In a well timed visit to Nir Moshe, a village near the Gaza border, Yitzhak Herzog, leader of the Labor Party-led “Zionist Camp” lambasted Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, even as the latter was addressing the US Congress on Tuesday.
Netanyahu’s speech, said Herzog, “severely sabotages Israel’s relations with the US.” This marked a grating climax to a fierce political debate that had raged in Israel since US House Speaker John Boehner first invited Netanyahu, without White House consent, back on January 21.
As expected, arguments for and against Netanyahu’s speech were made along partisan lines. Those on the Right argued that, as Boehner had said, there was no one better qualified than Netanyahu to explain the dangers of the proposed “Iran deal.” One the Left, the planned speech was panned as a pre-election scheme that would needlessly further agitate the already strained relations between Israel and the White House.
Herzog’s description of Netanyahu as a saboteur signaled the rhetorical escalation depicting Netanyahu, and not Iran’s Supreme Leader, as most dangerous to Israel’s future. Naturally, this topsy-turvy logic was nourished by the Obama Administration.
Following the speech there was a sense of agreement among many Israelis that their prime minister had performed impressively. Omer Bar-Lev of the Labor Party said he could only dream of possessing Netanyahu’s rhetorical skills, and others couldn’t but agree with him.
But that’s where agreement over the speech ended. Israel’s Ynet news portal, a bitter critic of Netanyahu, chose the headline “Dr. Strangelove in Congress” to express its contempt toward the prime minister. The write-up played on metaphors used by American commentators like CNN’s Christiane Amanpour and New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman. Though grasping at the coattails of leading American liberals seemed a rather desperate attempt to cling to a predetermined view.
Israel Hayom, the only Israeli newspaper openly supportive of Netanyahu, used Economy Minister Naftali Bennett’s words to describe the speech, headlining their lead story “Well Arranged, Thorough and Shuddering.” Rather than quoting American pundits, the newspaper cited right-wing Members of Knesset like Danny Danon and Ayelet Shaked, who complimented Netanyahu on a job well done.
And yet, comments following the speech were surprisingly sparse. It was like the calm after the storm, which just goes to show that perhaps the commotion surrounding Netanyahu’s speech was nothing more than the same old political opportunism.
The calm may also suggests that as good as it was, Netanyahu’s speech was unlikely to affect the upcoming elections or the Iran deal.