Maybe there’s a silver lining to Gov. Patrick’s Israel trip…

Reading a truly horrifying account in today’s Wall Street Journal of what is only the latest in a long string of murderous attacks on Israeli civilians (including in this case a preschooler and an infant) living on the West Bank, a random and some might say optimistic thought occurred to me.

Governor Patrick is taking flak here at home for reports that his trade delegation has departed Israel for Great Britain with nary a single new trade deal to show for the days spent visiting our Middle Eastern ally. The absolute best the Governor’s spokespeople can say for the trip is that it produced a “memorandum of understanding” that will – they say – lead to “increased research and development collaboration between Massachusetts and Israeli companies” by (Gov’s words) “”formaliz[ing] an already strong relationship.” Kind of an international renewal of vows. Nice, but the kind of thing that leaves the family back home wondering if we really needed to spend all that money (somewhere around $300K for the Governor and his entourage of 11 staff) on such a lavish ceremony when times are tough.

I had the tremendous good fortune over a decade ago to be part of a political delegation to Israel; a delegation hosted, as it happens, by then-and-current Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu – one of the most stunningly impressive individuals I have ever been privileged to meet.  Shimon Peres is another – same trip. These are men who deal on a daily basis with the kind of sustained pressure that leaders of Western democracies rarely experience even for a day. Netanyahu comes in for a lot of criticism – some of it admittedly self-inflicted – for his statements actions, but to hear him speak in a small group about his responsibility to the Israeli people is to be absolutely convinced beyond the slightest doubt. The man is not political – he is intensely passionate.

I will defend my people!” Shouted, fist slamming the conference table around which our small delegation sat.

The declaration erupted from Netanyahu in the middle of an otherwise calm and cordial discussion of the security situation facing his country in 1998, shortly – as it happens – before events began to happen that would eventually culminate in the Second Intifada. Netanyahu was responding to a polite question posed to him about the political implications of some of his harder-line positions. The anger in his voice was directed not at the questioner, but at his critics, many of them international.

“My country is surrounded by well-armed nations that deny our right to exist, and who teach their children that our existence represents a crime against them,” he said. “At its narrowest point, Israel is less than ten miles wide,” he said (and yes, he said “miles”). “A bomber launched from any number of hostile countries can be in range of our cities in less time than it takes to get a response in the air,” he said.

“I will defend my people!” SLAM!

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