Analysis |

Netanyahu Hopes to Ride Rhetoric to Electoral Victory

And two weeks before an election, opposition leader Isaac Herzog loses with his logical but lukewarm response.

Yossi Verter
Yossi Verter
Netanyahu speaks about Iran during a joint meeting of the United States Congress, March 3, 2015.
Netanyahu speaks about Iran during a joint meeting of the United States Congress, March 3, 2015.Credit: AFP
Yossi Verter
Yossi Verter

Menachem Begin won the 1981 election by bombing Iraq’s nuclear reactor. Benjamin Netanyahu hopes to win the 2015 election by doing what he does best — a bombardment of words, words, words.

His speech to Congress Tuesday was a characteristic masterpiece of chilling rhetoric, bordering on the apocalyptic. Even if he said nothing new, the speech succeeded precisely because it was devoid of gimmicks and props. It was modest on pathos, simple in its message and focused on the goal: ruthlessly sabotaging the components and very existence of the nuclear agreement with Iran being discussed in Geneva.

En route, he portrayed President Barack Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry as nave idiots who fell victim to the Persians’ charms and thus failed to see the writing on the wall: that the agreement they're working on is “a very bad deal” that will bring the world to the brink of nuclear disaster and Israel to the brink of annihilation.

This was a strange way of expressing his gratitude to Obama for the assistance — both overt and covert — that the president has given Israel during his time in office, according to no less a personage than Netanyahu himself.

To illustrate his angry prophecy, Netanyahu recruited all the greatest evildoers in history, from Haman to Hitler to Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. The Nazi enemy drew special attention because of the presence in the gallery — seated right beside the prime minister’s wife — of the world’s most famous Holocaust survivor, Nobel Prize laureate Elie Wiesel.

Wiesel seemed a bit confused by the thunderous applause he received. Maybe he secretly thought it was a bit ridiculous when the leader of the strongest military power in the Middle East and beyond was addressing Congress and warning of a second Holocaust awaiting the Jewish people.

After all, given the military and strategic capabilities that Israel, according to both foreign and local reports, possesses, Netanyahu could have bombed all of Iran’s nuclear facilities 100 times and still had ammunition for Syria and other problem countries.

But during six years in office, he hasn’t done so; he has sufficed with a series of speeches that have now climaxed in Congress. There, too, he declared that if Israel stands alone, it will defend itself by itself.

But the words sounded empty, because they’ve already been said far more than once or twice, including at the UN General Assembly a few years ago. And yet nothing has happened: Iran continues merrily enriching uranium.

It’s too early to say whether Bibi’s appearance on Capitol Hill two weeks before the election will stanch his Likud party’s steady decline in the polls and leave him in office for another term. What’s certain is that this week will be dominated by the issue Netanyahu and his campaign staff want to highlight: security, security, security. Or as Netanyahu would put it, “life itself.”

The response by Zionist Union leader Isaac Herzog, delivered in a live broadcast from the Gaza border, was a missed opportunity, and not just because it was cut off midway when it inevitably slid into electioneering. His remarks were indeed levelheaded, logical and responsible — typical Herzog — but he never had a chance. It was like showing a high-school play “in response” to Hollywood’s Oscar extravaganza.

The washed-out lighting behind him as he spoke, the campaign slogans that were cut off in mid-utterance and the general impression of disarray not only didn’t help him, they shone an even brighter light on the speech that had ended a few moments earlier. Maybe he simply should have passed up the opportunity.

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