WASHINGTON – Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, in his addresses to international audiences, often makes it a point of lauding the Jewish state’s technological prowess, calling Israel the “innovation nation.”
On Tuesday, that Start-Up Nation let him down when a live hook-up to the AIPAC Policy Conference at the Walter E. Washington Convention Center here from the Kirya military headquarters in Tel Aviv – a facility equipped with state-of-the-art telecommunications capabilities – was repeatedly interrupted by technological glitches.
A country that is sending a washing-machine sized spacecraft to the moon could not arrange an uninterrupted 10-minute address from the most secure site in Tel Aviv to 18,000 AIPAC supporters. As someone in the crowd quipped, Netanyahu probably should have ditched the satellite hookup and just used Skype.
The technical problems that interrupted his speech at crucial times – such as when he was explaining the rationale behind the Nation-State Law, a law whose logic is lost on much of American Jewry – was emblematic of Netanyahu’s trip to the US, cut short by Sunday’s missile attack north of Tel Aviv: high expectation, faulty execution.
Netanyahu had hoped US President Donald Trump’s historic recognition of Israeli sovereignty over the Golan Heights would be major news in Israel, but it was overshadowed by the escalation in the South. He hoped the trip to the US would showcase his strengths on the world stage, but he had to cut it short because of Hamas.
And he hoped his address to 18,000 supporters at AIPAC would send a message to the Israeli electorate of a prime minister respected, appreciated and given rousing ovations abroad. Instead he was unable to deliver his address in person, and bask in the applause.
Netanyahu was dependent on technology, and that hi-tech let him down.
Which is a pity because there were important elements in his speech to give strength to those in the US pro-Israel community who feel under siege. For example, the part of his speech dealing with the Nation-State Law was inaudible.
What was heard, however, was his first public reply to the anti-Israel voices in the progressive wing of the Democratic Party, represented by Congresswoman Ilhan Omar and her statement that support for Israel is “all about the Benjamins, baby.”
“Take it from this Benjamin,” Netanyahu said. “It’s not about the Benjamins. The reason the people of America support Israel is not because they want our money. It’s because they share our values... It’s because America and Israel share a love of freedom and democracy. It’s because we cherish individual rights and the rule of law. It’s because we don’t judge people by the color of their skin, their religion or their sexual orientation.”
Netanyahu said that in recent weeks “We’ve heard a lot about the rise of forces who want to pull America and Israel apart. So I can tell you one thing. I guarantee you this. They will fail.”
Nevertheless, he said, that support must not be taken for granted, and those who want to defame AIPAC and undermine American support for Israel must be confronted.
AIPAC’s critics are not just criticizing Israeli government policy, he said, but are spewing “venom that has long been directed at the Jewish people.”
Again, he said, “the Jews are cast as a force for evil. Again the Jews are charged with disloyalty. Again the Jews are said to have too much influence, too much power, too much money.”
Citing Mordecai and Haman from the Book of Esther, which Jews read last week during the Purim holiday, Netanyahu said the best way to respond to those who hate the Jews is “not to bow down to them. It’s to stand up to them.”
He said he has a message to all antisemites, whether in Tehran, Beirut, the streets of Charlottesville, in Pittsburgh or in political parties in Britain, the US or Europe: “The Jewish people do not bow down. We stand up. We fight. And we win.”
That segment of the address received a loud ovation, because it was clearly audible. It’s a shame that Netanyahu’s entire speech – because of technical difficulties – did not come across, literally, as loud and clear.
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