To hear it from Israeli media, the annual Fall Fest at the UN General Assembly was one long and repetitious condemnation of Israel.Ban Ki-Moon also dealt with a large number of issues, including Syria, Yemen, Libya, Iraq, Afghanistan, the Sahel region, Ukraine, South Sudan, and North Korea. He also slammed an unnamed Presidential candidate, most likely Donald Trump, for demonizing Muslim refugees while practicing the "cynical and dangerous political math that says you add votes by dividing people and multiplying fear,”
However, the image is largely the creation of Israeli media. No surprise. We are the Chosen People, and it's easy to think of ourselves at the center of everything.
Google News headlines about world events highlighted Barack Obama's call at the UN for countries of the world to accept 360,000 refugees this year, the UK Prime Minister's reservations about refugees, and Turkey's Erdogan defending his move into Syria. Google News also highlighted a hijacking alarm against a Saudi airplane, violence in the Congo, and criticism of Donald Trump Jr.
Nonetheless, it's possible to find in the noise at the UN several pointed remarks about Israeli settlements by both the US President and the UN General Secretary. Yet Obama coupled his criticism of Israel with what might be called equally sharp barbs at Palestinian violence and incitement.
Obama opened his speech with comments about Cuba, Colombia, Myanmar, and Africa. He then dealt with a whole panoply of issues including North Korea, global warming, snipes at American politics, and cartoons attacking Muhammad. Buried in a paragraph deep into the speech was the following
"Israelis and Palestinians will be better off if Palestinians reject incitement and recognize the legitimacy of Israel, but Israel recognizes that it cannot permanently occupy and settle Palestinian land."
One commentator wrote about Ban that
"He also shouted out both Israeli and Palestinian leaders, calling the current state of affairs “madness” and arguing that abandoning the two-state solution “would spell doom” for both peoples."
All told, what we've heard from the worthies of the world remind of of what David Ben Gurion used to say about an earlier round of UN condemnations, Oom Shmoom. The expression derives from the Hebrew acronym for the United Nations, או"מ, and was meant to ridicule predictable nastiness with no substantial impact.
Both Obama's and Ban's speeches reflect how great people produce speeches for memorable occasions. Their aides ask departments throughout their organizations to produce topics and verbiage dealing with issues important to them, and then other aides smash it all together along with high sounding verbiage.
If the textual prominence is a clue to importance, for both Ban and Obama Palestine is less important than Yemen or global warming.
Ha'aretz's cartoonist portrayed Obama's UN speech with a teacher-like prompter asking him to go through a list once again that includes Nation of Israel, Holocaust, Radical Islam, and Iran. At the end, he asks her if there is anything else to include.
Arguably more pressing than any condemnation of Israel was the unraveling at about the same time of the US-Russian brokered truce in Syria, whose length was measured in hours rather than days. Among the events upsetting it was a misaimed US bombing run that killed Syrian soldiers rather than ISIS fighters, and civilians killed by what has been described as bombers piloted by Syrians or Russians.
The cartoonist of Israel Hayom portrayed an American pilot facing the intertwined snakes involved in the Syrian fighting, saying, "Oops, I got the wrong snake."
Mahmoud Abbas and Netanyahu made their own speeches at the UN, with a Palestinian delegation sitting in a section labelled, "State of Palestine."
Both heads of "state" said nasty things about one another. Bibi's speech was carried live on Israeli TV, then followed by lengthy comments by media personalities who told us what he said.
It's not easy reckoning the pluses and minuses of the UN and associated bodies.
Like the Pope, the UN has troops, but they ain't worth much. Those of the UN are more known for their sometimes noisy patronage of bars and whores near wherever they are meant to be keeping the peace than actually putting themselves in the way of any harm greater that STDs. That's sexually transmitted disease, as opposed to IEDs, improvised explosive devices, which are meant to explode by the wayside.
No doubt the media extravaganzas of the UN produce a lot of disturbing noise. Its efforts at peace keeping are likely to be as laughable and dangerous as they are productive of peace wherever they are posted.
Yet the forums that allow the noise may contribute something to keeping the producers of the blather from actually killing one another's people. Far down in the organization from the ceremonies in New York or Geneva are funding for academic conferences that bring people together with different backgrounds and perspectives. The UN also collects statistics that allow the assessment of how bad or good things are in different places. It's budget may be bloated by lots of jobs for incompetent but well placed individuals, and serving the ugliest of personal agendas. Yet it also provides money for professionals to provide training and other useful social services.
Compared to what the world produced in Europe and Japan in 1945, what the UN has produced since then isn't all bad.
It was a UN decision that played an important role in creating Israel. The same decision would have created a Palestinian State, if the Arabs had accepted something less than the whole pie.
On that and other matters, comments are welcome.
Department of Political Science
Hebrew University of Jerusalem
Hebrew University of Jerusalem