Netanyahu’s Paris Comeback

The prime minister may be tired and under pressure, but he doesn’t deserve the scorn heaped on him this week.

Tal Niv
Tal Niv
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Netanyahu and Hollande attend a ceremony at the Paris Grand Synagogue to the victims of the Paris attacks this week. January 11, 2014.
Netanyahu and Hollande attend a ceremony at the Paris Grand Synagogue to the victims of the Paris attacks this week. January 11, 2014.Credit: Reuters
Tal Niv
Tal Niv

Yes, Benjamin Netanyahu was placed in the front row. The French weekly “Paris Match” wrote that the prime minister – who suffered plenty of scorn back home for having pushed and been pushed – was placed in the front row at the rally in Paris to commemorate those murdered in last week’s terror attacks. And his placement in the front row, like his message to the Jews of France inviting them to move to Israel, marks the beginning of his return – his comeback.

Because nothing is over until it’s over. And while Foreign Minister and Yisrael Beiteinu Chairman Avigdor Lieberman is losing party members suspected of corruption one after another, as well as the minister who oversees the police – who perhaps, prima facie, did not prevent the corruption investigation – Netanyahu is growing stronger.

He may be tired and under pressure, but he doesn’t deserve the scorn heaped on him this week. It’s not pleasant to see him inserting his unflattering hairdo into the crowds at the rally, but the front-row picture that appeared on the front page of the International New York Times is the picture that could return him to the Prime Minister’s Office.

Netanyahu displayed strength and leadership in Paris. Perhaps this isn’t pleasant for those who understand that one more term in office for Netanyahu will turn Israel into a country with an openly apartheid regime instead of a concealed one, but this fact must be recognized by anyone who wants to propose an alternative to his government, and especially to his ideology.

Contempt for his stressed appearance or his pushiness shouldn’t obscure the fact that he succeeded in sending a clear message over the head of French President Francois Hollande, and to be honest, over the heads of all the leaders of Israel’s political system: Come home. I’ll protect you.

It’s clear that the Jews of France – unlike American Jews – don’t feel protected against attacks, and in fact aren’t protected. Not only does anti-Semitism genuinely exist in Paris, but the conflict between the Jewish community and the Muslim community serves French chauvinism against both. Thus anti-Semitism is effectively one aspect of France’s complex internal relationships.

It’s possible to accuse Netanyahu of rushing to “exploit” the global jihad, but when he does so at the appropriate time and in the appropriate place, he is putting his leadership, or what he can portray as Israel’s raison d’etre, into action.

From the perspective of his reelection campaign, Netanyahu acted wisely. We shouldn’t make light of that. After having quarreled – apparently personally – with United States President Barack Obama and destroyed relations with Secretary of State John Kerry, he went to France to rub Hollande’s nose in the dirt.

He embarrassed the French president twice. The first time was when he said the problem was French weakness and offered technical assistance and operational advice – thereby enhancing the myth of Israel’s military might without having to account for the fact that this military might is what carries out the oppression of the native Palestinians. Then, he succeeded even more clearly by telling the Jewish world – yes, even American Jews, whose situation is utterly different from that of French Jews – ‘come to us, we’ll protect you.’ This was a very clear Zionist message, simplistic and easy to absorb, delivered at the appropriate time and place.

It’s impossible to scorn Netanyahu without giving consideration to the fact that history doesn’t scorn him. It’s impossible to replace him without convincing the Israeli public that in time of need, overseas Jews will also listen to Isaac Herzog and Tzipi Livni, and in time of need, overseas Jews will treat them, too, as leaders and saviors.

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