Parsing Netanyahu’s speech: did he throw down a gauntlet?

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By Ira Sharkansky

Ira Sharkansky

JERUSALEM — Prime Minister Netanyahu’s speech to AIPAC speaks for itself. Almost. There is enough there for several interpretations ranging to 180 degrees difference one from the other. http://www.timesofisrael.com/netanyahus-speech-at-aipac-full-text/

There is praise for Barack Obama.
On the other hand, the speech begins with a Holocaust story, of a small boy (Yossi Peled) being hidden with a Belgian family, retrieved by his sole surviving parent after the war, and brought to Israel where he became an IDF general and then a minister in Netanyahu’s government.
Netanyahu dealt with the efforts of the United States and other countries to deter Iran’s nuclear ambitions by diplomacy and sanctions.
“We’ve waited for diplomacy to work. We’ve waited for sanctions to work. None of us can afford to wait much longer.
As Prime Minister of Israel, I will never let my people live under the shadow of annihilation.”
What most commentators heard so far see as the high point of the speech is the comparison between the Jews of 1944 and Israel of today. In 1944, the Jews could not persuade the American administration to bomb Auschwitz.
Netanyahu said that the present American government is different than that of 1944. Then that brief praise was followed by
“But here’s my point. The Jewish people are also different. Today we have a state of our own. The purpose of the Jewish state is to secure the Jewish future. That is why Israel must always have the ability to defend itself, by itself, against any threat. We deeply appreciate the great alliance between our two countries. But when it comes to Israel’s survival, we must always remain the masters of our fate.”
Then he referred to Purim, due only three days after his speech, which celebrates when
“a Persian anti-Semite tried to annihilate the Jewish people. We will read how his plot was foiled by one courageous woman – Esther. In every generation, there are those who wish to destroy the Jewish people.”
His conclusion was not to reiterate his appreciation of the Obama administration, but to emphasize the independence of the state that he leads.
“We are blessed to live in an age when there is a Jewish state capable of defending the Jewish people. And we are doubly blessed to have so many friends like you, Jews and non-Jews alike, who love the State of Israel and support its right to defend itself. Thank you for your friendship, Thank you for your courage, Thank you for standing up for the one and only Jewish state.”
The headline on Israel’s widely read Walla news site is, “Netanyahu at AIPAC: Impossible to wait any longer for diplomacy.” http://news.walla.co.il/?w=/15/2514213

An earlier headline in the New York Times was, “Obama Presses Netanyahu to Resist Strikes on Iran.” http://www.nytimes.com/2012/03/06/world/middleeast/obama-cites-window-for-diplomacy-on-iran-bomb.html?_r=1&ref=global-home

No less telling than the speech was the gift that Netanyahu presented to Obama, the Book of Esther.
We can expect Israelis to be more divided about the wisdom of the Prime Minister’s speech than about its meaning.
A day prior to the speech, we heard on a prominent discussion program an advocate of temperance. He claimed that Israel must not throw down a gauntlet before the President of the United States, and by no means act militarily without his consent. He went so far as to say that Israel has never acted without the prior consent of the United States. However, other sources noted that Israel’s 1981 attack on Iraq’s nuclear facility took the United States by surprise.
So far, only a few hours after the speech, the theme of most commentaries is that a reading of the speech between the lines, or its subtext, reveals a clear throwing down of the gauntlet, and perhaps a demand that the United States–or Israel–must act before the November election.
Does this means that the Israeli Prime Minister was joining the Republican presidential campaign against the re-election of Barack Obama?
Not by anything he said, but read what you will between those lines.
One commentator views the speech as directed primarily to American Jews and others for whom Israel is important, and meant for them to increase their pressure on the White House to act decisively and soon against Iran.
Even before his speech, Netanyahu’s posture was compared to that of Shimon Peres, whose fulsome praise of Barack Obama a day earlier was read, even by one left-wing commentator (Yaron London) as a challenge to the notion that the Israeli presidency is a representative office, whose occupant is expected to remain neutral on all controversial matters.
As far as I know, no one has yet said that Peres’ 2012 AIPAC speech justified the 2000 decision of the Knesset to elect Moshe Katsav as president, along with the slogan, “Anybody but Peres.”

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