Reality Check: It’s 2015, not 1938. And Netanyahu’s no Churchill

By placing Israel at the forefront of the campaign against Iran as Netanyahu has done, the PM has given the world an excuse to see the Iranian issue as a problem for Jerusalem to solve alone.

Netanyahu warns against nuclear Iran at 2012 UN General Assembly (photo credit: REUTERS)
Netanyahu warns against nuclear Iran at 2012 UN General Assembly
(photo credit: REUTERS)
When Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu gets up to address the US Congress on Tuesday, he should first check the date.
Not the day of the week or the month, because Netanyahu is fully aware that his cynical participation in Republican attempts to undermine US President Barack Obama is taking place two weeks before polling day here in order to ensure the Israeli electorate’s attention is diverted from his colossal failings as prime minister over the past six years.
No, the date Netanyahu needs to check is the year. To quote our prime minister from a speech he made some time ago: “It’s 1938 and Iran is Germany. And Iran is racing to arm itself with atomic bombs... preparing another Holocaust for the Jewish state.”
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More than any other defect – his failure to address the crisis in Israel’s housing market, his imperviousness to the struggles of the average Israeli trying to make ends meet, his household’s extravagance at the public’s expense, his inability to lead Israel to victory over Hamas, his destruction of the bipartisan nature of support for Israel within America... the list goes on – the gravest of Netanyahu’s failings as a leader is this sowing the seeds of fear and his total negation of the success of the Zionist enterprise.
The situation of Israel in 2015 is in no way similar to that of the Jews of Europe in 1938. How is it even possible to compare a nuclear-armed (according to foreign reports) state with the most powerful army in the Middle East to the powerless Jewish people of pre-war Europe? There can be no bigger insult to Israel’s independence than this.
As former Mossad head Ephraim Halevy has astutely noticed, Netanyahu likes to model himself on British wartime leader Winston Churchill, but the reality is that Netanyahu is the very antithesis of Churchill.
“Whereas Churchill projected power, confidence, strategy and absolute belief in Britain’s ultimate victory,” Halevy told a recent interviewer, “Netanyahu repeatedly mentions the Holocaust, the Spanish Inquisition, terror, anti-Semitism, isolation and despair as embodied in his frequent allusion to the ‘existential threat.’” Perhaps we shouldn’t expect the Spanish Inquisition in Tuesday’s speech to Congress, but we can already predict plenty of mentions of the Holocaust, anti-Semitism, terrorism and existential threat tripping of Netanyahu’s tongue as he presents his doom-laden scenario in Washington. Unlike Churchill, who knew the importance of raising the morale of his people, Netanyahu will once again stoop to stoking Israelis’ deepest fears in a bid to win their support on polling day.
AND AS Netanyahu attempts to portray himself as the only person alive to the danger of Iran’s nuclear program – and, make no mistake about it, Iran’s nuclear ambitions do pose a serious threat to Israel – the fact is that Netanyahu is single- handedly weakening Israel’s ability to influence the rest of the international community to ensure that Iran never reaches the status of a nuclear power.
A nuclear Iran is not just a threat to Israel: Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Jordan and the Gulf states are just as concerned as Israel by Teheran’s ambitions, as is the Western world. When Netanyahu first made his “it’s 1938” remarks, the year was actually 2006. In the nine years that have passed since then, Iran’s nuclear plans have failed to come to fruition, mainly due to a concerted effort on the part of the international community and the introduction of crippling sanctions on Teheran.
But by placing Israel at the forefront of the campaign against Iran as Netanyahu has done, the prime minister has given the world an excuse to see the Iranian issue as a problem for Jerusalem to solve alone, rather than an international crisis demanding a cross-country initiative.
Even worse, by accepting the Republican invitation to address Congress on the issue of Iran, Netanyahu has deliberately entered a partisan dispute in the United States, alienating Israel from the White House. When Obama’s national security advisor Susan Rice describes the speech as “destructive” to the relationship between the two countries, it’s clear that Netanyahu has crossed a red line in his dealings with the Obama administration.
Netanyahu’s speech will have no impact whatsoever on the future of the negotiations with Iran. If anything, it is even more likely to motivate Obama into closing a deal, no matter the loopholes, just to show that he can’t be bossed around by Netanyahu or his Republican allies.
As he milks the predictable applause in Congress on Tuesday, Netanyahu should remember that Churchill, who understood the crucial importance of working with, and not against, the president of the United States, is remembered by history for his actual accomplishments and not because of his impressive oratory.
But just as 2015 is not 1938, Netanyahu is far from being Churchill.
The writer is a former editor-in-chief of
The Jerusalem Post.