Following Prime Minister Netanyahu’s meeting with President Obama in the White House on Monday, AEI hosted its 2015 annual dinner at the National Building Museum in Washington, DC. AEI presented its 2015 Irving Kristol Award to Netanyahu. In lieu of a speech Prime Minister Netanyahu responded to questions put to him by AEI’s Danielle Pletka. The video is below. The Israeli Foreign Ministry has posted excerpts of Netanyahu’s remarks here. In a speech to the Jewish Federations of North America General Assembly on Tuesday Netanyahu restated and elaborated his remarks at AEI. That speech is posted here. I want only to add a few personal notes to Steve Hayward’s account here.
We arrived at the event late enough to catch the protest in progress across the street from the entrance. The protest had been called for 5:00-8:00 p.m. and endorsed by “38 faith-based and social justice organizations.” It was advertised as featuring several speakers including Max Blumenthal, Phyllis Bennis, Dr. Osama Abuirshaid, and the Rev. Graylan Hagler, among others. I would guess that the protesters numbered about 100. One of the speakers droned on with an Arabic accent about Israeli paranoia resulting in the murder of Palestinian innocents (wielding knives). His speech was followed immediately by the usual crowd chant “Palestine will be free/From the Jordan to the sea.” I guess they wanted to stoke that paranoia.
The anti-Semitic thrust of the protest was poorly concealed. Getty Images has posted a set of photographs documenting what I saw across the street here. I found the reference to “Israel” in quotes particularly illuminating. Getty’s captions refers to the protesters in the “hundreds.” That seems high to me. Whatever the number, there were too many.
At the event Bill Kristol spoke briefly on behalf of the Kristol family. Other members of the Kristol family including Bill’s mother, the prominent historian Gertrude Himmelfarb, were in attendance. Bill quoted from the moving condolence letter Netanyahu had sent to his family upon the death of Irving Kristol in 2009. Netanyahu speaks of Kristol at the opening of his conversation with Pletka in the video below.
In Netanyahu’s remarks I was struck by his discussion of the alliance between the United States and Israel. Here Israel is the junior partner. It reminded me of Churchill’s attention to Franklin Roosevelt and the United States in the early days of World War II. As Max Hastings puts it: “Few lovers expended as much ink and thought as Churchill did in his long personal letters to President Franklin Roosevelt, two, sometimes three, times a week. The least patient of men, he displayed almost unfailing forbearance.” Obama presents a different kind of challenge, but it’s the same idea.
Hastings adds of Churchill: “It helped that he knew the United States and had been a frequent visitor there. He had met presidents, Hollywood stars and wealthy families such as the Vanderbilts and Rockefellers.” Netanyahu attended high school and college in the United States. He too knows us well.
After the war Churchill himself put it this way: “No lover ever studied every whim of his mistress as I did those of President Roosevelt.”
Among the juicy morsels from Netanyahu’s remarks was this provocative thought experiment: “Imagine the Middle East without Israel. Imagine the Middle East with three Israels.” (That’s not exact; I’m quoting from memory.)
In his formal introduction of Netanyahu, Yale Law Professor George Priest had challenged Netanyahu to account for the obstacles to peace between Israel and the Arabs of the West Bank and Gaza. Netanyahu takes up the challenge toward the end of his remarks. Referring to those who formulate the issue as territorial, Netanyahu said (among other things) that this confuses the consequences of the 1967 war with the causes of the current war. He attributed it to the refusal to accept Israel as the Jewish state.
Netanyahu wanted to talk about Israel’s economic and technological success. He claims some credit for this success as the former Finance Minister who engineered the economic reforms that contributed crucially to it. Pletka invited him to say his piece at the conclusion of their conversation. It is worth sticking with the video to the end for his comments on this point.
Throughout his remarks Netanyahu celebrates Israel as a freedom-loving, generous, philanthropic, moral and creative force for good in the Middle East and the world. In his speech to the Jewish Federations, he puts it this way: “Israel is a state of amazing, amazing successes. If we were in the South, I would say amazing grace. I’m saying it here too – amazing success, amazing grace.” I thought to myself that we lack a leader who advocates our own standing in such terms and that we feel the lack profoundly.