If US President Donald Trump can be visualised as King Cyrus, then Benjamin Netanyahu is the prophet out to save the modern Israelites in a hostile environment. His message is to cast the clash of civilisations theories of Bernard Lewis and Samuel Huntington into a religious mould. The battle is against evil, which is embodied, he believes, in Islam; not the “moderate” version, but that Islam which is willing and able to fight back. I suspect that even Lewis and Huntingdon would be shocked if they could see where Netanyahu has taken their idea.
The Israeli Prime Minister’s remarks at the 2018 conference of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) provide an insight into how this man thinks and where he wants to take the world. Netanyahu started his speech by thanking Trump for his support for Israel, especially US recognition of occupied Jerusalem as the eternal capital of Israel and moving the embassy from Tel Aviv to the Holy City, in defiance of international law. Netanyahu’s words did not reflect gratitude to the US President as much as implicate and entangle him in a messy situation in an area were historical feuds are rarely forgotten. The Israeli-US alliance, therefore, is not intended to be temporary: It is “an eternal bond that can never, ever be broken,” said Netanyahu. His message was clear: you cannot leave us alone, because we share both the responsibility and the consequences for killing Palestinian people and occupying the Holy City and land of our existential enemy, Islam.
It is not only Trump that Netanyahu thanks, but the entire ruling American elite, Republicans and Democrats alike.
It is not only Trump that Netanyahu thanks, but the entire ruling American elite, Republicans and Democrats alike. Even when Trump leaves office, the US cannot escape responsibility and leave Israel alone facing evil, because all of them are behind Israel. In other words, says the Israeli leader, “You cannot leave us; we rise and fall together.
With two right wingers atop their states, it is pretty obvious that the relations which tie Israel to the US are no longer based on common interests but shared beliefs, not least a partnership between Christian Zionism and Jewish Zionism that has overcome a long history of enmity between Jews and Christians. This relationship, says Netanyahu, arises from “a certain book, a great book, a good book, called the Bible.” Ironically, it is the same “good book” which was used for centuries by Christians to justify pogroms against the Jewish “other”, and his ancestors’ demonisation.
At AIPAC, Netanyahu overloaded his rhetoric with Biblical references as a way to relate to his religious-right audience, although not always without discrepancies. For example, he seemed to refer to Prophet Amos, a so-called prophet of doom, who predicted the downfall of Judea and Samaria, and yet the Israeli PM tried hard to convince everyone how successful and formidable Israel is. In another calamitous reference to the Book of Genesis 1:26 — “That all of us are created in the image of God” — he claimed that there should be equality among human beings, but this, clearly, does not apply to Gentiles such as the Palestinians.
Cunningly, he ensured that he used “our” when mentioning “our King David” who, of course, ruled over Judea and Samaria — roughly the modern day West Bank — but there was ambiguity in his terminology. Was he referring to the Jews only, or was this to ensure that the Christian Zionists in his audience felt an attachment to the Old Testament figure revered by modern Israelis? Although it is a political ideology created by atheists, Israelis and their Christian supporters today use Biblical references to affirm their “right” to the land of Palestine.
Warming to his Biblical themes, Netanyahu utilised the Book of Esther in the Bible to incite the US against Iran by reminding his AIPAC audience “about an earlier Persian attempt to exterminate our people. They failed then, they’ll fail now.” It is ironic that Christian reformer Martin Luther declared the Book of Esther to be “too Jewish” and filled with “too much heathen corruption” so that it should be ignored. Perhaps that message has not got through to the Evangelical heirs of Luther’s Protestantism who are Netanyahu’s allies in his Zionism and clash of civilisations.
The sum token of Netanyahu’s speech was to ram home the message that Israelis and Americans are “inspired by the same idea” and “animated by the same values”. Hence, the “eternal bond that can never be broken.”
Netanyahu is keen on projecting himself as a successful and modern head of state, but his ideology and language fail him miserably. With his religious myths and medieval world view, he reminds me of Odo of Châtillon-sur-Marne, better known as Pope Urban II, and his attempt to reconcile the Latin and Greek churches against the Muslims of Europe in Andalusia and Sicily, and to “take back the Holy Land” in a Crusade which eventually led to the occupation of Jerusalem in 1099. That Crusade also led to the devastation of the land of his ally, Byzantine Emperor Alexius I.
Indeed, Netanyahu’s remarks are modern incarnations of Urban II’s words at the Council of Clermont when he urged the people to embark on a “righteous war” in order to “take back Jerusalem”. His expressions, his generalisations, his leaning on “self-made history”, his apocalyptic calls of “We must stop Iran. We will stop Iran”; in fact, his whole vision of what is a virtual world is completely dogmatic and senseless. If he was a Muslim leader he would be mocked and derided mercilessly for “going back to the Middle Ages”.
While Netanyahu provided the rhetoric, fellow speaker Ester Kurz was straight to the point at the pro-Israel Lobby conference: “AIPAC’s lobbying agenda this year is focused on three core issues,” she explained. “Providing Israel with much-needed security assistance, opposing Iran’s regional aggression and nuclear ambitions, and opposing boycotts of Israel, which also threaten US companies.”
The Zionists are on a mission perceived to be moral and godly. They condemn the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement, without even considering Israel’s occupation and racist policies. It is an open war, because “those who talk about boycotting Israel, we’ll boycott them.” It is only those who are vanquished and collaborate with the Zionists who are entitled to the “Israeli peace”. Those who dare to object or resist, are described as “terrorists” who “murder Jews and get rich”. Such inflammatory language has no place in the modern world where efforts to achieve peace and justice require calm heads and even calmer reasoning. Netanyahu provided neither at AIPAC.