By: MUTUMA MATHIU
On March 3, this year, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu addressed a joint session of Congress at the US Capitol. It is not entirely unknown for a foreign leader to address Congress in that manner, but it is not an honour frequently extended.
What made this particular one, boycotted by 60 Democrats, unprecedented was that it was a partisan affair.
It was attended by some democrats to be sure but, according to the Guardian, the visit had been hatched by the Israeli ambassador to Washington and Mr John Boehner, the Republican Speaker of the House of Representatives.
And the White House was not involved in arranging that speech, which was being delivered days before the Israeli elections.
And according to the Guardian, the view was that Mr Netanyahu had allied himself with the Republicans to use the platform of the US legislature to attack President Barack Obama’s Middle East policy.
He used the address to go hammer and tongs after Mr Obama in an incident that was read as deeply humiliating for the President. Mr Netanyahu left Washington without a meeting with Mr Obama.
The official explanation was that the White House does not meet foreign leaders who are weeks away from an election so as not to be seen to be influencing the outcome.
According to the media reports I have been reading, Mr Netanyahu has made common cause with a clique of Republican politicians and hawkish, wealthy Israeli supporters in the US to attack and seek to influence US foreign policy and to take on Mr Obama’s policies in a way that has not been tried in the past.
Mr Netanyahu’s barely conceived contempt for Mr Obama and partisanship is seen as having come between his government and Democrats and damaged relations between his country and the White House.
An article in the Times of Israel quotes an interview with former Florida Congressman Robert Wrexler, an Obama supporter, about an incident in May 2011, during which Mr Netanyahu publicly lectured Mr Obama on Middle East policy at the White House.
“I was embarrassed, as an American, that an American President is forced to sit and listen to a reciting of a point of view. Had Prime Minister Netanyahu been the prime minister of probably any other nation on earth, the President would have gotten out of his chair and walked away,” the paper quoted Mr Wrexler as saying.
I followed Mr Obama’s visit very closely and listened attentively to his speeches. What does this guy want, I asked myself? What is he trying to do? Mr Obama thinks we do not get it, that we are a bunch of dimwits who are allowing corruption and tribalism, which held back his own father’s career, to rob us of the opportunity to create a better life for ourselves and our children.
At Kasarani he was telling us to pull ourselves together, get our act together. He also told us to learn from history. If opposition leaders had done their homework a little, they would have known that the mere concept of a foreign leader working with the opposition against a government in office is a red rag for Mr Obama.
He was looking to them to articulate an alternative vision, to be statesmen, to suggest solutions, not just to report, expose, undermine, play party politics.
For they were trying to do to Jubilee, however much it might be seen to deserve it, what the Republicans and Mr Netanyahu have been doing to his Middle East policy. They wasted an important, rare opportunity to serve their country and win a powerful ally.
When he talked about those who wanted the president to fail also wanting the country to fail, he was not just talking about Jubilee and the Kenyan opposition; he might as well have been referring to the Republicans back home who have been working to kill his policies, including Obamacare, which seek to benefit ordinary people.
Mr Obama emerged as a powerful, plain-spoken and honest broker who spoke truth to Kenya’s shallow, tribe-driven, and corrupt political classes. Most important, he made a direct pitch to the people of Kenya and advised: get above this, come out of the swamp.
He used the immense prestige of his office, his personal charisma and political talent to kick us in the right direction. It is the greatest kindness anyone has ever done us. I know Kenyans were listening — I was — and I can only hope the politicians were listening too. Enough is enough.