Benjamin Netanyahu has a message to the American Jewish community: It’s time to get out and fight against the lies people are spreading about Israel.
Netanyahu himself, as he told a crowd of 1,000 hand-picked Jewish activists at an invitation-only event Thursday evening at New York’s 92nd Street Y, has already embarked on the mission of making the world know the truth about Israel.
And this mission was handed to Netanyahu by none other than the late Lubavitcher Rebbe.
It was a lengthy tale, and Netanyahu was at his best: entertaining the audience with anecdotes, giving a personal touch and throwing in the unavoidable references to his military past. The tale begins with a friend of Netanyahu (from his army years) knocking on his door in New York when Netanyahu was Israel’s ambassador to the United Nations, and it ends with the Lubavitcher rabbi dancing with a Torah scroll under a glowing circle of light.
The message the rabbi had for Netanyahu was that he is entering a “house of lies,” and that his mission would be to “light a candle of truth for the Jewish people.”
The lies being spread about Israel, according to Netanyahu, are three: Holocaust denial, accusations that Israel is the aggressor in the region, and claims that Jews are foreign colonialists in the Land of Israel.
This is where the Israeli P.M. turned to Jewish America for help: “When you light the candles in Yom Kippur,” Bibi told the all-Jewish audience, “light one other candle: the candle of truth and justice for the Jewish people and the Jewish state.”
And with that, Netanyahu ended his address.
In his 25 minute speech, the Israeli leader did not mention Iran by name, did not discuss the status of the Israeli-Palestinian peace process, and only briefly mentioned that “settlements are not the cause” of the conflict.
But the choice of a more personal address seemed to have worked well with the crowd, who gave Netanyahu an extended standing ovation. The introductions before his speech were even warmer, with Alan Solow, chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major Jewish Organizations, saying that he sleeps better at night knowing the Netanyahu is at the helm in Israel and with Elie Wiesel giving an intimate account of his past meetings with the Netanyahu family and assuring the listeners that “what motivates him [Netanyahu] is not political gain” but the future of the people of Israel.
It was Netanyahu’s last stop on his New York visit, which began with a trilateral meeting with Mahmud Abbas and Barack Obama, and ended with a speech before the U.N. General Assembly. Before leaving for his flight back to Israel (planned so he makes it home before Shabbat begins), Netanyahu got a gift to take back to Israel: a shofar, the biggest one organizers could find, according to Malcolm Hoenlein, who presented Netanyahu with the gift. Hoenlein even blew the shofar to make sure it works. It did.
Nathan Guttman, staff writer, was the Forward’s Washington bureau chief. He joined the staff in 2006 after serving for five years as Washington correspondent for the Israeli dailies Haaretz and The Jerusalem Post. In Israel, he was the features editor for Ha’aretz and chief editor of Channel 1 TV evening news. He was born in Canada and grew up in Israel. He is a graduate of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.
Light One Candle: Bibi on the Lubavitcher Rebbe’s Challenge