Working the U.S. crowd: Netanyahu sidesteps legal and political woes at home

This was vintage Netanyahu. He was articulate and animated.

March 7, 2018 11:03
2 minute read.
Working the U.S. crowd: Netanyahu sidesteps legal and political woes at home

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu addresses the American Israel Public Affairs Committee's annual policy conference at the Washington Convention Center March 6, 2018 in Washington, DC.. (photo credit: CHIP SOMODEVILLA / GETTY IMAGES NORTH AMERICA / AFP)

WASHINGTON – If Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is straining under the weight of the seemingly endless investigations against him, or the coalition crisis that has suddenly emerged, it was not apparent when he addressed AIPAC’s annual policy conference on Tuesday.

This was vintage Netanyahu. He was articulate, he was animated, and he was – except when talking about Iran or the Palestinians – upbeat. Netanyahu’s 30-minute address to the crowd of some 18,000 people included all the elements one has come to expect in a Netanyahu speech: great delivery, catchy phrases, some humor, even a gimmick.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu addresses AIPAC 2018 Conference (YouTube/IsraeliPM)This time the gimmick was not brandishing a piece of the Syrian drone shot down over Israel, as he did last month at the Munich Security Conference, nor the now-famous diagram of a bomb with a fuse that he used to illustrate Iran’s nuclear threat at the UN in 2012.

This time the gimmick was more subtle: the words “1-800-How’s-my-speech” written for all to see on the back of notes he carried as he strolled away from the podium on the large stage to get a “closer look” at the huge audience.

The gimmick worked, setting the Twitter-sphere all aflutter. Netanyahu did it again. He inserted an element into a speech that ensured people would remember the speech long after it was over. They might not remember exactly what he said, but they will remember and talk – even if mockingly – about this.

Netanyahu’s detractors would argue that his entire speech, in fact his entire trip to Washington this week, was a gimmick meant to distract attention from his domestic woes. But it wasn’t. There are serious issues on the table – Iran and Syria, for example – that do not rest and need tending to within the US administration, even as the police investigate.

Still, Netanyahu knows exceptionally well what plays with his crowd, and he hit all the right chords in his speech: He stressed the benefits the country is bringing to the world; he praised IDF soldiers; and he mentioned the biblical influences on Thomas Jefferson, Abraham Lincoln and Martin Luther King.

He steered completely clear of divisive issues. He did not talk about two states, the settlements, or the Western Wall issue. His mention of Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas was only within the context of something all could rally around: He should stop paying terrorists to kill Jews.

Some will speak condescendingly about the AIPAC crowd that gave Netanyahu such a resounding welcome. They will wonder how the audience could give such a thunderous ovation to him – and to his wife – at a time when the police have indicted him for bribery, fraud and breach of trust and when every day seems to bring with it new allegations. Aren’t they concerned about corruption?

But this misses the point. The 18,000 AIPAC supporters who poured into Washington did so to show the public – first and foremost their senators and congressmen – that they support Israel, that they care deeply about Israel, and that their support should be taken into account.

The enthusiastic reception for the prime minister was as much for Israel the state as it was for Netanyahu the man. Though, as was on full display Tuesday, few know how to work this particular crowd as well as Netanyahu.

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