Friday October 9, 2015
Israel Hayom
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Assessment in Jerusalem: First the carrot, then the stick
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Yaakov Ahimeir

Why is Obama boycotting the Knesset?

The Knesset has long served as an arena for political wrangling, slinging insults and saber rattling — in addition to brainstorming and legislating proper laws. Now, the Knesset is preparing itself to digest U.S. President Barack Obama's insulting refusal to deliver his keynote address at the head of the plenum, thereby failing to acknowledge the Knesset as a symbol of Israeli sovereignty. Obama will deliver his keynote address at the International Convention Center in Jerusalem, instead.

The purpose of Obama's trip was to stoke warmth in his relations with Israeli citizens. Obama probably isn't going to feel all that comfortable in Israel, especially after recent polls showed that most Israelis are not big fans of the U.S. president. Obama's inability to guide his relations respectfully or politely with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in discussions over the Iranian threat and arrangements with the Palestinians influenced such sentiments. Maybe people aren't taking Obama's efforts to tighten security ties with Israel into account. U.S. financial support for the development of the Iron Dome missile defense system was one such effort.

To put it bluntly, Obama is boycotting the Knesset. Obama, who was a senator before he was elected president, could have honored the Knesset, the home and theater of elected officials and their constituents. So why is he disregarding the Knesset? Perhaps consultants in the U.S. or Israel advised Obama to stay away from the Knesset. Perhaps they feared disorderly conduct or snide interjections during his speech, which would have embarrassed the U.S. president and Israel on the global stage. Obama made his first speech in the region early in his first term as president at Cairo University and not the Egyptian parliament, so his advisers may have also sought "balance."

It's no accident that Obama made the unfortunate decision to speak at the ICC rather than at the Knesset. The White House doesn't plan such momentous presidential events flippantly. Every second and every step is punctiliously arranged, especially when it comes to a massive political event such as delivering a speech to Israel's students. Veteran MK Binyamin (Fouad) Ben-Eliezer actually suggested that the Knesset host Obama in the same way it has hosted other heads of state (French President Nicolas Sarkozy, U.S. President George W. Bush, and Egyptian President Anwar Sadat, among others). Obama's decision to pass over the Knesset was met with silence, indifference, and credulousness. Will Knesset MKs, especially freshmen parliamentarians, accept Obama's decision to neglect the national assembly hall in favor of the ICC?

Perhaps the Knesset benefited from Obama's clear disregard. When Obama appears before both houses of Congress to deliver the traditional State of the Union address, American lawmakers respond with acclamation and applause in the same way legislators have for generations. Obama's opponents are even more ecstatic than his supporters — everyone altogether, supporters and opponents alike, cheer the president on. This is a fantastically dignified and respectful practice. When Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu addressed the Knesset's opening session, certain MKs had to be dragged from the hall for insolent exclamations, as if they won't have the opportunity to lash out at him in the future.

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