Benjamin Netanyahu delivered one of his weakest speeches Tuesday at AIPAC.
He said exactly what his audience wanted to hear about Iran, the boycotts against Israel and Israel's moral superiority compared to other countries in the region – but he failed to shed new light on any of these topics. The prime minister repeated Israel's basic, well-known demands on three of its political topics and nothing beyond that. Even worse than that – his speech was without passion, just like the speaker himself.
Netanyahu's lackluster speech is the reason he failed to inspire 14,000 of Israel's US supporters, Jews and non-Jews, who gathered in a conference hall in Washington, in the midst of a snow blizzard, hoping to hear a Churchillian speech from the prime minister of Israel. Albeit being eloquent, and brimming with humor and confidence, Netanyahu was quite conventional. He received 12 standing ovations during a speech that lasted less than 40 minutes – not bad, but the crowd didn't go wild.
However, in his appearance before the AIPAC officials, Netanyahu achieved exactly what he set out to do, and knew that he would get. Perhaps that is why he did not put too much effort into it. Netanyahu's policy had the unequivocal support of leading figures among the American Jewish religious movements, liberal and conservative as one. The message that this fact sends out is meant not only for the ears of US President Barack Obama at the White House, just a few hundred yards away from the Convention Center where Netanyahu spoke, it was also meant to resonate on Capitol Hill, in both houses of Congress. Step up the pressure on Iran, Netanyahu said to audience cheers.
Netanyahu also made conciliatory statements about the Palestinians, comments for which he also won applause from the Jewish-American audience that is considered, apparently mistakenly so, conservative and hawkish. He equally received support for his demand that the United States help Israel fend off boycotts threats from Europe and American academic institutions, boycotts that are, according to Netanyahu, anti-Semitism disguised as anti-Israel sentiment.
Equally important, if not more so, is what was absent from the speech: Netanyahu refrained from praising President Obama and did not compliment him even once – considered unusual in such occasions. However, he spared no words of affection for the inexhaustible US Secretary of State John Kerry, in appreciation of his efforts on the Palestinian issue. While Netanyahu did praise Israeli-American relations, the fact that he did have one good word for the president indicates a harsh disagreement.
I'll take a risk in supposing that Netanyahu's anger derives mainly from the aggressive, almost rude, interview that Obama gave his close associate Jeffrey Goldberg, on the eve of Netanyahu's arrival to Washington. In his interview, Obama hinted that Netanyahu was actually responsible for the difficulties involved in the framework agreement that Kerry is preparing. It is possible that Netanyahu's anger stems from differences of opinion he has with President Obama and his administration about Iran. Netanyahu is not ready to accept American willingness to allow Iran to enrich uranium, as he also made clear in his remarks at the conference.
Another element that stood out in its absence from Netanyahu's speech was a direct reference to the Ukraine crisis and Russian takeover of Crimea. This topic cast a shadow over Netanyahu's visit and took away from the president and the media's attention. However, Netanyahu refrained from addressing the subject and condemning the Russian moves, although he knew that Obama was criticized for his foreign policy and is in desperate need of some support. As I mentioned before, since Netanyahu was insulted by Obama, there was no reason for the prime minister to publically help the president, and mainly, Netanyahu just doesn't want to get involved in the conflict with Putin. A dispute could cost Israel dearly if, for example, an angry Putin sends Syria and Iran the latest weapons systems.
As a rule, it seems that Netanyahu got what he was looking for in Washington. He and his policy received a clear show of support from the influential Jewish lobby. At the same time, he strengthened the spirits of the organization's activists and leaders, who were embarrassed of political errors that were made recently regarding the sanctions on Iran. He also managed to make it clear to the American president and his top aides Israel's stance on Iran's nuclear program, as well as managed to create the impression that Israel is flexible in negotiations with the Palestinians, while Abbas is stubborn, and puts forth unreasonable demands.