Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu returned home Wednesday to positive reviews of his speech in Congress the day before. If it had been his intention to use the event to boost his campaign, however, he made little impact, enjoying a modest bump in the polls, at best.
In one poll, the speech received rave reviews, with 44% of respondents saying it boosted their opinion of him, versus 12% who said it hurt their image of him. However, his Likud party was still in second place.
More data has yet to emerge. Yet the Israeli public is unlikely to be moved greatly by the speech. One reason is that Bibi was already more popular than his party, and has been the overwhelming choice to remain as prime minister–even if his party has to win enough votes for him to be invited to form a government. Another reason is that the Israeli election is less about foreign policy than about lingering economic concerns, especially the high cost of housing and other necessities.
Still another reason is that the bulk of Israeli media are profoundly left-wing, meaning they rarely acknowledge Netanyahu for his merits. Israelis were shielded from the immediate impact of Netanyahu’s speech by their media’s politicized filters–and also by election rules that mandated a five-minute delay in the broadcast, in case authorities had to bleep out portions of the speech that were deemed to be electioneering. (None met the criteria in what turned out to be an apolitical speech.)
There is one final reason: Israelis do not care as much about speeches as Americans do. Even after the empty rhetoric of Obama and his broken promises, Americans still crave political oratory. Israelis have little patience for it, and understand that actions speak far louder than words. Unlike the Obama administration, for example, the Israeli government neither broadcasts where it is going to launch an attack, nor crows about it later.
By that standard, Netanyahu’s test still awaits.