Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Netanyahu's House: Knowing Your Audience

Anyone with a shred of knowledge about the Middle East conflict knows that yesterday's performance alienated its most critical audience. I am not speaking about Netanyahu's performance. He played the Israeli center, American Jews, and American media like Isaac Stern playing the Brahms. I mean the performance of members of Congress, who watched him with ingenuous smiles, and jumped to their feet to applaud every word, including, it seems, "and" and "but." Did they really not understand that, for the rest of the world, they were the more important show?

Israel, the only democracy. Cheers. Israel in Gaza, defending itself against Iran's terror proxies. Cheers. Judea and Samaria. Cheers. Israel as the reason why the Palestinian economy booms. Cheers. Conflict, not over Palestinian state, but over Jewish state. Cheers.

Compromise must reflect settlements since 1967. Cheers. Israel will not make the lines of 1967 the basis for negotiation. Cheers. Israel will take in no refugees at all. Cheers. Jerusalem must remain Israel's united capital. Cheers. No negotiations with Abbas if Hamas is in the government. Cheers. (For a more comprehensive analysis, read Mitchell Plitnick's fine post.)

"American members of Congress did not seem to realize that this speech was tuned in by young people across Palestine and the Middle East," my friend Sammy Abu Dayyeh, the CEO of Net-Tours, told me over a gloomy lunch at his Ambassador Hotel in East Jerusalem. "I was shocked, I admit. Everything Netanyahu did and said was predictable. Okay. But the way he was received--that I did not really expect. It was as if the Congress was actually trying to incite the Arab street just when, since three months ago, everything is changing, and Obama is trying to show himself on the right side of things."

No doubt, Netanyahu's speech will be seen as historic. It may well turn a tide, just what Netanyahu needs to wrestle Obama into submission, even silence internal critics accusing him of alienating Washington--a masterful job, ingratiating, clever, poised.

But Congress's enthusiasm for its slyness may also mark the moment the rising Arab world, including what will rise in the streets of Palestine and on the borders of Israel, dismisses America as a misguided empire. The speech may eventually prove a world-historical photo-op as damaging in its way as Abu Ghraib; the moment to despair, once and for all, of America's once-promising young president being seen as even-handed.

This reaction of Congress may also mark the moment when intellectuals across Europe and Latin America--also on American campuses, for that matter--claim absolute proof that America's Middle East diplomacy is bought-and-paid-for by the people Netanyahu romanticizes. It is a people they are inclined to romanticize, too, though in a quite different way, alas.


Potter said...


It's the Republicans, remember, who claim- or claimed, how can they still?- to be strong on foreign affairs security. And it's the President that manages our foreign relations- not the Congress. So this display was, for me, humiliating our President and our Presidency.

Will Obama fight back or take it lying down?

I totally agree that this was a seminal moment- not to be forgotten.

And I don't excuse Netanyahu- so crass. I can't even look at him anymore.

Judy Hollander said...

I woke up to words from Nancy Pelosi's praising the speech and Bibi's leadership in Mideast peace.

Basil Hakki said...

The Arab audience did not figure in the metronomic stand up/clap/sit down calisthenics carried out by members of the U.S. congress in response to Netanyahu’s speech. The driving force for this sad spectacle is the contest between Republicans and Democrats for Jewish money and votes in the upcoming 2012 elections. The first priority of elected officials is to be re-elected.

LORA (NC) said...

I could care less about the Arabs(Muslims) response to Netanyahu's speech or rather the response of congress. He spoke with courage and conviction in protecting his country. These so-called Palestinians are thugs and criminals. They don't want peace..that has been proven over and over again..they want total submission..ISRAEL STAND STRONG !!!!

Y. Ben-David said...

"The rising Arab world"-Really.
Today we read that a full-fledged civil war is on the verge of breaking out in Yemen, in the Syrian uprising the slogan is (according to the New York Times) is "Christians to Beirut, Alawites to the cemetery". El-Baradei is warning that Egypt is on the verge of collapse and chaos, there is civil war in Libya now, the Sadrists (extremist Shi'ites) are planning a massive march in Baghdad to welcome back their leader from several years exile, and now it seems that what were thought to be moribund Islamic groups may take power in what what thought to be "moderate" Tunisia.
Meanwhile, in Egypt they are threating to have Mubarak face the death penalty and top leaders of Dr Avishai's beloved "entrepeneurial elite" are being put on trial (recall that Nasser put his ousted leader, King Farouk, on a plane and sent him into exile-today's Egypt seems more bent on blood vengeance).
So where is this "new Arab world" that is supposed to be finally getting its act together?

Y. Ben-David said...

Dr. Avishai says:
This reaction of Congress may also mark the moment when intellectuals across Europe and Latin America--also on American campuses, for that matter--claim absolute proof that America's Middle East diplomacy is bought-and-paid-for by the people Netanyahu romanticizes

While at the same time, these "intellectuals" (we are indeed shaking with awe when we contemplate them..) are being bought and paid for by Arab Wahabist oil money which, of course, is pure and "progressive" (e.g. the big Saudi enowments at Columbia U, George Washington U, etc).

Y. Ben-David said...

Here is an informative article pointing out how all the non-oil producing Arab states are economic basket-cases and that reforming them to allow real economic growth is well-nigh impossible:

Thus, there will be no economic stability which more comfortable Arab countries could use to give backing to the Palestinians to make a compromise peace.

Potter said...

And remember what this is about: not cutting off aid, not imposing any solution, not reassessing loan guarantees, not putting the UN veto in question. Just saying the words "1967 borders" is such an affront to the pro-Israel lobby it must rally the entire US Congress against its own president, and threaten to cut off donations to the Democrats....

And recall that this statement was issued by the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs just November 11. Money quote:

‪‪The Prime Minister and the Secretary agreed on the importance of continuing direct negotiations to achieve our goals. The Secretary reiterated that "the United States believes that through good-faith negotiations, the parties can mutually agree on an outcome which ends the conflict and reconciles the Palestinian goal of an independent and viable state, based on the 1967 lines, with agreed swaps, and the Israeli goal of a Jewish state with secure and recognized borders that reflect subsequent developments and meet Israeli security requirements." Those requirements will be fully taken into account in any future peace agreement.

-Andrew Sullivan, The Daily Beast ( quoting -my bold- H. Clinton and Netanyahu both agreeing to this principle last Fall).

Walt and Mearsheimer on the outsized influence of the Israel Lobby here don't need any more proof. Add to that the destruction of our democracy because of out of control campaign financing.

Acuumyst Report said...

No question the Congress attitude to Netanyahu speach had been based on their opposition to US president not for benefit of Israel.

Potter said...

I think it was about campaign money and support and
ignorance about how to really support Israel- that is if any were thinking clearly and sincere about that. This was crass subservience to the power and propaganda of Aipac. I really don't understand this level of stupidity on the part of the Congress. You cannot say that Harry Reid or Nancy Pelosi are interested in registering opposition to Obama... and too the others on the Democratic side.

I should just get over this- but it anger.

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