Despite Everything, a Historic Speech by Netanyahu

Due to the world reactions to Netanyahu's address, I have the feeling – or maybe it’s a wish – that the agreement with Iran, in its current, execrable form, will not be signed.

Israel Harel
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A picture taken in Tehran on March 4, 2015 shows the front pages of Iranian newspapers displaying headlines in response to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's Congress address. Credit: AFP
Israel Harel

Among a sizable portion of the people, those who have yet to be overcome by cynicism, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s speech to the U.S. Congress on Tuesday aroused feelings of pride and identification. I know respected people, who are critical by nature and do not vote Likud, who during certain parts of the speech became emotional to the point of tears. They of course identified with the basic messages against Iran, but felt a special lifting of their spirits from the dramatic laying out of the suffering of the Jewish people throughout the generations (even though the Israeli media, in characteristic fashion, related to this aspect with ridicule).

The articulation, expressive description and integration of past and present are what gave Netanyahu’s speech before Congress a historic dimension, beyond its setting. The senators and congress members did not fake their approval, enthusiasm and frequent standing ovations; they responded in the way every wise person with a conscience would respond if they had been there. Fair-minded Israelis, those who are not infected with a loathing of Netanyahu for its own sake, or with self-hatred, felt it. They were honored by the honor given their prime minister, who, by implication, honored them, their people, homeland and state.

If only Netanyahu’s opponents were gentlemen and patriots, they would have identified (how could it be otherwise?) with the content of this speech and say that with regard to the bomb and the apparent bad agreement in the making, there is no coalition and no opposition in Israel, elections notwithstanding.

That is how they could have left with their honor intact, giving a personal example of how to hold a public debate. If only Isaac Herzog had raised himself above all this, I am convinced that something fundamental would have changed toward him in public opinion. Herzog could have proved that he is endowed, despite the doubts, with the characteristics of a leader. And the voters would have responded appropriately. After all, a large part of the public shares many of his criticisms – about the housing crisis, ethical norms and other social, economic and security problems.

But Herzog and his colleagues responded according to their measure: As small-time politicos. They joined together, riding on media’s enthusiasm to help them on the eve of the elections, with the Netanyahu’s opponents in the White House, State Department and American media.

One example out of many: Razi Barkai of Army Radio interviewed two people – the first was Martin Indyk, a long-time opponent, to say the least, of Netanyahu and leader of the Washington forum identified with President Barack Obama and the left wing of the Democratic Party; the second, a regular interviewee on Barkai’s show, was Thomas Friedman of the New York Times.

The two interviewees were, of course, highly critical of the speech. Friedman warned about the address – also on Army Radio – before it was delivered. With all due respect to Friedman, who plays golf with Obama, there are other columnists – like Friedman, recipients of the Pulitzer Prize – who actually support Netanyahu. Columnists who think their president is making a mistake concerning Iran (and not only Iran), and who thought the speech was brilliant and particularly effective.

One of them, Charles Krauthammer, whose column in the Washington Post is syndicated in hundreds of other newspapers, was interviewed on Fox News about Netanyahu’s address to Congress. His response: The speech was inspiring, convincing, and will have a positive influence. I do not remember ever hearing Krauthammer on one of Barkai’s programs – or in any other Israeli news medium – or George Will, also a syndicated and influential columnist at the Washington Post – and a Pulitzer laureate – or Bret Stephens, a columnist and editor at the Wall Street Journal who won a Pulitzer in 2013. They are simply too pro-Israeli.

A key reason for the resounding response the speech received around the world was the criticism leveled against it, chiefly in Israel, before it was given. Based on the pertinent, positive responses, mostly from the world press (where there are still thinking people who are balanced in their judgment), I have the feeling – or maybe it’s a wish – that the agreement with Iran, in its current, execrable form, will not be signed. The coming days – and Israel’s actions – will tell.

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