WASHINGTON, DC — Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told thousands of pro-Israel activists in Washington on Tuesday that Israel was prepared to do whatever it felt necessary to stop Iran’s nuclear program. “We will never be brought to the brink of extinction again,” he said. “I will do whatever I must do to defend the Jewish State of Israel.” He argued that the only way to make war less likely was to place Iran under greater pressure.
Netanyahu outlined Israel’s minimal demands: not only that Iran be prevented from building a nuclear weapon, as Secretary of State John Kerry had insisted the night before, but that Iranian nuclear enrichment be totally dismantled, and that the regime reveal the full extent of its military’s nuclear programs. Netanyahu was careful not to tweak the Obama administration, however, thanking “the indomitable John Kerry” for his diplomacy.
On Kerry’s mission to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, Netanyahu reiterated his support for the two-state solution, but added that while “we should always hope for the best,” Israel had to “prepare for the worst.” He specifically ruled out an international peacekeeping force from playing a role in the Jordan Valley, reminding the audience that international peacekeepers had not kept Arab armies or terror groups from attacking Israel.
“They keep the peace only when there is peace. But when they’re subjected to repeated attacks, those forces eventually go home,” he said. The only army to be trusted, he said, was that “defending its own home”–namely, the Israeli army. The Obama administration has insisted that Israel accept an international force–perhaps U.S. troops–in areas of the Jordan Valley, Israel’s eastern border, that the Palestinians want for their own state.
Netanyahu also took on the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) movement, which in past years might have been ignored, but which many speakers at AIPAC specifically singled out for criticism. “They should be opposed because they’re bad for peace, and because BDS is just plain wrong…morally wrong,” he said, noting that Israel was the one country in the region that upheld academic freedom and tolerance for minorities.
“How could anyone fall for the BS in BDS?” he joked, before telling AIPAC that much of what BDS believed was in a category of historical libels against the Jewish people: “the latest in the long and dark history of antisemitism.” BDS, he said, “should be exposed and condemned. The boycotters should be boycotted.” He also applauded actress Scarlett Johansson for resisting BDS pressure to drop her endorsement for an Israeli firm.
Overall, Netanyahu’s speech lacked some of the drama of previous addresses to AIPAC, largely because the highly-anticipated clash with the Obama administration on this visit was overshadowed by the crisis in the Ukraine. Indeed, on Monday, CNN did not bother to air footage of Obama and Netanyahu’s remarks on Israel from the Oval Office, jumping instead directly to Obama’s comments on Russian involvement in the Crimea.
The address laid out, in a diplomatic manner, Israel’s clear differences with the Obama administration on the expectations for negotiations with Iran, and on security arrangements in a final agreement with the Palestinian Authority. Other than that, aside from a few bad jokes–“This Scud’s for you,” “Scarlett–frankly, my dear, I do give a damn”–Netanyahu’s address broke little new ground, for once–perhaps much to his own relief.