In whose Jewish name does Netanyahu speak?

  • GeoffEditorial
On what basis did Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu claim to speak for the entire Jewish people in his controversial speech to the US Congress this week about Iran? Before leaving Jerusalem for Washington he said: “My responsibility is to worry not only about the State of Israel, but also the future of the Jewish people… Seventy, 80 years ago no one could raise their voice when there were plans to destroy us. Today… it is my obligation.”
by Geoff Sifrin | Mar 04, 2015


To the chagrin of his foes, Netanyahu has projected himself as similar to previous daring Israeli prime ministers who made controversial decisions, standing against international and internal opposition for the Jewish people’s critical interests.

David Ben-Gurion took the leap in 1948 of declaring the Jewish state when many objected, or believed conditions were not right and the new entity would be quickly wiped out by hostile Arab armies. Levi Eshkol, after resisting pressure for a hasty attack, gave the green light in 1967 for pre-emptive Israeli strikes against the combined armies of Syria and Egypt which were threatening Israel, starting the Six Day War.

Menachem Begin concluded a historic peace treaty with Egyptian President Anwar Sadat in 1979 - for which both received the Nobel Peace Prize - giving back to Egypt the entire Sinai Peninsula which had been captured in the Six Day War and demolishing the Israeli town of Yamit, against the protests of many Jews and Israelis.  

These seminal moves by past Israeli prime ministers affected Jews across the world dramatically. In retrospect, they are widely understood to have been justifiable decisions. At the time, however, they required considerable mettle to stand up to critics and foes and the danger of things going terribly awry.

Will Netanyahu be seen in years to come as the Jewish Churchill, the leader who had the courage and foresight to brush aside opposition and diplomatic protocol for the sake of a life-and-death matter, shouting out the “truth” the global community and a weak US president were denying? A heroic figure history will applaud?

Netanyahu said as much in answering critics of his Congress speech and its negative effect on the US-Israel relationship: “I think… Iran with an atomic bomb is much more dangerous than one disagreement or another [with the US].”

Jews do not march in lockstep. Jewish leaders, including Israeli ones, are not easily accepted by all. There have been many Jewish “not in my name” campaigns relating to Israel under different leaders. In South Africa in 2002, one mounted by former SA government minister Ronnie Kasrils drew support from a range of Jewish South Africans, criticising Israel’s occupation of Palestinian territories under Prime Minister Ariel Sharon.

During last year’s Gaza conflict, 500 South African Jews, describing themselves as “proudly Jewish” – including prominent personalities in South African and Jewish society - placed a full page ad in the Sunday Times denouncing Israeli actions under Netanyahu, effectively saying it doesn’t speak for them.

A current international case in point involves Democratic Senator Dianne Feinstein of California, who told CNN she rejected Netanyahu’s “arrogant” claim that he was lobbying for the entire Jewish population.

“He doesn’t speak for me on this… I think it’s a rather arrogant statement. I think the Jewish community is like any other community. There are different points of view.”

So, can an Israeli prime minister claim to speak on behalf of all Jews? In less than two weeks Israeli elections take place and obviously Netanyahu - like all politicians - wants to score points by projecting himself as the champion of Israel and the Jewish people.

But the issue is greater than Israeli electioneering and the Jewish people. Whatever one thinks of pre-election posturing, Netanyahu deserves credit for his wake-up call to the world about the danger of an atomic Iran. Whether a Jew in Israel or the Diaspora accepts him as leader, is almost irrelevant compared to the gravity of the topic.

Increasing terrorist attacks, particularly those sponsored by Iran’s radical theocracy, threaten the whole world, not just Israeli and Jewish security. On this issue, Netanyahu does speak for many people who might disagree with him in other areas.


Geoff Sifrin is former editor of the SAJR. He writes this column in his personal capacity.


  1. 11 nat cheiman 04 Mar
    Bibi is the chosen leader for Israel.
    Those that would like Iran to get the bomb slowly are entitled to voice their opinion. Moses spoke for all jews. I'm not comparing Bibi to moses but why can he not speak for all Jews? Unless Jews want Avi Liberman to speak on their behalf.  
  2. 10 Mordechai 05 Mar
    Yes, as a diaspora Jew I am proud to say that Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu DOES speak for me and every Jew in the world. What is also certain is that Obama does not speak for me as a Jew, Zuma does not speak for me as a Jew. What is also certain is that those short sited Jews who are in the Dianne Feinstein camp and contend that Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu does not speak for them will be the first to call on Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu or the Israeli PM of the day to send a plane to take them to Israel when they are facing Anti Semitism and need to leave the country they are in at the time.
  3. 9 David 05 Mar
    When it comes to Israel , he can speak for me anytime, however I'm sure that there will be more liberal views that differ with 'us'.  he, after all is encumbered by his responsibility to make those decisions with the Knesset on behalf of Israel.
    Yes of course there is a large question mark around any PM who announces that he is speaking for the religion, and the members there-of, within Israel, as well as,  those spread around the globe.
      I am unable to equate myself with Israeli's , but I certainly have, and will always have, the interests of the State of Israel close to my heart.

  4. 8 Mordechai 05 Mar
    When the Barak Obama's and other gentile leaders of the world come for the Jews living in their countries just because they are Jews I hope the Dianne Feinstein's of the world don't call on PM of Israel to save them, and if they do refer them back to their statement “He doesn’t speak for me on this… I think it’s a rather arrogant statement", and tell the Feinstein's of the world to call Obama who clearly speaks for them
  5. 7 Choni 05 Mar
    Are you trying to say that Netanyahu does not speak for the 'great' Geoff Sifrin regarding this issue of a nuclear Iran?
  6. 6 Warren 05 Mar
    Who DOES speak for you Geoff?
  7. 5 Mordechai 06 Mar
    Choni, I guess what I am trying to tell those Jews of the diaspora who think like Feinstein...WAKE UP and learn from history.
  8. 4 Zeitgeis 06 Mar
    what do you think of the Zapiro cartoon today?
  9. 3 Shmuel 06 Mar
    Barack Hussein Obama,current US ,definitely speaks for all US citizens wherever they might live on this planet,by the same logic the Jewish PM of the Jewish state of Israel certainly speaks for each and every Jew worldwide.  
  10. 2 Choni 07 Mar
    Mr. Sifrin's column literally makes me sick to the stomach.
    To think that Netanyahu's speech which in essence is to prevent Iran from a committing a second Holocaust, does not speak on his (Sifrin's) behalf, is to me completely sickening. I'm sure that Eli Wiesel, who was in the audience, and millions of other Jews around the world would agree that Netanyahu spoke for them. 
  11. 1 Gary Selikow 08 Mar
    Presumably Siffrin does not agree with Netanyahu trying to save Israel from a nuclear holocaust


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