There was no pressing need for Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to be in the United States this past week, and yet he chose to spend five days jumping between Washington and New York. Netanyahu left Israel Saturday night and returned Friday morning. By any standard that is a huge chunk of time. All the more so for a prime minister with investigations percolating all around him and a government teetering on the verge of a potential shake-up because of ultra-Orthodox parties threatening not to support his 2019 budget.
And yet he came. Ostensibly, Netanyahu was in the US to speak at AIPAC, but he could have accomplished that via video conferencing. It’s certainly been done before, and effectively. Or he could have cut the trip short and arrived in time for his Tuesday morning presentation. He didn’t do that either. Former prime ministers have rearranged their schedules or decided not to address AIPAC in person when domestic issues were in crisis – but not Netanyahu, not this time.
Instead, he had a formal meeting and then lunched with US President Donald Trump in Washington. He made the requisite rounds on Capitol Hill and met power brokers, business leaders and Jewish leaders in New York City. He shook the right hands, said the right things and repeated his invitation for the president of the United States to visit Jerusalem to celebrate Israel’s 70th anniversary and cut the ribbon at the opening ceremony of the US embassy in Jerusalem.
He did it all with aplomb. He did it all with apparent ease. It was as if the prime minister, with his wife Sara at his side, was on a working vacation. And still, none of that explains why he really traveled to the US last week. Something else was at play.
In coming to the US at this point in his political career, Netanyahu was making two important statements, one for domestic consumption and the other for international consumption.
Domestically, the prime minister was telling Israelis that he was cool, calm and confident enough to leave the country at a time when others would have said that Israel was in a state of turmoil.
He was proving with his actions, not merely his words, that he was not quaking – not over the investigations, not about the budget and not because of the possibility of new elections. He walked the walk and talked the talk of a man secure in his own position and in the direction he is leading his country.
This trip sent a message to everyone, including the opposition: if you want new elections, go for it – but know that you, not I, will lose Knesset seats.
Internationally, the prime minister was proving that he is player on the world stage. Standing side-by-side with Trump, Netanyahu became the fulcrum for a worldwide movement to contain Iranian nuclear development.
The prime minster used his skill and eloquence as an orator to transform the message of the dangers of Iran’s nuclear development from a regional danger into worldwide concern for every freedom loving nation. He underscored how important it is for every nation to step forward and stop Iran. He explained that the US and Israel are at the forefront of this move to save the world, but that they need every freedom loving nation to stand beside them and against Iran. Also at stake was stopping a nuclear race between Iran and Saudi Arabia. Netanyahu framed the issue for the world.
Netanyahu, the leader of a tiny nation, the 100th largest nation in the world, a little smaller than Switzerland and a little larger than Papua New Guinea, once again successfully positioned Israel as the country ready, able and willing to stand at the helm and fight evil arm-in-arm with the US.
Evil will not go away on its own, he explained. If it is not confronted, evil will transform the world.
That was no small feat. It was masterful.
Netanyahu’s presence in the US this past week was intended to resonate equally with Israelis and with the international community. It was as much a statement to his political detractors in Israel as it was to those who challenge Israel internationally.
As arrogant as the other Israeli party leaders may be, as gifted and skilled as they might think themselves to be, none of them could have succeeded in the same way Netanyahu did in America.
Having Guatemala proclaim that it will be opening its embassy in Jerusalem and the Czech president announce his desire to move the Czech embassy was the proverbial icing on Netanyahu’s diplomatic cake.
Netanyahu is a world leader, working on Israel’s behalf, working to protect not only his own country but the world at large. That is what he needed to prove. That is why he made this trip to America.
The author is a political commentator. He hosts the TV show Thinking Out Loud on JBS TV. Follow him on Twitter @ MicahHalpern.