By: Tal Schneider, Noga Tarnopolsky
So here we are, after The Speech. Ten days to go before #IsraElex.
Right after his meetings with the bipartisan leadership of Congress Prime Minister Netanyahu’s motorcade sped to Andrews Air Force base, and under a canopy of grey clouds and rain took off for Israel. He was on the ground in the United States for less than 48 hours, in which he received unprecedented international attention, massive social media attention and the glare of American and Israeli media– all two weeks before voting day.
Netanyahu declined to speak with reporters sharing his plane both on the way to DC and on the way back to Israel. The truth is, his staff barely emerged from their cabin up front, and, following the campaign’s mantra, which is that the media is one big lefty beast out to get the PM, they too refrained from any exchanges with the press.
As is his wont for the last many years, Netanyahu did not give any interviews in Hebrew. But this trip was exceptional in that he also did not give any interviews in English. He decided to let his speech speak for itself but despite his polished appearance, it is unclear if anyone really understands his thoughts.
It is difficult to bridge the soaring rhetoric, the warm congressional embrace, AIPAC’s almost blind adoration, with the content and significance of his words.
At the end of the spectacle in DC, there should have been some effort to clarify what the prime minister actually said. He made a single new point (to my mind) and that was the unequivocal demand, before the world powers loosen the noose around Iran’s neck, that the Islamic Republic cease and desist from what it is today: a country that sponsors terrorism, destabilizes its neighbors and calls for the destruction of Israel
“He’s talking about régime change,” observed one of the American journalists seated with me in the gallery. The very words régime change have negative reverberations in the US, bringing with them a whiff of DC’s atmosphere in the days and months leading to the war in Iraq.
The Prime Minister’s plane had barely touched Israeli soil when we received a message, in the form of a press release from the Netanyahu’s staff. It was, this goes without saying, a reaction to the reaction of president Barack Obama, who said Netanyahu’s speech offered “nothing new.”
“My speech proposes a practical alternative,” the statement announced. “The practical alternative is not to automatically remove sanctions until Iran ceases sponsoring global terror, ceases its aggression against its neighbors and ceases to threaten Israel with annihilation.”
Well, the United States fears that in the time it takes to meet these three conditions, Iran will have become a nuclear state.
And what about the Israeli electorate? For now, it appears the Prime Minister’s speech simply didn’t get to them. The weekend polls show the needle simply didn’t move pre-vs-post speech—and this is surely not what the Likud was looking for. On Friday, Labor (Zionist Union) continued to lead. In general, it appears the Israeli public is fed up with hearing about Iran and fed up of a prime minister who refuses to address the pressing matters of the day, such as cost-of-living and the terrible housing crisis. Wait for Saturday night, and the left’s Big Rally in Tel Aviv.