Netanyahu has built his career on being an alarmist, with an impressive record of incessant fearmongering.
If it looks like a duck (frightened), walks like a duck (spreading anxiety), quacks like a duck (disseminating dread), then it must be a duck (a frightened fearmonger). Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who quacked his fearmongering speech to the American Israel Public Affairs Committee convention on Tuesday, proved yet again that Israel has never had a statesman quite like him - a statesman who has built his career on being an alarmist, and who boasts an impressive record of incessant, decades-long fearmongering.
“Mr. Terror” has over the years become “Mr. Iran,” fear-struck even by swine flu, frightening the public and insisting that every citizen be needlessly inoculated. These inoculations cost NIS 450 million, and some have been lying unused and useless in emergency storage since 2009.
Leaders who spread anxiety are abundant in non-democratic regimes. But in Israel, these tactics evidently win elections, as has been the case for Netanyahu. What does he have to offer Israelis but fearmongering? And what will happen after, one way or another, he eradicates the present danger? Will we be infected with a new one? Will he invent one?
And what about imbuing us with some hope for change? A young person born in Israel 30 years ago has grown up only on Netanyahu’s fearmongering: terror, swine flu and nuclear armament. Nothing else.
Netanyahu’s speech at AIPAC was interrupted 46 times by rousing cheers. He knew what he was doing when he delivered this speech at AIPAC, of all places. It is the home turf of conservative Jews, his natural bastion of sympathy, his America.
“Wow, just like in the Knesset,” he said bitterly at the start of his address, upon hearing the cheers. But if Netanyahu is giving a speech that favors missiles striking Tel Aviv over a nuclear Iran, then he should have found the courage to give this speech in Tel Aviv, where those missiles would actually fall. Not to a blindly, automatically, intoxicatedly cheering Jewish America, which is in no danger of even the tiniest missile.
Young Tel Avivians deserve to hear about their prime minister’s plans before the residents of old-age homes in Florida do. But forget about geography - Netanyahu also reverted once again to history. He pulled a document from the Holocaust archive and waved it around like an amputee waves his stump. In the United Nations over two years ago, it was the Auschwitz maps; Tuesday it was the letters of the Jewish community in America. And the message is the same: We are on the brink of another Holocaust.
To compare Nazi Germany to Iran, to compare Munich to Tehran, is to minimize and trivialize the Holocaust. But the Jews of America love it, this improper use of the memory of the Holocaust. People in Israel even love it. According to a survey by the Israel Democracy Institute - published by Haaretz about two months ago - 98 percent of Israelis pointed to the Holocaust as their most important guiding principle. That is the outcome of Netanyahu’s speeches. But what does 1944 have to do with 2012? What does Hitler have to do with Ahmadinejad? Isn’t the danger of nuclear weapons in Iran serious enough without calling on the Holocaust to magnify it? And perhaps there has been enough of the assertion that “in every generation there are those who want to destroy the Jewish people,” as Netanyahu also recited Tuesday.
This must be reiterated: The danger of a nuclear Iran is real and serious. Israel has the tools needed to deter Iran from using nuclear weapons, to the extent that using them would be suicide for Iran. Tehran knows this. Of course every effort must be made to prevent Iran from getting the bomb, but not by means of messianic leaders who think they are saving Israel and the Diaspora from another “Holocaust” that is not even on the horizon.
Then again, most Israelis do believe in the coming of the Messiah, don’t they? No less than 55 percent of Israelis said they did in the above-mentioned survey. So what do we end up with? A prime minister who scares his people, a people that believes in the coming of the Messiah, and Netanyahu casting himself in the role of the Messiah - who, meanwhile, has not come, nor have his footfalls even been heard.
Gideon Levy is a columnist at Haaretz, where this article first appeared March 8, 2012