GA 2009 / What Will Netanyahu Tell America's Jews?

Prime Minister set to speak at annual Jewish conference, likely to appeal to American Jews to stand with Israel.

WASHINGTON D.C. - The speeches by Israeli Ambassador Michael Oren and Rep. Eric Cantor at the opening of the annual conference of the Jewish Federations of North America took the same tone Sunday - at the same time pugnacious and conciliatory. The perceived nuclear threat from Iran and the quantifiable danger of Hamas in Gaza and Hezbollah in Lebanon were addressed with cold determination - don't provoke us, or you will be sorry.

But the appeal to the Jewish community was very different. The message in a nutshell: United we stand, divided we fall. The Jews of the world must stand with Israel in the face of many threats. Both cited the delegitimization of Israel, in particular as a result of the Goldstone report on Israel's conflict with Hamas in Gaza last winter. The report, both said, weakened Israel's ability to protect itself, not militarily, but as a sovereign state with the right to defend its civilians from enemy assaults.

Oren told the conference: "We will fight the terrorists, we will protect ourselves from Iran and we will resist attempts to discredit us."

Appealing to the Jewish Diaspora, he drew a direct line from the tribal "nomads" who first found belief in one God three thousand years ago in what is now Israel to the "tiny remnant... rising from the ashes of the world's greatest massacre [who] returned to that land, and [who] reclaimed it."

"Our strength derives from the belief that we have a right to independence in our tribal land, the land of Israel, and that Jews have a right to defend themselves, there and everywhere," he said. "That Jews have a right to survive as Jews and as a legitimate nation."

Cantor was equally succinct: "Our long history as Jews gives us the unique perspective and ability to unite in the face of serious challenges to our country and to Israel. This is what has sustained us as a people throughout the ages, and now more than ever as Israel and America face dire existential threats from the outside. It's what must continue to sustain us now."

Like Oren, he cited the Holocaust as a cautionary tale of what happens when Jews are not vigilant to the threat of anti-Semitism.

"Too many American Jews have become desensitized to the fires that threaten the Jews of Israel and of Europe," Cantor said. "It can't happen to us, they think, as if the anti-Semitic vitriol surging across the internet and spewing across American college campuses has no meaning and that somehow they will be unharmed by the lies spread about Israel and the Jewish people."

So what will Benjamin Netanyahu say? It is difficult to imagine that the prime minister will stray from the party line clearly vocalized by his ambassador, which was met with great gusto by the crowd here. The message will undoubtedly be an appeal for American Jewry to stand with Israel, and its policies, no matter what comes out of the White House. Anything else will result in disaster for Israel.

According to the prime minister's office, this speech will be Netanyahu's "Bar-Ilan speech to the Jewish world" - a reference to his address at an Israeli university in which Netanyahu laid out his diplomatic vision.

Netanyahu's meeting with President Barack Obama, unconfirmed until almost the last minute, may have a very different tone. Obama's secretary of state was quite clear on her recent Mideast tour: the Israeli policy on settlements is not in tandem with the expectations of the White House. While Hillary Clinton acknowledged in Tel Aviv that the latest Israeli gesture on halting settlement construction is unprecedented, it is not enough.

Some at the conference believe that Obama never had any intention of speaking here, and that the terrible massacre in Texas gave him a palatable reason to duck out. Obama is trying to bring Netanyahu and Israel to heel, they say, and his absence at the conference and his reluctance to commit to a meeting with the prime minister are signs of that.