Netanyahu Spoke Truth. Few Heard.

Netanyahu isn’t generating much interest in the U.S. because he frames the Iranian nuclear threat in Jewish and Israeli terms instead of as a universal concern directly affecting Americans.

Ari Shavit
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Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu addresses a joint meeting of Congress in the House Chamber on Capitol Hill in Washington, March 3, 2015.Credit: Reuters
Ari Shavit

WASHINGTON — Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s third address to a joint session of Congress was sad. He told the truth but few were listening.

Netanyahu warned of a real threat but few have internalized the threat. He issued a justified wakeup call but no one woke up. The haters hated as usual, the fans swooned as usual, and nobody moved from one side of the barrier to the other.

The man who tried to divert the river of history altered nothing. He caused no disaster (as many had speculated), nor did he bring salvation (as some had hoped). It’s as if Netanyahu’s speech never happened.

The first reason Netanyahu failed to leave his mark on the superpower on which he wants to leave his mark is the “crying wolf” phenomenon.

Netanyahu is warning about a real wolf, but this wolf is more sophisticated than he is. He doesn’t burst into the sleepy village, but crawls into it slowly. As a result, the cries of the hapless shepherd are dismissed as hysterical.

The gap between the danger that the guard at the gate sees and the deep need of those being warned not to see the danger is widening.

The second reason Netanyahu failed to make an impression on America is partisan.

Netanyahu is perceived in Israel as the flesh and blood of the Republican Party. The general feeling in Washington is that if he looks like a Republican, sounds like a Republican, and is funded like a Republican, he is apparently a Republican.

Add to that the presence of Sheldon Adelson, whose Israel Hayom newspaper is perceived as sharply pro-Netanyahu.

What would Netanyahu think if U.S. President Barack Obama came to speak at the Knesset accompanied by Yedioth Ahronoth publisher Noni Mozes and Daniel Lubetsky, one of the patrons of V15, a movement calling for a change in government? That’s what every liberal Democrat in America is thinking and saying.

For the first time in history, Israel’s prime minister is perceived as a player in U.S. domestic politics. That’s why people no longer relate to his historical analyses as serious prophecies of doom but as political statements that have a political agenda – slamming Obama.

But the main reason that Netanyahu isn’t generating much interest in America is that he insists on talking about the Iranian nuclear threat in Jewish and Israeli terms.

America still greatly admires Israel, but no superpower (like the U.S.) is going to change its policy toward a regional power (like Iran) because of its affection for an ally (like Israel). Netanyahu’s remarks about Haman and Jewish history and Israeli pride don’t mean anything to Joe the Plumber in Ohio. And if Joe isn’t shuddering, America won’t budge.

The argument against the ayatollahs’ nuclearization can and must be a universal argument, one that proves to every American that Iranian nuclear bombs threaten his freedom, his way of life, and his children’s future.

But instead of making a global and American argument, Netanyahu keeps returning to his Holocaust-Masada speeches, whose influence on the American consciousness is limited. That’s why they listened and applauded but didn’t take him seriously.

The earth did not move; the ground did not shake. The attempt to change something failed. Netanyahu came, spoke and disappeared.

This could be how history remembers the outgoing prime minister: Netanyahu came, spoke and disappeared. The raison d’tre of his second and third terms was Iran.

But when it came to Iran, Netanyahu was right, but he wasn’t smart. When it came to Iran, Netanyahu told the truth and failed.

If he loses power on March 17, all he will leave behind are theatrical speeches to Congress that added nothing, subtracted nothing and changed nothing.

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