NETANYAHU’S SPEECH TO U.S. CONGRESS: A POLITICAL PSYCHOLOGY PERSPECTIVE
Netanyahu’s Speech to U.S. Congress: A Political Psychology Perspective
By Jay Thorne, Junior Scholar
On March 4, 2015, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu addressed the United States Congress to provide his views on the current nuclear negotiations with Iran. His visit and speech were both considered controversial and drew much media and global attention, as many believed his visit was politically affiliated, with the then upcoming elections. The speech affords scholars a unique opportunity to understand the finesse of Political Psychology, by studying the methods of verbal and nonverbal behavior, political influence, and psychological suggestions. Political communication can be considered one of the most critical aspects of a speech. Therefore his ability to pressurize the US government through persuasive measures within his presentation served as a congruent connection with his audience. Through the vast arena of political communication, Netanyahu attempted to widen the political horizon of not only U.S. Congress, but also the global community.
Like any other political build-up, Netanyahu artfully conditioned his speech prior to his presentation. During the opening remarks he framed his words and actions in order to connect with his audience. For example, he spoke of the alliance between the U.S. and Israel as being above politics. Unlike the United States’ past political relationship with Iran, Netanyahu appears to make use of the technique of framing to build on the overall consistent alliance and political relationship between America and Israel. Framing a political speech can be a critical step in any attempt of grasping the intended audience, and potential Israeli voters. Cristian Tileaga discusses “framing” in the book titled “Political Psychology” as “The way in which a message is framed can have an effect on its meaning, and increase or decrease the likelihood of its being accepted” (Tileaga, 2013, 167).
Netanyahu’s speech used framing to gather consensus on his thoughts. He accomplishes this by conditioning his audience, that is, the U.S. Congress, the many American viewers and the larger global public, by immediately associating American and Israeli objectives and views as the same. While presenting his opening remarks, he uses key words or phrases like “humbled” and “remarkable” and “common destiny”. “Because America and Israel, we share a common destiny, the destiny of promised lands that cherish freedom and offer hope” (Rupar, 2015).
As Netanyahu’s speech progressed, it continued along the “framing” style approach, while incorporating a finesse of consistency and highlighting the long-term efforts of the U.S. and Israeli relationship. In doing so, Netanyahu identified key events that were relevant to not just the current relationship between the U.S. and Israel, but also the one between the heads of the two states. He goes on to provide continuous references that highlight this relationship such as American and Israeli intelligence sharing and strengthening of security cooperation. Past conflict resolution strategies and potential negotiation outcomes were briefly described leading up to the focal point of the speech- his correlation between America and Israel as bonded allies.
One of the primary leadership styles of the Prime Minister resides in the ability to deal with strategies for conflict. Feldman and Valenty highlight Prime Minister styles within the book titled “Profiling Political Leaders” stating that “Prime ministers use a variety of strategies for dealing with disagreement. Some act as advocates and impose their own personal positions, thus playing a more forceful role in the proceedings than those who choose to arbitrate the conflict or to seek consensus. The latter demands that the leader take a more facilitative role and broker a decision through negotiation” (Feldman & Valenty, 2001, 84). The overall build-up of association and consistency led to the presentation of his main topic, in which his nonverbal presentation represented a humbling stature, but yet a confident verbal relay of information. It appeared that this portion of his speech was carefully crafted, as he energetically motivated his audience in preparation for the lead-in.
“My friends, I've come here today because, as prime minister of Israel, I feel a profound obligation to speak to you about an issue that could well threaten the survival of my country and the future of my people: Iran's quest for nuclear weapons.” (Rupar, 2015)
The intent of Netanyahu’s speech appeared to focus solely on preventing further negotiations between America and Iran. Within his speech, a solidifying use of political communication methods appeared present and uniquely crafted for this style of speech. His combination of nonverbal and verbal methods of influence were seen in bits of physical anchors in conjunction with key words, and the variation of tone, pitch and volume of select words when addressing his audience. Although Netanyahu’s speech incorporated many influencing techniques associated with political communication, he had already acquired a global audience by virtue of his planned timing, location and political strategy. By doing so, he also demonstrated a high level of management within strategic conflict, which has direct influence on the decision-making. Overall, the unique blend of political conditioning and consistency may have solidified the approach and presentation of this alleged controversial speech.
Cialdini, Robert B. 2009. Influence: Science and Practice. Fifth Edition. Boston, MA. Pearson Education Inc.
Feldman, Ofer, & Valenty, Linda O. 2001. Profiling Political Leaders: Cross-Cultural Studies of Personality and Behavior. Westport, CT. Praeger Publishers
Rupar, Terri. 2015. The Complete Transcript of Netanyahu’s Address to Congress. The Washington Post. http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/post-politics/wp/2015/03/03/full-text-netanyahus-address-to-congress/ (Accessed on March 4, 2015)
Tileaga, Cristian. 2013. Political Psychology: Critical Perspectives. New York. Cambridge University Press