The Language Barrier

Bibi Netanyahu: Lost in Translation

05.21.12 6:15 PM ET

We are often told that Arabs say different things to domestic and international audiences. In fact, they are notorious in pro-Israel circles for doing so.  But yesterday Bibi showed us that Israelis are guilty of exactly the same thing.

Last September Bibi went on the Charlie Rose show. Rose asked him for his thoughts on a united Jerusalem. His response was diplomatic, even conciliatory: 

NETANYAHU: I want Jerusalem a united city for sure. But that’s the way I go—These are not preconditions for negotiations. They’re positions in the negotiations. The final positions come out after a negotiation. I don’t think it makes sense, and I think it’s just not wise, it’s even silly, to come forward and say well I’ll offer this percent, you know, with a decimal point—


NETANYAHU: Of land. That’s what the negotiations are for.

While in conversation with an American audience, Bibi admitted that in an ideal world, Jerusalem would be the undivided capital of the Jewish state, but given the political realities, compromises were necessary.  The exact amount of Jerusalem that would be ceded to a Palestinian state would ne negotiated, but there seemed to be no question that Jerusalem would ultimately be divided.  

But yesterday, Jerusalem Day, Netanyahu gave a speech in Hebrew to the students and rabbis of Yeshivat Merkaz HaRav, one of the oldest and most respected institutions of Jewish study in Israel, founded by the first Ashkenazi chief Rabbi of Palestine, Rabbi Abraham Isaac HaCohen Kook. In that speech, speaking not only on behalf of the government but definitively for all Jewish people at all times, Netanyahu announced that he would fight to the end for a united Jerusalem:

There are those who believe that the promise of the future of our people means the division of Jerusalem, but Jerusalem is the heart of hearts of our people and our future cannot be guaranteed by the uprooting of our heart. The future is guaranteed by the strengthening of our heart, and this is what I do and this is what I will continue to do. I will continue to build Jerusalem, I will continue to stand firm against the nations of the world, I will continue to say to them that Jerusalem will remain forever the united capital of the State of Israel and the united capital of the People of Israel.

The sentiment was summed up in a tweet:

@IsraeliPM #Netanyahu in #Jerusalem Day remarks: "Jerusalem is the heart of the #Jewishpeople and it will not be divided". #Israel

It sounds like Netanyahu's Hebrew-speaking alter ego could use a translator.  

UPDATE: Commentors noted that Rav Kook was not the "First Chief Rabbi of Israel" but rather the First Ashkenazi Chief Rabbi of Mandatory Palestine. His title has been corrected.