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“I went to Paris not just as the prime minister of Israel but as a representative of the entire Jewish people,” Netanyahu said late on Sunday, in a reference to his visit to the French capital following the January murders at the Charlie Hebdo magazine and a kosher supermarket in the city.
Then, alluding to House Speaker John Boehner's invitation to address a joint session of Congress over Iran, Netanyahu let it be known that on March 3rd, he'd once again be speaking for all Jews:
“Just as I went to Paris, so I will go anyplace I’m invited to convey the Israeli position against those who want to kill us."
American Jews, brace yourselves. Netanyahu, having spent much of his youth in America, ought to know you better. But no such luck. The prime minister relates to American Jews like a house-pet dog, trainable, capable of being useful, manageable, tamed to violate its undesirable inbred instincts.
Besides, what does Netanyahu care? You can tell Israelis anything you like about American Jews. In Hebrew, anyway. Neither will ever know the difference.
The fact is, though, that it does matter. What he does represents Israel, and how he does it – insulting allies, mystifying and horrifying the world's largest Diaspora Jewish community – has a huge effect.
He may choose not to see it. The back of his hand continues to be licked by the likes of the Zionist Organization of America, and American audiences, some of them anyway, continue to stand on their hind legs at his every oratorical flourish. Maybe that's enough for him.
Nonetheless, the question remains:
How dare Netanyahu speak in the name of American Jewry?
How dare he pretend that he has more than a shred in common with the values of the vast majority of this community, which overwhelmingly supports equal rights and opportunities for minorities, which strongly backs exhausting all diplomatic avenues and possibilities of compromise before resorting to the use of military force, which abhors supremacism and carefully couched racism and religious intolerance and institutionalized denial of due process to asylum seekers and jailed Palestinians, children among them; a community which in large part favors a two-state solution and has zero sympathy for occupation.
How dare Benjamin Netanyahu pose as a representative of the Jewish people in America and elsewhere, when he does everything in his power to undermine, humiliate, and implicitly demonize as anti-Israel a man whom seven of every ten American Jewish voters chose to represent them – in part because of Barack Obama's role in fostering security cooperation with Israel, including additional funding for the Iron Dome rocket defense system?
For that matter, how can Netanyahu so wholeheartedly fake a pose as the representative leader of the Jewish people, when a Monday opinion survey commissioned by Israel Army Radio showed that 47 percent of his own Israeli public now believes that he should cancel his speech to Congress? According to the survey, only 34 percent of Israelis believe that Netanyahu should go through with the speech.
Until now, he's been feeding his electorate on the idea that Israel defends itself by itself, that America's little more than a hindrance to Israel's pursuit of self-defense.
Netanyahu's message is a simple one: I keep you alive. No one else knows what I know. No one else does what I do. I keep Israel from being overrun by Islamist decapitators. Vote for me, or die.
There are people – both here and there – who lap up this stuff. And maybe that will be enough to see him through yet another squeak-through victory.
But if the Army Radio poll is indicative, the idea of empty seats in Washington's capitol chamber is not playing the way Netanyahu had hoped. The prime minister wants to be seen as valiantly soldiering on despite being unfairly victimized by people – in this case, Democrats - who don't understand what Israelis go through, what they feel, what they need, the dangers they face.
It's not going as hoped
When all of this speech business began, Netanyahu seemed to have pulled off the political trifecta: a projected grand climax to his own election campaign, a huge gesture to the Republican Party, and a telling slap to Obama's face.
Lately, though, that's not the way it's playing here. It's beginning to appear less and less like a plea for sanctions more and more like make-believe, the ploy of ploys.
If, in fact, Netanyahu's people conclude that the speech has become a campaign liability and he finds a way to cancel, then all of us – American Jews included – will know for sure what the speech was for in the first place.
We will know that it had very little to do with Iran. We will know that it had everything to do with Benjamin Netanyahu being able to continue to sit behind his desk for a few more years, and blow his dog whistle, and pretend – at least to himself - to be the prime minister of the Jewish people.