I would argue that it is fair to say that the speech that Netanyahu gave yesterday in the US Congress was effective.
Regardless of personal political views, we should admit that this was an impressive performance. It was a demonstration of how one person, using words as his only weapon, was able to bring people all around the world to stop and ask themselves if they were doing the right thing by allowing their governments to sign the current version of the nuclear agreement with Iran.
The speech began at 11:00 am, US eastern time. I watched the speech on my cell phone and then I got into my car and drove to lunch. I turned on the radio to listen to reactions to the speech. The first channel I turned to was the Public radio station. Surprisingly, there was no mention of the speech in my listening area (Miami). A pre-recorded program on a different topic was broadcasted. I moved the dial and listened to Rush Limbaugh.
As you can imagine, Rush loved the speech and compared Netanyahu to President Reagan. However, what caught my attention was something he said at the beginning of the program. I later heard it again and again on other conservative radio stations.
Rush Limbaugh defended Netanyahu’s opening minutes, specifically the time when Netanyahu thanked President Obama for his support. What I concluded from this segment was that conservative Americans who are very supportive of Netanyahu had difficult time listening to Netanyahu thanking the president, after Obama did everything he could to prevent Netanyahu from appearing in Congress.
I scanned my phone for relevant news articles. The first one that popped up was an article by NPR, the National Public Radio. It was a surprise; I didn’t think that a radio station that could use the airwaves would respond in a written article. In my (perhaps bias) opinion, the article was written before the speech was given. It repeated the White House’s position and dismissed the speech as a failure. Something that was so far from reality that it seemed to me that it couldn’t have been written after the speech.
When I returned from lunch, people stopped me in the hallway to ask about Netanyahu’s speech and the Iranian nuclear program. I was surprised by this reaction: The people who approached me were not Jewish. They were regular Americans who usually do not discuss politics. Yet within one hour of the speech, they knew about it, and were interested to learn more about the subject. Some of them were democrats, others were Republicans. Yet, yesterday after the speech, none of them supported the Obama administration position. They all wondered why an American president would sign such a deal.
By the time I left work and turned on the radio in the car, the topic was discussed on every radio station regardless of its affiliation.
At home, I scanned the cable news channels. All of them discussed the speech. There was a clear division between how the impact of the speech was described by CNN and CNBC and how it was described by Fox news. CNN and CNBC analysts minimized its importance. Fox news analysts called it “Historic”.
This morning, Netanyahu’s speech was discussed on all radio stations. This evening it is still the number one topic on the airwaves.
I came to the following conclusions:
- President Obama had a good reason to worry about Netanyahu’s speech in Congress. If the administration intended to keep the agreement out of the public eye and sign it without a serious discussion, the speech made the agreement the most talked about topic in America today. It is impossible to keep it away from public scrutiny anymore.
- Netanyahu had a good reason to insist on speaking directly to the American People. Most Americans knew very little about the subject before the speech.In forty-five minutes he explained it in layman’s terms in a way that we could relate to and understand his position.
- Those who predicted that the speech will not make a difference were mistaken. It sent shock waves across America. Netanyahu is a very talented speaker with plenty of charisma. He speaks fluent English. He came across as “presidential”. Both Republicans and Democrats responded to him and it came across this way on TV screens all across America. He looked and sounded American. He was “one of us” and thus trustworthy.
- It would have been a lot easier for Netanyahu to present his case if he shared with us some of the classified information, which was provided to him by the US negotiators. He chose not to do that. As limiting as it was, it was the right thing to do. Using classifying information would have given his critics the opportunity to shift the discussion from the Iranian deal to a betrayal. Still, he was effective and convincing.
- Prior to the speech, Netanyahu was criticized as risking Israel’s interests by siding with the Republicans at the expense of a Democrat president. After the speech I see no evidence of it. His speech was received well by politicians from both parties. The speech strengthened the American support for Israel. The media quoted Democrats and Republicans leaders who are now calling for more scrutiny of the agreement.
- It was also a uniting speech for American Jews; no Jew can remain indifferent when a prime minister of the only Jewish state speaks about another potential Holocaust. I’m certain that after this speech, Jews from both parties will apply pressure on the administration on Israel’s behalf.
- Netanyahu was smart to leave the door wide open for the Obama administration to walk away from the deal without conceding that it was done as a result of his speech. I don’t think that the Obama administration will like Netanyahu anymore than it did before the speech, but they could still work together.
- After the speech, Natanyahu is very popular in the US. Israelis, on the other hand, are not that impressed. Netanyahu’s party is lagging behind the Zionist Union party and may lose the election in two weeks. Obama may still get a break after all. If the Israeli voters choose another leader, Obama will most likely say that Netanyahu is not credible, after all, the Israelis themselves rejected him.
- Lastly, if Netanyau is not elected, this speech may be the last time we’ve seen him on a world stage. What we’ve seen may turn out to be his farewell speech.
“Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s speech to the US Congress did not help his Likud party cut the Zionist Union’s two-seat lead, according to a Panels Research poll taken on Wednesday and Thursday for The Jerusalem Post and its Hebrew sister publication Maariv Sof Hashavua.” [www.jpost.com March 6, 2015]