Netanyahu is not Ben-Gurion, and 2015 is not 1948

The Israeli prime minister is not using his Congress speech to gain votes in this election, rather, he is using his election campaign to gain favor for the Congress speech and serve his megalomaniac vision of being the savior of Jews worldwide.

Netanyahu’s recent campaign video, released Saturday night, has nothing to do with the Israeli election and certainly does not target the Israeli voter. It is intended for U.S. President Barack Obama, the White House, American Jews and more broadly, U.S. Democrats.

The video compares David Ben-Gurion’s decision to declare independence in 1948 over the objections of then U.S. Secretary of State George Marshall, with Netanyahu’s decision to address Congress, behind the backs of Obama and Kerry amid the deeper rift with the White House and State Department.

“Would we be here today if Ben-Gurion hadn’t done the right thing?” the video asks, implying that if the first prime minister of Israel hadn’t stood up to the U.S. there would be no Jewish state. This perfectly serves Netanyahu’s message that any deal with Iran is an existential threat to Israel — on par with the very establishment of the country.

Netanyahu posted the video on his Facebook page along with the message: “Congress is the only place where a bad deal can be stopped. It is the right and essential thing to do to safeguard Israel’s security and existence.”

However, most Israelis don’t really care about the speech in Washington, and it most likely won’t affect Netanyahu’s votes. Likud voters aren’t going to turn away from the party and I’d even wager that most rightists admire Netanyahu for standing up to Obama. On the other hand, the Israelis who are concerned about the deepening conflict with the U.S. already disagree with Netanyahu’s approach to diplomacy, which has increasingly isolated Israel.

Netanyahu knows this. This latest clip isn’t an election campaign video. It is a foreign policy stunt aimed at softening the backlash from Washington, American Jews and Democrats alike. It is an attempt to regain bipartisanship on the Iran issue by reminding people that Israel is an unstable country that has to go it alone against all odds. Presumably, Netanyahu hopes he can score some points among liberal Americans who associate Ben-Gurion with the Israel they knew and love — the Israel that was respectful of its allies.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu stands in front of a portrait of Israel’s first prime minister, David Ben-Gurion. (Kobi Gideon/GPO)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu stands in front of a portrait of Israel’s first prime minister, David Ben-Gurion. (Kobi Gideon/GPO)

It is also worth noting that the comparison between Netanyahu in 2015 and Ben-Gurion in post-WWII 1948 is way off. While it is true that Ben-Gurion and others in pre-state era pushed hard against international reservations to form the state of Israel, U.S. President Harry Truman actually supported the UN partition plan in 1947; the U.S. was the first country to give de facto recognition to the State of Israel after Ben-Gurion declared independence on May 15, 1948 (followed by Iran, ironically. The Soviet Union was the first country to give de jure recognition to Israel on May 17).

Since Netanyahu is trying to give Americans a history lesson, here is another one that highlights the difference between him and Ben-Gurion: Netanyahu recently said that he must go to Congress because he represents not only Israelis but the entire Jewish people. While Ben-Gurion was adamant that Zionism meant Jews moving to Israel — and stressed as much to the American Jewish Community — he was quickly forced to correct himself in 1950, after Jacob Blaustein, head of the American Jewish Congress (then a non-Zionist organization), made clear that Israel does not and will never speak for Jews in America.

Here is what Ben-Gurion stated as part of the Blaustein-Ben-Gurion agreement from August 23, 1950:

The Jews of the United States, as a community and as individuals, have only one political attachment and that is to the United States of America. They owe no political allegiance to Israel. In the first statement which the representative of Israel made before the United Nations after her admission to that international organization, he clearly stated, without any reservation, that the State of Israel represents and speaks only on behalf of its own citizens, and in no way presumes to represent or speak in the name of the Jews who are citizens of any other country. We, the people of Israel, have no desire and no intention to interfere in any way with the internal affairs of Jewish communities abroad. The Government and the people of Israel fully respect the right and integrity of the Jewish communities in other countries to develop their own mode of life and their indigenous social, economic and cultural institutions in accordance with their own needs and aspirations. Any weakening of American Jewry, any disruption of its communal life, any lowering of its status, is a definite loss to Jews everywhere and to Israel in particular

Netanyahu is not using the Congress speech for his election campaign. Instead, he is using it to serve his megalomaniac vision of being the global Jewish savior of modern times.

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