From meeting Musk to the UN, Netanyahu’s US roadshow was paved with Israel normalisation

From meeting Musk to the UN, Netanyahu’s US roadshow was paved with Israel normalisation
6 min read
29 Sep, 2023
With growing protest in Israel over his judicial coup, Netanyahu went on a US tour in a bid to both silence criticism & strengthen Israel normalisation. Unfortunately, he faced little accountability along the way, writes Richard Silverstein.
Israel Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks at the 78th Session of the General Assembly of the UN. [GETTY]

Over the past two weeks, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has brought his US road show from coast to coast. It started at Elon Musk’s Tesla plant in northern California, and ended in New York.

In the Golden State, Netanyahu made a pilgrimage to one of the world’s richest men and technology guru. He did so because both men faced controversies and the visit offered each of them validation aimed at silencing critics.

Silencing criticism

Netanyahu has mounted an anti-democracy coup in Israel, seeking to destroy the judicial branch of government and cancel the power of the state legal system. It, on the other hand, threatens to hold him to account for multiple charges of bribery and conspiracy.

Recently, the Israeli Supreme Court, the focus of the ire of the Israeli far right, heard legal arguments from the government and its opponents. It could rule to overturn the “reforms” or approve them. It could uphold current law which would disqualify the Israeli prime minister from office if he is convicted. Or, it could approve the proposed anti-judicial law which would permit him to remain prime minister, even if convicted.

''Every word Netanyahu spoke displayed a fatuous fool, who doesn’t believe anything he said. With characteristic braggadocio, he declared that normalisation with the Arab world would “enhance the prospect of peace with the Palestinians.” In fact, it will destroy the chances for peace.''

Musk, on the other hand, has faced a backlash over the massive amount of anti-Semitic content on his X (formerly known as Twitter) social media platform. This hate speech has been amplified by Musk himself, who has regularly posted or retweeted anti-Semitic slurs – something he seems to have in common with this grandfather, Joshua Haldeman, whose shocking history of anti-Semitic obsessions was recently published in the Atlantic and New Yorker.

One of the most vocal groups noting this alarming phenomenon was the Anti-Defamation League whose mission it is to defend Jews against such anti-Semitic attacks (though it also serves as a key constituent of the Israel Lobby). Musk has threatened the ADL with a $22-billion lawsuit for purportedly lobbying his advertisers to abandon the platform. He has offered no evidence to support his claim, however (because there is none).

Before departing from Israel, Netanyahu lashed out at pro-democracy protestors who have mounted weekly demonstrations against his judicial coup. He accused them of aligning themselves with Iran and the PLO. This is typical of the hysterical, contrafactual rhetoric used by the Israeli far-right, including its leader.

The Israeli expatriate group, UnXceptable, rallied at the Tesla plant to protest the Israeli PM’s visit. The factory has several major entrances and protestors gathered at each one to ensure they would confront him. According to an Israeli who was present, his Shin Bet security detail used three different identical vehicles, two of which contained body doubles. They each pulled up to different entrances. The car carrying the real Netanyahu pulled up to the back cargo bay, and disgorged him there.

The goal of this Musk-Netanyahu mutual admiration society was for the Israeli leader to obtain an [empty] promise from Musk that he would address the anti-Semitism problem, and that he himself abhorred the hatred it represents. The public record belies his claim and casts doubt on this commitment.

The Israeli premier showered praise on Musk, as if he were a vassal bowing before a viceroy. He called the entrepreneur a “modern Thomas Edison” and “unofficial president.”  This would be news to the “official” US president, Joe Biden.

For Netanyahu, the meeting with Musk was a way for him to display to his Israeli constituents, his intimate relationship with the world’s premier technology evangelist. This would burnish his and his country’s credentials as the home for such technological innovation. Not to mention, Netanyahu’s penchant for sidling up to billionaires and basking in their wealth and power.

He intended the meeting also as a pressure valve to deflate the massive weekly protests against his judicial coup.


In New York, Netanyahu finally had his much sought-after audience with Biden, who had refused him a White House invitation. The cooling of the relationship sent a message expressing disdain for his extremist coalition government.

At the hour-long meeting, they discussed a complicated normalisation plan that would involve Saudi Arabia recognising Israel, in return for a US mutual defence pact and transfer of nuclear technology to the Kingdom. Alarmingly, this would enable it to enrich uranium, purportedly for civilian use. However, it could also be used to produce a nuclear bomb.

Not only would normalisation be a political coup for Netanyahu, it would split the Muslim world on the question of Palestine. Though the Saudis have demanded Israeli concessions to Palestinians as a price for recognition, those offered are cosmetic at best. The Kingdom would resume the pipeline of billions in aid to the Palestinian Authority.

In addition, there has also been talk of transferring more territory to Palestinian control. Though any such offer would likely break apart the ruling coalition, whose most radical ministers have threatened to bolt in the event of any change in the West Bank status quo favouring the Palestinians. Even such a minor concession to the Palestinians seems off the table.

During the UN General Assembly annual meeting, Netanyahu’s ambassador was detained by UN security after a stunt which disrupted the speech of Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi. He held aloft a photo of the martyr of the Iranian feminist movement, Mahsa Amini, who died in police custody. In doing so, he belied the flagrant murders of thousands of Palestinian mothers and children during Israeli attacks. 

Later, Netanyahu delivered his speech to a mostly empty hall. In it, he displayed a map of the “new Middle East” after normalisation, which entirely erased Palestine. It reinforced Israel’s decades-long policy of ethnic cleansing and erasure of Palestinian existence.

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He also invoked various tired clichés:

“[W]hen the Palestinians see that most of the Arab world has reconciled itself to the Jewish state, they too will be more likely to abandon the fantasy of destroying Israel and finally embrace a path of genuine peace with it.”

Every word Netanyahu spoke displayed a fatuous fool, who doesn’t believe anything he said. With characteristic braggadocio, he declared that normalisation with the Arab world would “enhance the prospect of peace with the Palestinians.” In fact, it will destroy the chances for peace.

This was perhaps his most offensive statement:

“For peace to prevail, the Palestinians must stop spewing Jew hatred, finally reconcile themselves to the Jewish state.”

Netanyahu ignores not only the hatred spewed by Israeli ministers against Palestinians, but the genocidal ethnic cleansing and wholesale burning of entire Palestinian villages. Not to mention IDF invasions of Palestinian towns leaving massive destruction in their wake. That is true hatred. 

Palestinians on the other hand, could respond to Netanyahu’s claim by declaring Israelis must stop spewing hatred and finally reconcile themselves to a Palestinian state. Unfortunately, this is about as likely as Palestinians recognising an apartheid state which has inflicted immense suffering for 75 years.

Richard Silverstein writes the Tikun Olam blog and is a freelance journalist specialising in exposing secrets of the Israeli national security state. He campaigns against opacity and the negative impact of Israeli military censorship.

Follow him on Twitter: @richards1052

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Opinions expressed in this article remain those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of The New Arab, its editorial board or staff.