With the U.S. Congress safely in his back pocket, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has turned his charm offensive on the Vatican. How is that working out for him?
It does not look promising. The Prime Minister forgot the first rule of charm school: Target your prey gently. Avoid all punches to the mid-section.
The international Jewish News Agency (JTA) reported on Monday's meeting between Netanyahu and Pope Francis:
"Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at a Vatican audience with Pope Francis reportedly invited the pontiff to visit Israel. No date has been set for a visit by Francis to Israel, Vatican spokesman Father Federico Lombardi said. Netanyahu on Monday presented the pope with a book about the Spanish Inquisition written by his father, the late historian Benzion Netanyahu."
An invitation to drop by for a visit to Tel Aviv along with a gift to the Holy Father recalling the dark moments of the Spanish Inquisition? Bad form, Mr. Prime Minister.
The book delivered to the Pope was written by Netanyahu's father, Ben-Zion Netanyahu, who died recently at the age of 102. The pride of a son could be one justification for the gift. The book, The Origins of the Inquisition in 15th Century Spain, is considered the elder Netanyahu's finest work.
The Seattle Post-Intelligencer was quick to note the incongruity of a book as a gift to the Pope which denounces the sins of Pope Francis' 15th century predecessor, one that "largely revolves about Spanish Catholics questioning, torturing, and punishing Jewish converts to Catholicism," a practice first legally sanctioned by Pope Innocent IV in 1252.
The Seattle PI adds:
"The elder Netanyahu's impact on his politician son is well-known within Israeli circles. In 1998, David Remnick of the New Yorker wrote that while Ben-Zion Netanyahu's opinions frequently differed from his son, the pessimism of his right wing worldview influenced his son's hawkish policies. 'His dilemma is always to what degree he can, or should, remain true to the ideals, the stubbornness, of his father,' Remnick observed. The book given to the pope, Remnich adds 'reflects that deep pessimism.'"
If the Pope accepts Netanyahu's invitation and presents his own tit-for-tat gift to Netanyahu, there is a document in the Vatican library he could copy and take with him to Tel Aviv.
From what we are learning about this new pontiff, that Vatican document is not a gift Francis is likely to consider. Tit-for-tat does not appear to be the style of this pope.
Nevertheless, the document resting in the Vatican library files is one the Pope might read closely before he engages in further dialogue with the Israeli leader.
This Vatican document is referenced in an important new book by Scott Anderson, Lawrence In Arabia: War, Deceit, Imperial Folly and the Making of the Modern Middle East.
So important is this book that it received two laudatory views in the New York Times, one month apart.
In his Times review, Alex von Tunzelmann capsules the narrative of the book: