PM Netanyahu addressing Jewish leaders in New York, September 30, 2014..
(photo credit: AVI OHAYON - GPO)
As he set off for New York to address the 69th session of the UN General Assembly on Monday, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu indicated he would be delivering a “razor-sharp” speech. Given his oratorical track record, there was little doubt he would make good on his promise, and indeed he did not disappoint.
Netanyahu’s 35-minute monologue from the podium of the hornet’s nest in midtown Manhattan was a masterpiece. And it took a great performer to be able to pull it off, particularly since the plenum was nearly empty and the only people present cheering him on were members of his entourage and some of his Jewish-American supporters in the balcony.
But Netanyahu is a pro, and he knows how to talk into a camera, with his sights on a far wider audience.
What he did on Monday, with a mixture of toughness and elegance, was to use the consensus about combating the Islamic State (IS) terrorists to warn against militant Islam in all its permutations, emphasizing the danger of a nuclear Iran – the original and ultimate “Islamic State.”
He began by likening militant Islam to a cancer that “starts out small... [b]ut left unchecked... grows, metastasizing over wider and wider areas.”
He proceeded to point out that Israel’s war with Hamas this summer was not only defensive, and as necessary as that which is being fought right now against IS, but was carried out in the most moral way possible, with the IDF taking special care to prevent civilian casualties.
And then he went for the proverbial jugular of the very body he was addressing (in stark contrast to the literal neck-slicing that has become the trademark of the Islamic caliphate).
“By investigating Israel rather than Hamas for war crimes,” Netanyahu said, “the UN Human Rights Council... is sending a clear message to terrorists everywhere: Use civilians as a human shield... [T]he UN Human Rights Council has thus become a terrorist rights council.”
He continued: “We live in a world steeped in tyranny and terror, where gays are hanged from cranes in Teheran; political prisoners are executed in Gaza; young girls are abducted en masse in Nigeria; and hundreds of thousands are butchered in Syria, Libya and Iraq. Yet nearly half... of the UN Human Rights Council’s resolutions focusing on a single country have been directed against Israel, the one true democracy in the Middle East; Israel, where issues are openly debated in a boisterous parliament, where human rights are protected by independent courts, and where women, gays and minorities live in a genuinely free society.”
This treatment of Israel, he said, is “only one manifestation of the return of one of the world’s largest prejudices. We hear mobs today in Europe call for the gassing of Jews. We hear some national leaders compare Israel to the Nazis. This is not a function of Israel’s policies. It’s a function of diseased minds. And that disease has a name. It’s called anti-Semitism. It is now spreading in polite society where it masquerades as legitimate criticism of Israel.”
Netanyahu also made reference to Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, who on Friday called Operation Protective Edge a “war of genocide” against the Palestinians; defended his decision to form a unity government with Hamas and said he was turning to the UNSC to pass a resolution to end the Israeli “occupation” by a certain date, without a peace agreement.
Depicting Hamas’s war crimes not only against Israelis but its own people – and Israel’s genuine attempt to preserve lives on both sides – Netanyahu asked the rhetorical question: “In what moral universe does genocide include warning the enemy civilian population to get out of harm’s way, or ensuring that they receive tons of humanitarian aid each day, even as thousands of rockets are being fired at us, or setting up a field hospital to aid their wounded?” He then provided the answer, “Well, I suppose it’s the same moral universe where a man [Abbas] who wrote a dissertation of lies about the Holocaust and who insists on a Palestine free of Jews – Judenrein – can stand at this podium and shamelessly accuse Israel of genocide and ethnic cleansing.”
As former US ambassador to the UN John Bolton subsequently commented on FOX News, it was the speech that President Barack Obama should have made.
Reactions in Israel have been a bit less positive, however. Snide remarks about Netanyahu on either end of the political spectrum immediately emerged.
The Left ridiculed him for using the “same old clichés” about the threat of Islamic terrorism to avoid Palestinian statehood. The Right, much of which is still reeling over what it considers to be Netanyahu’s weakness during the war in Gaza – not finishing off Hamas – has expressed being sick and tired of the prime minister’s great speeches.
In other words, both groups of cynics view his gift of the gab as meaningless.
I beg to differ.
Words are extremely important. And Netanyahu’s reiteration of certain truths that are under global assault is more crucial than ever, especially with a hostile administration in the White House and difficult opposition at home.
But it is because words matter that I have to take issue with the last part of his tour de force on Monday. Concluding that the only way to achieve peace with the Palestinians is to create regional cooperation with the Arab world and international community, Netanyahu asserted that he is “ready to make a historic compromise” in the form of territorial withdrawals.
Though he said that this is not because Israel is an occupier in its own land, and added that any peace deal would have to be “anchored in mutual recognition and enduring security arrangements,” he actually repeated that any peace agreement “will obviously necessitate a territorial compromise.”
Announcements like that, particularly in the context of an increasingly radicalizing Middle East and Europe, only serve to embolden the worst elements of Palestinian society. Offering “land for peace” is the best way to convey to Israel’s enemies that they should continue clinging to what Netanyahu himself called the “branches of the same poisonous tree” from which Hamas and IS cultivate their “fanatical creed.”
He, like all Israelis, ought to know this by now.
The writer is the author of To Hell in a Handbasket: Carter, Obama, and the ‘Arab Spring.’