Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Four Quick Thoughts on Bibi's Speech

1) The real speech will be tomorrow. While Prime Minister Netanyahu's repetition of the 1967 indefensible border rhetoric is significant, he used his speech tonight to signpost for his address tomorrow at a joint session of Congress. This round is still not over, and knowing Bibi, the snake has yet to strike.

2) Bibi's strategy was to ignore the President. While Obama's remarks to AIPAC were relatively confrontational, Netanyahu did not directly address them. His strategy was to win the talking point with AIPAC, not the bout with the president. This is a win for Netanyahu because he rallied his support among his core. It is also a short-term win for Obama, who successfully won a diplomatic spat against Bibi, save for any major surprises tomorrow.

3) AIPAC was generally much more supportive of Netanyahu than of Obama. AIPAC has been smeared in the past as an organization which represents Israel's interests in America. But it's hard to deny this claim when mention of President Obama gets light applause but mention of Prime Minister Netanyahu gets huge applause. It's hard when Obama gets a reasonable reception but Netanyahu gets an overwhelming reception and a prolonged standing ovation as the hero of the conference.

4) Protesters Mattered. Five times during Netanyahu's speech, he stopped speaking because of protesters. The first three were women. The fourth was a large man carrying a pink flag. The fifth was a man in a suit and tie sitting in the press area, who shouted "Israeli denial of the Nakba is indefensible." The protesters were greeting with applause and cheers to drown them out, the comment by Netanyahu that "You think they have these protests in Gaza?" As protesters were escorted by the press section, shouts of "Get the f*ck out of here" were audible. The protesters drew attention away from the content of Netanyahu's remarks, but the audience reacted by supporting Netanyahu even more than before the protesters started, at points shouting "Bibi, Bibi!" They were the also topic of many discussions on the walk out of the convention center. While they won't affect perceptions of those outside the room, the protesters' effect was to bolster support for the Netanyahu government among 10,000 people who will be on Capitol Hill tomorrow to lobby.

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