In the press conference today after U.S. President Joe Biden’s arrival in Israel, it was clear that while some of the sentiments overlapped, the messages of President Biden and Prime Minister Netanyahu were sometimes directed at very different audiences.
What resonates with my audience? What do they need or want to hear? Both of these seasoned speakers knew what they were doing in choosing their words and intentions carefully for their audiences.
Prime Minister Netanyahu began his script of messages by thanking President Biden for the “unequivocal support which reflects the will of the US people.” The last words are particularly interesting – I think he is now speaking to the US people and making sure they really are on board.
Netanyahu also thanked him for the unprecedented cooperation including “the tools we need to defend ourselves. The message you have sent to our enemies not to test our resolve.” Now we make the transition to the region – this must be one of Israel’s key messages – as Hezbollah attacks Israel in the north and Iran continues to arm the Hamas war machine. As Biden said earlier, “Don’t.” Don’t test us, don’t think we are weakened and vulnerable. We are strong and we will prevail. And, now, we are not alone.
Let’s now continue with a message for the international community who has quickly moved on from the dead Jews. So, what if we experienced another Holocaust? Netanyahu thanks Biden for the “moral clarity you have demonstrated since this attack”. You have rightly drawn a line between the forces of Barbarism and the forces of civilization. You described what Hamas did as “sheer evil.” Yes, international community – this is a war of good vs. evil, barbarism vs. civilization. Nobody wants to be on the wrong side of this equation, do they?
Netanyahu continues with the necessary specific examples of the atrocities. I often tell my diplomats and spokespeople that you must give specific examples and make it personal. That’s what people remember.
Netanyahu provides Biden with an incredibly strong image which he will use later. He says, “They searched for the secret hiding places where parents hid their children. Just imagine, Mr. President, the fear and panic of those little children in those moments as the monsters discovered their hiding places.” Pan to Biden. We see that he is clearly moved by this as witnessed by the pain and introspection on his face.
Now, Netanyahu returns to the American people and gives them a reference they can clearly relate to. He states that Hamas murdered over 1400 people and then gives the American equivalent — 50,000 relative to the US population! “That is 20 9/11s. That is why October 7th is another day that will live in infamy.” Two historical references — 9/11 and Pearl Harbor in one breath!!
And, for the big finish: “For the Israeli people, there is only one thing better than you standing with Israel, that is you standing in Israel.”
Damn, that Netanyahu can turn a phrase.
Now it is President Biden’s turn.
“I wanted the people of Israel and the people of the world to know that the US stands with Israel.” He emphasized the fact that Hamas slaughtered more than 1300 people. “It is not hyperbole to suggest slaughtered . . . slaughtered. Including 31 Americans.”
Yes, the words are important – it is crucial that Israel use these words — slaughter, massacre, barbarism, evil. Until the world learns to use them as well.
While Netanyahu read his faithful notes, Biden has his note cards and at this point, in the most poignant moment of this meeting, goes totally off book.
“You said imagine what those children hiding from Hamas were thinking. It’s beyond my comprehension to imagine what they were thinking.” Now this, bought me. He is relating to what Netanyahu said, reflects on it, makes it personal. Lovely.
“You have to make sure you have what you need to defend yourselves. And we will make sure that will occur.” This is directed to both the Israeli audience and Israel’s regional enemies.
Of course he had to declare the perfunctory, “We have to bear in mind that Hamas does not include all of the Palestinian people. And has brought them only suffering.” This has been a message I have recommended for years to our Israeli diplomats – it is for the international community. It means we have nothing against the Palestinian people, just their evil leadership. The world doesn’t seem to understand that the Palestinians suffer from Hamas as well since they steal their money and use them as human shields.
Perfunctory statement number 2: “I was saddened by the explosion at the hospital in Gaza yesterday. It appears as though it was done by the other team, not you.” This is great for the international audience to hear this not from an Israeli spokesperson, but from the US President. Of course, thanks to Al Jazeera, we have the proof that Islamic Jihad launched the rocket that fell in Gaza exploding on the hospital.
And, for dessert, Biden looks directly at the camera and addresses the Israeli audience: “I want to say to the people of Israel: Their courage, their bravery, their commitment is stunning. I’m proud to be here.” This is not easy, by the way, when there are three cameras and you have to know which one is on you. But, incredibly powerful because you are looking directly at your audience.
I have to say, this melted even the most jaded hearts of the Israeli news anchors.
They were very moved by the fact that President Biden came in person to Israel. They understood that he insisted on coming here in person. One anchor added, “He always said you don’t have to be a Jew to be a Zionist and he proved it here.”
They also appreciated his statement: “We’ll make sure you have everything you need to defend yourselves.”
The fact that President Biden came in person to Israel, promised the US’ unequivocal support for Israel and the means with which to defend itself drew sweeping admiration by the Israeli people.
So, each leader came with messages for each other, their counterpart’s nation as well as the international community. Oh, yes, and the “Don’t try us” for our neighboring enemies.
Again, sometimes the greatest gift of speakers is the ability to go off book, reflect on what the other person said and actually mean it.
As my acting teachers always told me, “Acting is about reacting”.
Thank you, President Biden, for visiting us. It meant a lot.