The Crowd That Chose Netanyahu, Who Chose the Crowd

The sign at the entrance says the hall has a capacity of 307 persons. It is a crowded hall, smaller than expected for a historic moment, "the speech of a lifetime," and of course smaller than the hall where Barack Obama addressed his audience in Cairo 10 days ago.

In walked Likud members, academics, a few MKs, politicians and businessmen; many former something or others, and many wearing knitted scullcaps, all from the center and moderate right. Outside the hall it was not hard to find people for a prayer.

Was this crowd at Bar-Ilan University pre-selected, the sort that stands and claps at the right moments? Or was it the crowd that decided Netanyahu was and is the leader of a single Israeli tribe, which after yesterday's speech became only a little smaller? Probably a bit of both.

"Bibi is still being boycotted," said MK Daniel Ben Simon, Labor faction chairman, who accepted the invitation to the event, unlike some other MKs.

"Except for me, you will not see another politician from the center or the left. And what am I doing here? Good question. I am being exposed anew to a population I used to avoid as a journalist. Listen carefully: If Bibi does what he is supposed to do, no one will be happier than me."

Netanyahu spoke nearly 2,000 words. All were offered from the stage, not a moment before - so that nothing would leak out before 8:10 P.M. The Begin-Sadat center had trouble finding translators to provide simultaneous English for the foreign guests and journalists. In the end they found Ruchi Avital, who teaches translation at the university. She has lived in the settlement of Ofra for 23 years.

"They refused to give us the text ahead of time, not even the translators," she complained. "I am tense like everyone else, but I guess I am part of the event. In this instance I need to be Netanyahu's voice, but every translation is an interpretation."

In the earphones, Avital's voice did not break when she said "demilitarized state," but several moments later her tone rose, nearly cracked when she told the listeners that the settlers are not the enemy of peace but "our brothers and sisters."