Benjamin Netanyahu’s remarks at the 2018 conference of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), are key to an understanding of how Israel is run. The Israeli leader is not only his country’s longest-serving Prime Minister, but is also different from his predecessors in many ways. One difference has affected his personality and behaviour markedly; he was raised in the United States and imbibed its culture and political tactics. This has affected his own political behaviour as well as his world view and self-perception.
In his speech to the main pro-Israel lobby group in the US, Netanyahu acted not as a visiting head of a state, but as an experienced salesman who is keen to convince his business partners that their money is invested well and their corporation is flourishing. This reminded me of the colonial era when countries were regarded as projects and people as slaves. He seemed to have forgotten that legitimacy is not measured by business success and how developed you are. If it was, Adolf Hitler would be ranked one of the best leaders ever.
As Netanyahu stood on the stage among his friends in AIPAC, he seemed to have forgotten that he was in America, not Israel. He said that he was unable to see the audience from behind the podium, so decided to move around the stage, against the directions of the organisers. “What the heck,” he protested, “I’m the prime minister.” This may have been one of few moments of truth in his whole speech. The level of affection and warmth that Netanyahu experienced at the AIPAC conference clearly made him think for a moment that he was indeed in Israel and addressing an Israeli audience.
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He either forgot or ignored that adopting a regressive, extreme right wing, religious ideology is not what modern progressive governments do; in effect, therefore, he contradicted his own propaganda. No matter how many apps your country produces, and how many software companies it has, you will not be seen as advanced, because the latter is a state of mind and behaviour. When someone is propped up by religious myths and imposes them on others in order to rob them of their homeland and destroy their culture, he should not expect to be seen as the head of a developed, modern and advanced state, no matter what else he does or says.
The Israeli Prime Minister overlooked the fact that he cannot monopolise power forever, no matter how hard he tries; that his thirst and quest for more power will force others to emulate him, especially the Palestinians and Iranians, and this will lead eventually to the destruction of Israel. Nor does he seem to realise that it is not the accumulation of military power that makes us safe, but the sense of justice we adopt and the ending of enmity towards others.
According to Netanyahu, Israel protects the whole world, thanks to its “superb intelligence unmatched in the world” which means that we can travel safely. Such a worldview, of course, does not take into account that people often commit acts of terrorism because of the injustice they face at the hands of Israel and its allies. We could, in fact, all be much safer if Israel paid as much attention to international law as it does to its own self-aggrandisement.
When he claimed that Israel has never been stronger in military terms, he did not mention that it owes this to the massive military and financial aid that it gets from America, especially under President Donald Trump, whom Netanyahu calls the Cyrus of the modern age. Israel gets billions of dollars of American taxpayers’ money in military aid every year.
Israel, claimed Netanyahu, punches 200 times above its weight, while accounting for just one tenth of one per cent of the world population, and it is gets 20 per cent of global private investment in cyber security. We could ask how much of the world’s population do Apple and Microsoft represent, and how hard do they punch? And if Israel was a flop before Netanyahu came to power and adopted the principles of the free market?
The Israelis, AIPAC was told, were always good with agriculture and water, recycling 90 per cent of their waste water. The Israeli leader did not, though, point out that his fellow citizens cut down centuries-old Palestinian olive trees and loot Palestinian water resources in the occupied West Bank. Just a few days back, Israeli settlers flooded the village of Khan Al-Ahmar with waste water to force the Palestinian residents out of their homes. Was that the 10 per cent that Israel fails to recycle?
“Israel,” he intoned, “is changing the world in India, Asia, Africa, Latin America, everywhere.” That’s why, he added, countries are keen on establishing diplomatic relations with the state. Yet another omission in his presentation to AIPAC was that it is not irrigation projects in India and producing water from “thin air” in Africa that prompts this response, but Israel’s success in producing and selling sophisticated deadly weapons and ammunition. Furthermore, countries do not establish relations with Israel because of common interests, but because of US patronage.
The Israel Defence Forces — an occupation army, remember — celebrate their diversity, trumpeted the prime minister, and yet his government has just adopted the racist Jewish Nation State Law. This openly apartheid piece of legislation demonstrates that Israel does not cherish diversity and cares even less for human rights.
For Netanyahu, all that is good in the world is what Israel is doing and what it stands for; and all that is bad is what others are trying to do to Israel. He cares deeply about his own image, and does whatever is necessary to make sure that is positive. He may be a good salesman, but he isn’t even a half-decent politician, as his adventures in the AIPAC wonderland illustrated.