Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu .
(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)
Citing existential fears – coupled with the perceived naiveté of the Obama administration – residents in the capital’s Zion Square on Monday said they overwhelmingly supported Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s right to address Israel’s perspective on a nuclear Iran.
Despite conceding the diplomatic fallout that such a polarizing Congressional speech would engender, a cross-section of Israelis agreed that the consequences are favorable to making a deal with Tehran that could imperil the country’s already tenuous security.
“It’s absolutely imperative that he makes our case,” said Ben Levine, a middle-aged tour guide, “which is that it’s ludicrous to let a country like Iran – with its history of contributing to violence all over the world – have even the faintest possibility of creating a nuclear weapon.”
Asked about the sharp diplomatic repercussions the speech will likely foment between Israel and its most important ally, Levine said such an outcome pales in comparison to preventing Iran from becoming a nuclear power.
“It’s outrageous to allow a country that has that type of radical leadership to have access to weapons of mass destruction,” he said. “There’s no downside in stopping them, but there’s a huge downside in letting them [build a nuclear bomb].”
A female owner of a Judaic arts shop, who requested anonymity to avoid potentially offending prospective clients, echoed Levine’s sentiments.
“I don’t see why [Netanyahu] shouldn’t give the speech,” she said, standing adjacent to her cash register. “Whatever deal America makes has a direct effect on us, and I happen to trust Netanyahu more than Obama.”
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“If Obama makes even a tiny mistake on Iran, he’s not affected,” she continued, “whereas we are directly affected, which is why it is so important we are involved with every step of negotiations.”
However, Marc Eliany, a survey methodologist in his 60s, said he staunchly opposed Netanyahu’s pending speech, deeming it a “complete mistake.”
“I think that [Netanyahu’s] not that smart,” said Eliany.” He’s led Israel into a lot of problems for the very simple reason that Israel is weak in long-term planning.”
Asked to cite an example, Eliany noted Tehran’s arsenal of rockets that have been aimed at Israel for years.
“The real threat is all the rockets Iran has pointing at us,” he contended. “The nuclear threat is secondary to that.”
As he sat with classmates, Yeshiva student Yankey Rokow said he questioned Obama’s comprehension of the threats Israel faces, and expressed confidence in Netanyahu’s grasp of the country’s ongoing existential crisis.
“I think it’s a very important thing that Netanyahu [makes the speech] because Obama is intentionally or unintentionally ignoring the general Islamic threat – Iran in particular,” he said.
“And with Netanyahu’s brilliant record as a speaker – and obviously knowing a hell of a lot more about the situation – he is the ideal candidate to give congress the inspiration to stand up against Obama on a bad deal with Iran.”
While classmate Michael Rosenfield said he agreed with Rokow “in principal,” he added that he was doubtful the speech would make much of an impact on the final outcome.
“I’m not sure it will make much of a difference to sway Obama,” he said.
Meanwhile, Reven Elelimelech, a 25-year-old college student, expressed suspicion of Obama’s overwhelming opposition to Netanyahu’s speech.
“Just because Obama doesn’t want him to come means he has something to hide, and it’s very important for someone from the Israeli side to say the problem with Iran is our problem, and we have something to say about that,” he said.
“Let Bibi talk,” Elelimelech continued. “Let’s talk about this deal and see why Obama is so afraid that congress will hear him.”
Moreover, Elelimelech said he is less concerned about the outcome of the speech than affording Israel a prominent voice in the debate itself.
“I don’t care if the congress takes Bibi seriously, but let the people of Israel have someone representing them to discuss this deal, which directly affects us,” he said.
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