No one remembers that Michael Jordan was succeeded by Pete Myers and Brent Barry, and LeBron James was replaced by Jamario Moon, Omri Casspi and Cedi Osman.
Those shoes were impossible to fill.
Naftali Bennett stepped right into the Prime Minister’s Office with no on-the-job training or even a proper meeting with his predecessor, Benjamin Netanyahu, which has had its pluses and minuses.
When it comes to international diplomacy, being Netanyahu’s successor has mostly helped Bennett, because the world leaders he met – starting with Jordanian King Abdullah – were so glad that Netanyahu was finally gone. The headline on the bottom of the screen when Bennett met with US President Joe Biden was “President meets with Israeli leader who is not Netanyahu.”
But when Bennett delivers the annual speech to the United Nations General Assembly on Monday, he will come with a disadvantage, because that was Netanyahu’s greatest stage to showcase his talent. That was where Netanyahu was at his best in making Israel’s case to the world.
It was where Netanyahu effectively used his props of maps of Tehran and Beirut, a bomb with a red line and the architectural plans for Auschwitz. Bennett’s advisers stressed that he would not be bringing any props.
They failed to acknowledge, however, that the props were never the headline but the means of attracting the world’s attention to the headline. Last year, Netanyahu used the speech to reveal Hezbollah’s secret arms depot in Beirut near the site of the port explosion that killed 200 people. In 2018, he told the international community about a secret atomic warehouse in Tehran. He told the world four years ago that he would make peace with Arab countries, and no one believed him, but they listened.
CNN and Fox broadcasted Netanyahu’s speeches live, because they knew there would be drama and headlines. At a conference where the top headline so far has come from British Prime Minister Boris Johnson mocking Kermit the Frog, it will be hard for Bennett to capture the world’s attention if his only gimmick is not being Netanyahu.
Despite those challenging circumstances, this will be Bennett’s best opportunity to introduce himself to the international community and tell his fellow world leaders who he is, and not only who he is not. He will get ample time to explain what he believes in and what he is trying to accomplish in his time as prime minister.
Then again, perhaps like other world leaders, his target audience will not be the international community but his own voters at home. That would be legitimate, but if so, he is also at a disadvantage with that goal.
Netanyahu always found a way to speak during prime time on a weeknight. Bennett will be speaking at 4 p.m. local time, two hours before a holiday begins and two days before the public receives a newspaper.
Very few Israelis will be watching, and Netanyahu’s associates said emphatically that he will not be among them. That won’t stop Netanyahu from reacting, of course, and putting Bennett down.
Netanyahu tried to insult Bennett following his meeting with Biden, but he ended up harming only himself when a clip of him mocking the president and wrongly accusing him of falling asleep during his meeting with Bennett went viral.
Had he swallowed his pride and offered Bennett his assistance with the speech, it could have helped Netanyahu regain the statesmanship voters want to see. Instead, Netanyahu only offered Bennett his pity and tweeted that he should study his past UN speeches and learn from them.
“Even the great Michael Jordan, when he passed the torch to Kobe Bryant, did it with respect, because he saw him as his student,” a former Netanyahu aide said. “The situation here is different. Bennett has followed in Bibi’s footsteps and learned from him, but Bibi is not one to embrace his students. In his mind, among the many assets he brought was his international standing and ability to speak to the US public and international community, and the UN speech was his annual opportunity to do that.
“We will feel the drop-off, not having our best speaker, having someone much less qualified. That’s why it’s important to try to make it not an anti-Bibi speech but a Naftali speech.”