For weeks now, the news in Israel has been dominated by election issues. Each party is jockeying against the other for favorable positioning with the Israeli electorate. But what has characterized this election campaign more than any other is the coalition of left and left-leaning parties whose campaigns are one giant negative spin which can be summarized in 3 words: Just not Bibi!. Bibi, the affectionate nickname of Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, has become the object of a fierce campaign, primarily in one media outlet (YNET), and everything he does or says is subject to intense criticism and even mockery.
Against this background, the spin surrounding Netanyahu’s speech before Congress focused more on the rift between Netanyahu and Obama that surrounded the speech than the content and substantive background of his speech. I am not sure which came first – the US administration’s objection to the speech or Israeli left-wing opposition, but there is no question that they fed each other. Every statement issued by the White House against Netanyahu was broadcast in Israel as support for the left and comments by Israeli Prime Minister contenders Herzog and Livni were broadcast in the US as support for Obama’s position.
CFOIC Heartland in the News…
But at the end of the day, the speech was not about Israeli elections. Nor was it about the rift between Obama and Netanyahu. The speech was about Iran. In fact, Netanyahu mentioned Iran more than 100 times in his speech! And he warmly saluted President Obama and the US for their support of Israel. And, of course, he did not mention Israeli elections even once. Netanyahu did not mince words to convey what he believes is the main issue of the day – stopping Iran from obtaining a nuclear bomb.
I can well understand why Obama worked so hard to prevent Netanyahu’s appearance in Congress. And he did a good job of drafting a few radical left wing congressmen and senators to absent themselves from the speech. It was Netanyahu who initiated the entire sanctions campaign a number of years ago, going to Congress as well as to the UN to promote this idea and to urge the western nations to use their enormous power to stop Iran.
Netanyahu appeared in Congress this time to directly counter the President’s approach to Iran. He called the agreement currently under discussion a bad agreement and posed a blunt challenge to the notion that a bad agreement is better than no agreement. He noted emphatically that no agreement is better than a bad one and that the alternative to a bad agreement is not war but a better agreement.
Netanyahu noted that Iran needs this agreement more than we do. It is Iran which is suffering under crippling sanctions and it is those very sanctions which has forced Iran to the negotiating table to begin with. Continued crippling sanctions will force Iran to agree to a better deal! This is so obvious a point that I could only wonder why no one had mentioned this before. Why is it that the US and the European nations are so eager to reach a deal? There are no sanctions being imposed on them! And then it occurred to me – these nations are probably being pressured by companies in their midst to lift these sanctions because they want to trade with Iran. Is it possible that the US and Europe are more eager to lift sanctions than Iran is?
Netanyahu mentioned the Holocaust and referred to renowned author and Nobel Laureate Elie Wiesel, who was present in the audience. Wiesel is a Holocaust survivor and through his books and his public activities over the years, has become the foremost spokesperson for human responsibility to prevent another Holocaust. Wiesel supported Netanyahu in his determination to speak to Congress and like Netanyahu, believes that Israel is standing on the brink of destruction, should Iran go forward with its nuclear program. “Never again!” stated Netanyahu emphatically, a refrain that refers to Jewish determination never to allow another campaign of destruction against our people.
In the 1940’s, photographs of the gas chambers were smuggled out of Auschwitz at great sacrifice and were presented to President Roosevelt. Jewish leaders pleaded with the president to bomb the gas chambers or the railroad tracks leading to Auschwitz to at least slow down the daily murder of tens of thousands of Jews. Roosevelt refused. The American Jewish community at that time in history was weak and small and powerless to do more than it did. There was no State of Israel to send out fighter pilots of its own to save the day. But times have changed. We have our own state and as Netanyahu made clear, we will do whatever we have to do, even if it makes the current American president and the Europeans angry, to save our people and our country.
Ironically, it was Obama and the left-wing media’s campaign against Netanyahu’s speech that turned it into the media event of the year. Had the fuss not been created, it is doubtful that so many would have made sure to tune into the speech as it was being delivered live, that so many front page headlines would have been devoted to it both before and after the speech was delivered. So, in effect, Obama enabled millions of people world-wide to listen to Netanyahu and be persuaded by the solid logic of his presentation. There are those who believe, as well, that by complimenting Obama and the Democratic party at the beginning of his speech, Netanyahu enabled the solid center of the Democratic party to support the continuation of sanctions that he is seeking from Congress. But time will tell.
As an Israeli watching the speech live on my computer, I was overwhelmed with emotion as I watched Netanyahu being welcomed in Congress as His Excellency the Prime Minister of Israel, accompanied down the central aisle of Congress and cheered from every corner of the American legislature. That is my prime minister and he is there to present the case for my country, I said to myself as tears filled my eyes.
Just 70 years ago, my people were being burned in the crematoria at Auschwitz on European soil while the world stood by and did nothing. And we were helpless. And today, the leader of the Jewish people, the Prime Minister of the State of Israel, is welcomed with the honor of kings and cheered in the halls of government of the most powerful nation on earth.
I have no idea whether Netanyahu’s speech will achieve the result he intended. But I do know that we must thank G-d for where we are today. “The Lord has done this, and it is marvelous in our eyes. The Lord has done it this very day; let us rejoice today and be glad.” (Psalm 118:23-24)