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Rosner’s Domain | A Wrong Man for a Wrong Speech

Netanyahu is unlikely to deliver a message worthy of the event. And if he does, he is the least effective messenger to deliver such a message.
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June 6, 2024
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu addresses a joint meeting of the United States Congress in the House chamber at the U.S. Capitol March 3, 2015 (Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images)

The new PEW survey of Israelis was outdated on the day of release. It was published last Thursday, based on interviews in March and April. When the pollsters interviewed Israelis, the sense of exhaustion and despair was still far from its current peak. When the pollsters interviewed Israelis, there was still a majority thinking that Israel will win the war. In wartime, six or eight weeks is an eternity. And the past week proved it time and again.

Still, we dwell on the new report, because of the invitation PM Netanyahu received to give a speech in Congress. When? It鈥檚 not yet clear. Why? Good question. Every speech should have an objective. And there should be some probability that the objective could be met.

In the absence of clear information about the objective 鈥 Netanyahu said that he wishes to 鈥減resent the truth鈥 about the 鈥渏ust war鈥 鈥 we will have to guess. Here are some options.

Option: The goal is to convince Americans that Israel had to go to war (but they know this already). Option: The goal is to convince Americans that Israel is waging a just and moral war (this may be necessary, but Netanyahu is not the right messenger for such a message, and we will expand on this immediately). Option: The goal is to upset the Biden administration (done!). Option: It鈥檚 all about Israel鈥檚 domestic politics (not quite glamorous). Option: The goal is to explain that Israel will not agree to a Palestinian state (does such a claim serve Israel鈥檚 interests?). Option: The goal is to convince Americans that a Palestinian state is a bad idea (again, is he the right messenger?). Option: The goal is to remind Americans of Iran (Netanyahu did this in 2015 鈥 and it鈥檚 not clear that that was a strategic success). Option: The goal is to help the Republican party in the run-up to the presidential elections (that鈥檚 playing with fire). Option: The goal is to announce Israel鈥檚 support of a Saudi plan that includes a path to Palestinian statehood (yeah, right鈥).

We do not know what the PM wants to achieve with a speech in Congress. But one thing we know 鈥 Netanyahu is the man who will deliver the speech. And we know that he is a good speaker. And we know that there were times in which he was exactly the right man to deliver an Israeli message in Washington. And we know that he is no longer that man. That is, the speech will still be polished. But the audience will be different. It will be an audience that doesn’t trust Netanyahu.

Here, the Pew survey comes in handy. It shows that what happened to Netanyahu in Israel in the last year also happened to him in America. “The majority of Americans (53%) have little or no confidence鈥 in him. The meaning of such a finding is clear. When Netanyahu speaks to the public in Israel, there are many who no longer listen. If he says it’s day, they’ll look out the window to make sure it is. This is the meaning of having no trust: No matter how good the arguments, the hearts and minds of the audience can鈥檛 be won over.

Many Americans do not trust Netanyahu. They will not listen to him. Many Democratic members of Congress will not be in the chamber. Others will attend unwillingly. One of them, a Democratic member of Congress, said: “Why is he doing this to us?” For him, Netanyahu’s visit is an unnecessary headache. In fact, several sources in Washington told me that those who will be most hurt by the visit will be Israel’s friends in the Democratic Party. And the Jews. The heads of almost all major Jewish organizations would gladly give up on a Netanyahu visit, although they will not say so openly, because Jewish organizations do not openly clash with the Israeli government on these kinds of issues.

I met quite a few advisors, activists, managers, professionals, first in New York and then in Washington. I was looking for someone to tell me that Netanyahu’s speech is a good idea. I couldn鈥檛 find one.

I met quite a few advisors, activists, managers, professionals, first in New York and then in Washington. I was looking for someone to tell me that Netanyahu’s speech is a good idea. I couldn鈥檛 find one. A message in such spirit was delivered to the Israeli embassy. Netanyahu does not listen to the embassy. A message in such spirit was delivered through other parties. But not one of firm rejection of the idea. I asked: Why not? The answer was: “Because he doesn’t listen to us anyhow.” And this wasn鈥檛 a leftist Democrat. Maybe 鈥 someone told me 鈥 maybe the Republican Jewish coalition thinks it’s a good idea. They will be the only ones.

Netanyahu is unlikely to deliver a message worthy of the event. And if he does, he is the least effective messenger to deliver such a message. Of course, he is still an important figure, and very well known, and what he says carries weight. But the weight is currently a burden. Netanyahu in Washington is Israel鈥檚 burden.

Something I wrote in Hebrew

Some Israelis say that they aren鈥檛 worried about isolation of Israel and the Jews. What do we need the others for? Here鈥檚 what I wrote in response to such positions:

Those who are not worried about the possibility of a culturally isolated Israel perhaps think the Jewish culture is rich enough for Israel to have an independent cultural existence. Perhaps they delude themselves that the Jews are smart enough to progress and thrive regardless of what the rest of the world thinks. They are wrong. Jewish culture is rich, but it is strengthened by having interface with other cultures. The Jews are smart, but their wisdom is revealed when they forgo the cultural suffocation of the shtetl and mingle with the riches of other cultures.

A week鈥檚 numbers

Is this the right messenger?

A reader鈥檚 response:

Rick Landau asks: 鈥淚 got confused: did President Biden repeat an Israeli offer for a ceasefire or present his own idea?鈥 Answer: Israel鈥檚 offer, with some twist. Israel does not necessarily see the deal as a prelude to ending the war, Biden does.


Shmuel Rosner is senior political editor. For more analysis of Israeli and international politics, visit Rosner鈥檚 Domain at jewishjournal.com/rosnersdomain.

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