By Matt Moir
It was intended to be thoughtful and compassionate, but it came across as something far different.
In his letter of condolences to President Barack Obama over the tragedy in Newton, Connecticut, Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu deliberately referenced Palestinian attacks in Israel. He didn’t actually write ‘terrorism’ or ‘Hamas’ or something else incendiary because he didn’t have to; the implication was clear.
The letter reads:
Dear President Obama,
I was shocked and horrified by today’s savage massacre of innocent children and adults at the Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut.
We in Israel have experienced such cruel acts of slaughter and we know the shock and agony they bring.
I want to express my profound grief, and that of all the people in Israel, to the families that lost their loved ones.
May you and the American people find the strength to overcome this unspeakable tragedy.
With my deepest condolences,
(Signed) Benjamin Netanyahu,
Prime Minister of Israel
It would be deeply cynical to suggest that Netanyahu consciously saw a massacre of innocent children as an opportunity to make a political point about the conflict between Israel and Palestine. In fact, there is no doubt that the Prime Minister’s sympathies are genuine.
But that’s just the point. The line about Israel having ‘experienced such cruel acts of slaughter’ gives us a telling commentary on the way Netanyahu sees the world, and, more specifically, the way he sees Israel’s relationship with Palestinians.
Prime Minister Netanyahu identifies Israel with the children of Sandy Hook Elementary School, and Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza with the gunman. According to Netanyahu’s worldview, any violent interaction between Israelis and Palestinians will, without fail, be an example of evil Palestinian terrorists preying upon Israeli innocence. To wit, even after the formidable Israeli army pounded Gaza City last month, Netanyahu, displaying a stunning nerve, declared that Israel would not be bullied by the Palestinians.
It’s this perverse victimization philosophy that drives Israeli foreign policy, and, according to Israel’s hawkish officials, it is what should form the framework of the United States’ national conversation about the Israel-Palestine conflict. According to Netanyahu, however, that framework has begun to crack under the Obama Presidency.
Though Obama has repeatedly reaffirmed the ‘special relationship’ the US has with its Middle Eastern partner, the President’s administration has had the temerity to chastise Israel for some of its particularly extreme policy decisions, such as the approval of the construction of thousands of apartment buildings the day after the United Nations voted to upgrade Palestine’s diplomatic status.
Netanyahu has found it intolerable that Obama is either unable or unwilling to entirely accept (to the Prime Minister’s standard) the Israeli narrative on Israel-Palestine relations, and has struggled for a way to help the President understand what the Palestinians truly represent.
The shooting in Connecticut was his chance, and he took it. In Netanyahu’s mind, comparing the state of Israel to the victims of the Sandy Hook slayings wasn’t a crude and awkward attempt to portray the Palestinian struggle for statehood and dignity as a cold-blooded attack on school children. It was an opportunity to show Obama just how evil the Palestinians really are.
He just couldn’t help himself.
– Matt Moir is a Journalism graduate student and former history teacher in Toronto, Canada. He contributed this article to PalestineChronicle.com.