After two more speeches, we took him to my home where we had arranged a dinner with Rhodes Scholars, many of them Jewish, most critical of Israeli policy. This time Bibi was softer in presentation but just as firm in conviction. Israel was a righteous nation, focused on maintaining democracy and human rights while facing existential threats on nearly every border. He spoke to the students of their responsibility to be proud defenders of their people and never bend in the face of opposition.
The climax of the day was a lecture at the Union itself. Palestinian and Jewish protesters rallied outside in their hundreds with the rallying cry: “Net-an-ya-hu you should know, we support the P-L-O.” Bibi left his security bubble and walked over to the protesters. “Come inside and listen. Then you can protest. I’ll answer every question you ask.”
Many left their barricades and joined the large crowd inside. What followed was one of the great speeches I have heard, a mesmerizing presentation of the need for democracy across the Middle East and the liberalization of Arab governments that deny their citizens their God-given human rights. At its high point Bibi said, “Many of us in Israel have buried children and lost brothers, in fulfillment of a simple dream for Jews to finally live and prosper in a country of their own in peace.” He did not have to mention whom he was referring to as even his detractors knew of Entebbe and the hero-brother he had lost.
Again he was bombarded with hostile questions. He responded patiently but forcefully. When he finished he was given a standing ovation by most of the students in the hall. It was a night few of us would forget.
No Israeli Prime Minister has ever been as American as Bibi. And yet no Prime Minister has so successfully resisted the pressure from the leader of a country he loves so much for a country he loves even more. And the Israeli people, in supporting Bibi regardless of the absence of a stamp of approval from President Obama, are finally realizing that Israel cannot ultimately be protected from Washington, but Jerusalem, especially when the current American Administration is not in step with the strong sympathy of the American people for a tiny and just nation fighting for its life.
This column is dedicated to the memory of Machla Debakarov, the mother of a close friend of Rabbi Shmuley’s.