Bennett and his team think it is important to contrast him with Netanyahu in various ways.
https://www.jpost.com-By LAHAV HARKOV
PRIME MINISTER Naftali Bennett attends a cabinet meeting earlier this month.
(photo credit: ABIR SULTAN / REUTERS)
NEW YORK – Prime Minister Naftali Bennett’s trip to New York went smoothly.
But that begs the question: Is smoothness what an Israeli prime minister should be seeking?
The fact that Bennett charmed Jewish organization leaders hours later, speaking extemporaneously about serious issues, but also telling relatable anecdotes about himself and his California-born parents is great. That is where he wants things to be completely frictionless, where he wants the audience to feel like they’re all working towards the same goal, where he expects chuckles at his jokes about the differences about US Jewish communities – in which he lived for about seven years of his life – and Israelis.
The UN, however, is an entirely different story. The friction is built-in. The confrontation was already set up, between the Durban IV conference, praising and validating an antisemitic and anti-Israel event, and the combative speech by Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas last week.
Bennett didn’t totally avoid conflict in his speech. A decent chunk of it was dedicated to the Iranian threat, and he said that Israel will take and is taking initiative against the mullahs’ regime – but he didn’t say how, and he didn’t speak out against a return to the Iran Deal, which the Biden administration has not yet abandoned, though its chances seem slim. Bennett also called out the farcical Durban Conference that claims to be is about racism. He ignored Abbas, which was intentional to send a message.
But the speech was overwhelmingly one of trying to get the world to like Israel. The message was that Israel is a beacon of light in a region marked with conflict, a democracy where people want to raise their families in peace, but occasionally have no choice but to fight to defend themselves. “They shouldn’t be judged for it,” he lamented.
Bennett dispensed advice about COVID-19 and overcoming political polarization. That was ironic, since Israel hasn’t done such a world-leading job at overcoming either, regardless of what a diplomatic source told reporters on Bennett’s delegation to NY, that the prime minister truly feels otherwise.
It was unsurprising to see press releases and tweets of praise from various Jewish and pro-Israel organizations after the speech, because the “Israel beyond the conflict” message Bennett relayed seemed so much like theirs.
If you like Israel, it was a compelling, well-delivered speech with a positive feel-good message.
But it wasn’t a very newsworthy one – it wasn’t aired live on major news channels outside Israel – and it didn’t pack a punch the way Former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s did.
There may be a good reason for this. First of all, as mentioned, Bennett and his team think it is important to contrast him with Netanyahu in various ways.
They did this in their messaging to the media before the speech, saying that, unlike Netanyahu, Bennett would not use any props or other gimmicks.
But there was also a contrast in the tone, as well. We don’t care if you don’t like us, we’re going to do things our way, was often Netanyahu’s subtext, and the cartoons and photos of Iranian missiles sites only called attention to the message. Bennett, on the other hand, was saying “please like us.”
Bennett is also in a tricky political position. A message that is too combative or too right-wing might make his coalition partners, foremost of which is Foreign Minister Yair Lapid, uncomfortable. The prime minister is trying to build a good relationship with US President Joe Biden and has forsworn public campaigns against American policy on Iran, so he couldn’t be too hawkish there, either.
That left Bennett with very little leeway, so he stuck with messages his whole, shaky unity coalition and the Biden administration could sign off on.
Under those conditions, Bennett was more of a Mr. Congeniality compared to Netanyahu’s annual showstopper in the pageant that is the UN General Assembly.