Netanyahu's Grave Mistake at AIPAC

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has returned to Israel following his visit to the United States and his participation at the annual American-Israeli Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) convention. In his speech in Washington, D.C., Mr. Netanyahu focused on the urgent need to stop the Iranian nuclear progress and warned that "Iran must never be allowed to develop nuclear weapons." Indeed, there is no doubt that a nuclear Iran is the greatest threat to Israel's security and the P.M. was right to claim that all means should be used to prevent this from happening. However, Mr. Netanyahu's speech at AIPAC did little to achieve this goal. In fact, the reference that he made to the 1944 World Jewish Congress' letter to The United States War Department not only hurt his (and Israel's) efforts, but could potentially alienate some of Israel's friends in the U.S. Moreover, it sent an insulting message to the Israeli people and was a major error on his part for several reasons:

First, Mr. Netanyahu was rightfully applauded in Israeli press over the past three years for turning the Iranian nuclear threat into a global one, rather than solely an Israeli challenge. Mr. Netanyahu came into power claiming that a nuclear Iran was a major global threat that must be addressed; throughout this process, unfortunately, he was also successful in marginalizing the Israeli-Palestinian peace process. The unprecedented sanctions imposed on Iran were a result of major efforts of the current Israeli government and its friends around the world. However, when Mr. Netanyahu addressed AIPAC on Monday night and compared 1944 to 2012, he virtually pulled the rug out from under his own feet. By linking nuclear Iran to the terrible fate of the Jews in Europe, he made it, once again, an Israeli/Jewish problem. He placed Israel and the Jews at the forefront of the Iranian universal threat. Israel should not spearhead the global efforts to stop Iran; this does not serve our national interest. Granted, Mr. Netanyahu was speaking to a Jewish crowd, but he was well aware that the entire world was watching given the far-reaching consequences of what Israeli action (or inaction) vis-a-vis with Iran.

Second, back in 2006 while in opposition, Mr. Netanyahu said that, "It's 1938 and Iran is Germany." Since assuming power, he stopped making this reference, but came back to it this week; the difference was that now it is 1944. But, what was Mr. Netanyahu actually implying? He was implying that a nuclear Iran would be an equivalent of a Nazi Germany armed with nuclear bombs. Any reasonable person would shiver from the thought of a nuclear Nazi Germany and would act to stop it. Therefore, all other considerations, even drastic Iranian retaliation, are now deemed less important. Thus, Mr. Netanyahu put himself in a catch-22 situation. He basically has no choice now but to act militarily. Following his logic, if he does not act, he would be remembered as a leader who identified the problem but failed to successfully handle it , like others before him who have failed to handle Nazi Germany. Mr. Netanyahu is fond of history, and he surely knows how such leaders are remembered in history books.

Third, Israel was founded so that Jews would not have to face the horror of the Holocaust in which the global community did almost nothing to prevent Nazi crimes. Israel has become a strong and vibrant country with mighty military power. Mr. Netanyahu was right to point out that "the purpose of the Jewish state is to defend Jewish lives and to secure the Jewish future" -- that is what Zionism is all about. But, if that is the case, why did Mr. Netanyahu go to Washington, D.C. and plead for help? By comparing the two scenarios, Mr. Netanyahu was in fact telling Israelis that everything that they have achieved was not good enough. This is an insulting (and simply not true) message to send to Israelis.

Finally, a lot has been said and written about Mr. Netanyahu's meddling in American politics, which is a terrible mistake on Israel's part. Traditionally, Israel was always supported by both Republicans and Democrats and this must be preserved. However, this did not prevent the P.M. from linking U.S.'s inaction in 1944 to the current Obama administration. This is, obviously, playing into the hands of Obama's Republican rivals. If Obama does win a second term, he will not forget Mr. Netanyahu's ungratefulness.

Time will tell if Mr. Netanyahu's visit to the U.S. was successful. However, it is already clear that Mr. Netanyahu should have given more thought to his speech at AIPAC and to the potential consequences of it. The Jewish community in the U.S. deserves better than this; so do the people of Israel.