By: Tal Schneider (in Washington) & Noga Tarnopolsky
One of the conclusions I came to after observing Mr. Netanyahu’s visit to Washington is that some of the Republicans who stood and cheered and couldn’t stop clapping should have sat down and taken notes. Netanyahu displayed open contempt for Obama, he preached like a reverend, he was articulate and rhetorical and got covered every point (Holocaust, annihilation, Elie Wiesel) like a boss. He even had Evita-style balcony-ready wave down pat. This is how you run an election, and not on cruddy little scandals like some clogged bridge in New Jersey.
On the whole, if you took it from 16,000 AIPAC delegates and 535 members of Congress, you’d leave with the impression that Netanyahu is an undisputed king. The one and only.
The only problem with this picture is that neither the 535 members of Congress nor the 16,000 delegates vote in the Israeli election. There’s just no way around this. Netanyahu has spent the entire election campaigning on a single issue—Iran—and the Israeli public is thirsting for solutions to its socioeconomic problems. The disconnect is impossible to overstate.
A snapshot from behind the scenes:
There was a photo-op just before Netanyahu’s meeting with the Senate’s bipartisan leaders, which was, in fact, a gathering over a light dessert. It was the last scheduled event before we took off for AFB Andrews.
It was held around a square table in a relatively small room and as always, first the photographers were invited in to click, followed by a similar opportunity for the reporters. As I belong to both groups, as the photographers were ushered out I was instructed to stay put and wait for the rest of the press to come in.
I waited and the room was quiet. Netanyahu and the Democratic and Republican senators stood there. Diane Feinstein and Harry Reid, who critiqued Netanyahu but attended his speech, were there. Al Franken, one of the Democratic boycotters, was invited but had not yet arrived when I was in the room, like Bob Menendez, who authored the sanctions bill and had just been cheered at AIPAC a day earlier.
The Republicans included Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and Mssrs: John Thune, John Cornyn and John Barrasso.
I can’t tell you they seemed to be relaxed. Feinstein had chosen not to shake Netanyahu’s hand in the plenum. In what I’m calling the dessert room she didn’t say a word. Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid, stood to the right of Netanyahu and Mark Warner stood to his left. No one said a word.
Even in the dead time between the departure of the photographers and the arrival of the reporters, no one said a word. Everyone stood facing forward, waiting for the next move. No small talk, no chit-chat, no “how’re the grandkids?” and no shoulder patting. There was only silence.