The stage at the 2017 AIPAC conference..
(photo credit: REUTERS)
WASHINGTON – Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu knows how to tease.
Last year at the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, he enjoyed his status as the headliner with an opening act by US Secretary of State John Kerry, and roundly closed out three days of meetings and pro-Israel warm fuzzies with some stirring oration.
On Monday he was an opener – his own opener.
Last year, his speech covered everything from Iran to anti-Semitism, from boycott to the Palestinians and his relationship with US President Barack Obama.
This year, Netanyahu skimmed the surface, reassuring the audience that he and Obama are totally fine, getting along great, thanks, stop worrying.
We should all just relax and let him do all the work, which will happen when he addresses Congress on Tuesday.
It was an unsatisfying speech if taken out of the context of what’s to come on Tuesday, which is clearly the main event in the prime minister’s mind.
And to Netanyahu’s credit, despite much of the media framing Tuesday’s speech as a purely political campaign move meant to game an election, he didn’t mention anything the average Israeli voter might care about: jobs, education, food prices, gas prices.
Not even a breath in the direction of the Palestinians.
This was a speech for AIPAC; a forshpeis as The Atlantic columnist Jeffrey Goldberg called it, an appetizer to Tuesday’s main course. And AIPAC loved it, as expected. The room was sold.
And the fun part of these events for the press was what I call “spitballing from the back,” making snarky comments on the presentation or speakers, often out loud, to my colleagues around me.
But the fight, of course, is not in the room. The fight came before Netanyahu’s arrival in Washington, as outlined in the small armada of articles speculating on his true intentions and what the effect of this invitation has had on the Hill.
The fight is in the streets, as when I witnessed AIPAC delegates entering the Washington Convention Center and passing a small gaggle of maybe a dozen pro-Palestinian protesters, but nonetheless stopping to exchange angry screams with them.
And of course, the fight is online. Those of us in the news business are used to the online rampage against us and passively ignore it. Experiencing Twitter trolls is as much a part of the job as experiencing dirt and dust is part of the job for construction workers.
But let us not forget the power of social media in cases like the Gaza war, or the power of seeing thousands of people in the streets of New York denouncing Israel for war crimes.
What are the production values on these AIPAC pro-Israel videos? And why are they being blasted on 30 gigantic screens at 16,000 people who already agree with their message? These are not the people who need convincing that Israel is a place with innovative ideas and beautiful people and a democracy – the only one in the Middle East! Yes, spirits were high on the first day, and on Monday US Ambassador to the UN Samantha Power and Netanyahu were so warmly welcomed that they were practically force-fed schnecken by the bubbes in the audience.
When delegates go to meet with policy-makers on Tuesday, legislators who already agree that supporting Israel is a good thing might not be a waste of time. But let us not forget the fight is not at AIPAC.
The fight is in the streets. The fight is online.