Benjamin Netanyahu served as Israel’s prime minister for 15 years. Some would say, 15 long years.
Bibi, as he is called, held the position longer than any other prime minister in Israel’s 73-year history. Do the math and you realize that Bibi was prime minister for about 20% of the Jewish State’s history.
Given that Israel is a democracy, that’s impressive.
For years, Netanyahu was the darling of dignitaries and a sought-after friend of Western society. He was the consummate and charismatic politician.
He was a gifted and unaccented speaker. He was a military hero with a degrees in economics. He had it all.
Today, Benjamin Netanyahu is still involved in government – heavily involved. He serves as head of the opposition.
But it’s just not the same. Israel’s foreign ministry has put out a statement revealing that foreign dignitaries visiting Israel are no longer requesting to meet former Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu.
Is this a case of: “Oh, how the mighty have fallen.”
Or is it perhaps: “Sometimes you need to know when to hang up your spikes.”
It is probably both.
And it is more than a simple slight to Netanyahu. It is a seismic shift in protocol.
Traditional diplomatic protocol in Israel has been that when foreign dignitaries visit, they meet with both the country’s prime minister and with the leader of the opposition. But judging by the number of official requests that have been submitted to meet with him, it appears that Bibi has fallen from international grace.
Obviously, the former prime minister knows Israel’s protocol procedures. He knows who has been in and out of his country and he knows what has been added to his calendar. And he is not pleased.
The foreign ministry has said that if there is a request to meet with the head of the opposition, they will set it up. The operative word here is “if.” A statement released by the office of Foreign Minister Yair Lapid reads:
“It is a long-standing procedure that the opposition leader may meet with diplomatic delegations arriving in Israel. That happened when Lapid was opposition leader, as well.
“Unfortunately, after we checked the matter again, none of the delegations expressed an interest in meeting with opposition leader Netanyahu, and therefore, we were not asked to coordinate such a meeting.”
The statement, while politely phrased, after all they are diplomats, was not totally correct. Netanyahu did meet with Colombian President Ivan Duque on his visit to Israel.
The big blow to Netanyahu — a blow to both his ego and his stature within his party, was that he was not sought out by and, consequently, did not meet with either of the two United States congressional delegations that visited Israel last week. A total of 15 senators and congresspeople toured Israel and they did not meet with Netanyahu. Not one of them.
Once great leaders, sometimes, fall from grace.
In March of 2015 Prime Minister Netanyahu came to the United States and was invited to address both Houses of Congress in a joint session. It was record-breaking performance. Benjamin Netanyahu received more applause interruptions and standing ovations than any other speaker in the history of the Congress.
Netanyahu’s speech, however, was not appreciated by all the important personalities in government. The address took place while then President Barack Obama was out of the country and he was not pleased. Not pleased that Netanyahu was given the floor and not pleased by the content of his speech to Congress.
Bibi, once the darling of Congress, was able to lobby U.S. leadership for causes important to Israel. He was masterful.
But things change. Times change. People change. Political climates change.
One of the biggest mistakes that politicians, like professional athletes, make is that they do not know when to retire. It is called the Babe Ruth phenomenon. It’s when an athlete ruins their record and career because their ego prevents them from retiring.
There comes a time for every politician to sit back, reflect and write their memoir. Now might be the right time for Benjamin "Bibi" Netanyahu.
Micah Halpern is a political and foreign affairs commentator. He founded "The Micah Report" and hosts "Thinking Out Loud with Micah Halpern" a weekly TV program and "My Chopp" a daily radio spot. Follow him on Twitter @MicahHalpern. Read Micah Halpern's Reports — More Here.