Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu took a whirlwind trip to the U.S. between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. It started with a politically turbulent, but quick, visit to San Francisco to meet with controversial mogul Elon Musk, then headed eastward to the chaotic city of New York where he met with President Joe Biden on the sidelines of the U.N. General Assembly at which he also spoke to a nearly empty hall after many of the world’s diplomats had already left the U.S.
The trip ended with a mad dash to beat the oncoming winds and rains of Tropical Storm Ophelia and to make it back to Israel before Erev Yom Kippur.
The analysis of Netanyahu’s first trip to the U.S. since he again became prime minister last December was mixed, with political observers stressing the historical nature of the visit on several levels.
This was the longest time period a recently elected Israeli prime minister had to wait for a meeting with the sitting U.S. president. Biden, it seemed, delayed the visit both due to his unease with the right-wing coalition government the prime minister had cobbled together and because this government has been ramrodding legislation to weaken the powers of the country’s judicial system, incensing at least half of Israel’s population, and bringing millions into the streets over the past nine months.
The history-making aspects of the trip followed Netanyahu – in the form of Israeli ex-pats and Jewish American protesters – wherever he went. On the West Coast, he was greeted with a visual projection of himself in an orange prison jumpsuit behind bars, saying “Welcome to Alcatraz Bibi,” on the walls of the infamous prison, using his nickname. Netanyahu has been fighting several corruption charges in an ongoing trial in Jerusalem, charges he contends are political.
The provocative message followed one earlier in the week in New York, projected on the U.N. building saying, “Don’t believe Crime Minister Netanyahu. Protect Israeli democracy.” Those messages, plus the well-organized protests supported by the Israeli ex-pat grassroots activist group UnXeptable, followed the prime minister at every point in his trip, from his landing in San Jose, to his hotel there and his meeting with Musk, the billionaire entrepreneur who – many critics contend – has provided a platform to spread antisemitism on X, formerly known as Twitter, which he bought nearly a year ago.
The Anti-Defamation League, which fights bias and antisemitism, has been trading accusations with Musk for months. In early September, ADL CEO Jonathan Greenblatt released a statement contending that “this urgent matter is the safety of the Jewish people in the face of increasing, intensifying antisemitism. Musk is engaging with and elevating these antisemites at a time when ADL is tracking a surge of bomb threats and swatting attacks of synagogues and Jewish institutions, dramatic levels of antisemitic propaganda being littered throughout Jewish and non-Jewish residential communities, and extremists marching openly through the streets in Nazi gear. All of this is happening in a context of the highest number of antisemitic incidents that ADL has tracked in more than 40 years.”
ADL’s comments in the wake of the prime minister’s meeting with Musk were more moderate. “We appreciated PM Netanyahu for raising concerns about the proliferation of antisemitism on X/Twitter during his conversation with Elon Musk. We hope that Mr. Musk takes PM Netanyahu’s concerns seriously so that X/Twitter can become a safer and more welcome place for all,” according to an ADL spokesperson.
That controversy blew over quickly as Netanyahu flew East. He was met at his hotel, at the U.N., at the Biden meeting and everywhere he went with hundreds and ultimately thousands of Israeli ex-pats and American Jews blowing horns, beating drums, yelling “shame” and “democracy” in Hebrew. The protest at the U.N. was considered the largest outside of Israel and was significant because Israelis living in the U.S. had not previously protested their own government.
In his speech to the U.N. General Assembly’s 78th session, Netanyahu notably ignored Israel’s domestic crisis in which critics of his policies are charging that he’s leading the country from a democracy into an authoritarian autocracy or theocracy. He focused, instead, on the possibility of normalization with Saudi Arabia that the Biden administration is trying to construct, as well as the continuing threat from Iran.
Repeating his inclination to display graphics, Netanyahu held up a map of the Middle East in 1948, showing the small size of Israel. A few years ago, in a previous address to the U.N. General Assembly, he showed an illustration of how Iran was approaching its ability to build nuclear weapons.
Whether a coincidence or not, Netanyahu even referred to John Lennon’s memorable song, “Imagine,” while protesters played the recording outside the U.N. headquarters, before they completed their protest by singing Israel’s national anthem, “Hatikvah.”
- Israel news
- Jan Jaben-Eilon
- Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu
- rosh hashanah
- Yom Kippur
- U.N. General Assembly
- Tropical Storm Ophelia
- Welcome to Alcatraz Bibi
- Don’t believe Crime Minister Netanyahu. Protect Israeli democracy
- Anti-Defamation League
- Jonathan Greenblatt
- Elon Musk