ve gone through expulsions and pogroms and massacres and the murder of millions.
But I can say that even at the dearth of — even at the nadir of the valley of death, we never lost hope and we never lost our dream of re-establishing a sovereign state in our ancient homeland, the land of Israel. And now it falls on my shoulders as the prime minister of Israel at a time of extraordinary instability and uncertainty in the Middle East to work with you to fashion a peace that will ensure Israel’s security and will not jeopardize its survival.
I take this responsibility with pride but with great humility, because, as I told you in our conversation, we don’t have a lot of margin for error and because, Mr. President, history will not give the Jewish people another chance.
It was very nervy of Bibi, and certainly opens him up to the charge of being chutzpahdik with Israel’s greatest ally. But what exactly did he have to lose? He faces a hostile president, but one who governs a country overwhelmingly supportive of Israel. Could things get worse with Obama than they were last year? And could things get better for Netanyahu if Obama finds he is paying a price for being at odds with the American people on one of the few foreign policy issues they care about?