Anyone who cares about Israel's future could not help but feel a chill upon hearing Benjamin Netanyahu's recent speech at the AIPAC conference - if not because of the gravity of the existential threat it described, then because of its sheer vulgarity and bad taste. The prime minister, as if he were no more than a surfer leaving feedback on a website, did not hesitate to crassly compare Israel today to the situation of European Jewry during the Holocaust. And to spice up his speech with one of those visual gimmicks he so loves, he even pulled out a photostat of correspondence in order to imply a comparison between U.S. President Barack Obama's cautious approach toward attacking Iran and President Franklin D. Roosevelt's refusal to bomb the rail lines to Auschwitz.
Netanyahu sometimes seems like he is holding a debating competition with himself. Every speech is the "speech of his life" and must overshadow its predecessor, while afterward, as if they were rehashing a sporting event, he and his aides gleefully count the number of standing ovations, especially from his American listeners. And in order to wring an ovation from the end of every sentence, it seems as if all means are legitimate: kitsch and death, threats and vows, warnings and rebukes of the entire world.
This time, too, it's not quite clear what he wanted to obtain via this inane rhetoric - a combination of wretchedness and megalomania - aside from applause. Did he want pity? To prick the conscience of the world? To terrify himself, or perhaps to inflame the Churchillian fantasy in which he lives? But one thing is clear: Aside from the fact that he deepened our feelings of victimhood, insulted the American president and narrowed the options for diplomacy, Netanyahu did not improve Israel's situation one jot by this speech, just as he hasn't by any of his others.
Netanyahu isn't the first Israeli prime minister, especially from the right, to harp on the trauma of the Holocaust. But in contrast to Menachem Begin and Ariel Sharon, who at the moment of truth also displayed diplomatic and leadership abilities, Netanyahu was and remains essentially a PR man: someone for whom words and rhetoric replace reality. The spine-chilling fear is that one day, all of us - himself included, despite his caution and hesitation - will discover too late that we have become hostages to his Churchillian speech, but without a Churchillian victory.