Israel is a beacon of light and freedom, and supporting it is a moral choice, Prime Minister Naftali Bennett said at his first-ever speech to the United Nations General Assembly on Monday.
Speaking in front of the iconic green marble wall, just over 100 days after he became prime minister, Bennett said that “Attacking Israel doesn’t make you morally superior. Fighting the only democracy in the Middle East doesn’t make you ‘woke.’ Adopting clichés about Israel without bothering to learn the basic facts, well, that's just plain lazy. Every member state in this building has a choice. It’s not a political choice, but a moral one. It’s a choice between darkness and light.”
Israel, Bennett said repeatedly, “is a lighthouse in a stormy sea,” a diverse democracy that contributes to the world with its innovations, he stated.
Pointing to the 38 countries that opted out of last week’s Durban IV Conference – marking 20 years since the World Conference against Racism, which devolved into antisemitism and anti-Israel bias – Bennett said: “This conference was originally meant to be against racism, but over the years turned into a conference of racism, against Israel and the Jewish people – and the world has had enough of this. I thank the 38 countries who chose truth over lies and skipped the conference.”
The prime minister specifically thanked the US for being a “longtime, trusted friend,” citing the vote last week to fund $1bn. in Iron Dome batteries.
Bennett lamented that, “for way too long, Israel was defined by wars with our neighbors. But this is not what Israel is about.”
“Israelis don’t wake up in the morning thinking about the conflict. Israelis want to lead a good life, take care of our families, and build a better world for our children,” he stated, “which means that from time to time, we might need to leave our jobs, say goodbye to our families, and rush to the battlefield to defend our country – just like my friends and I have had to do ourselves. They should not be judged for it.”
Israelis, the prime minister said, are “determined to look ahead, to build a brighter future.”
WHILE ISRAEL is focused on doing good, it still faces a threat from a nuclear Iran, Bennett said.
“Iran's nuclear weapons program is at a critical point,” he warned. “All redlines have been crossed. Inspections — ignored. All wishful thinking — proven false. Iran is violating the [International Atomic Energy Agency’s] safeguard agreements — and it's getting away with it.”
Iran is enriching uranium to 60%, one step away from weapons-grade material, and the world has been ignoring further evidence of its intention to develop a nuclear bomb.
“Iran’s nuclear program has hit a watershed moment – and so has our tolerance. Words do not stop centrifuges from spinning,” he stated.
Israel will not allow Iran to obtain a nuclear weapon, Bennett said.
The Iranian regime is weaker than it seems, and it can be stopped if its threat is taken seriously.
As for Iran’s regional malign actions, Bennett pointed to the Iran-backed terrorist groups on Israel’s borders, like Hezbollah, Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad.
“Iran’s great goal is crystal clear to anybody who cares to open their eyes: Iran seeks to dominate the region, and seeks to do so under a nuclear umbrella,” he said.
The prime minister pointed to places in which “Iran has spread its carnage and destruction” – Lebanon, Iraq, Syria, Yemen and Gaza – and said they are all in crisis.
“Like the Midas touch, Iran's regime has the ‘Mullah-touch.’ Every place Iran touches, fails,” he quipped.
Bennett said that Iran’s military drone unit threatens the entire world, mentioning the attack on the Mercer Street vessel – in which Iranian suicide drones killed a British and a Romanian citizen – as well as its proxy armies throughout the Middle East, which it plans to arm with thousands of deadly UAVs.
The prime minister also referred to Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi’s history of heading a “death commission” that ordered the murder of 5,000 political activists - and then celebrating the deaths by pocketing the victims’ money and eating cream puffs.
“He celebrated the murder of his own people, by devouring cream cakes,” Bennett emphasized. “And now Raisi is Iran's new president. This is who we're dealing with.”
ON A MORE positive note, Bennett referred to the Abraham Accords - which he called by their name - as “rays of light,” along with peace with Jordan and Egypt. He said that more is to come.
On Sunday night, Bennett met with Bahraini Foreign Minister Abdullatif bin Rashid Al Zayani and United Arab Emirates Minister of State in The Foreign Ministry Khalifa Sharren Almarar, in what was his first meeting with senior officials from Abraham Accords countries. Bennett expressed the importance of marking a year since the accords were signed.
“We are stable, we believe in this relationship and we want to expand it as much as possible,” he said.
In his speech on Monday, Bennett also compared COVID-19 and political polarization, calling them both plagues that could have devastating results, and saying his government has solutions for both.
“In a polarized world, where algorithms fuel our anger, people on the Right and on the Left operate in two separate realities, each in their own social media bubble: They hear only the voices that confirm what they already believe in. People end up hating each other, societies get torn apart. Countries broken from within go nowhere,” Bennett said.
The new government has been an “antidote” and a source of “calm and stability: an honest attempt for political normalcy,” he stated.
Bennett called his government the most diverse in Israel’s history and said that it is working toward a shared purpose of unity.
“We carry a message: Things can be different. It’s okay to disagree... For healthy debate is a basic tenet of the Jewish tradition and one of the secrets to the success of the Start-Up Nation. What we have proven is that even in the age of social media, we can debate, without hate,” Bennett said.
The prime minister met with UN Secretary-General Antonioni Guterres and US Ambassador to the UN Linda Thomas-Greenfield after the speech, and spoke at a Jewish Federations of North America event, at which leaders of other Jewish organizations were present.
"Iran-phobia runs rampant at UN," Iran's Ambassador Majid Takht Ravanchi posted on Twitter after Bennett spoke. Israel "is in no position to discuss our peaceful program when it has hundreds of nuclear warheads," he said, referring to Israel's widely believed status as a country that possesses nuclear weapons.
When quizzed about Bennett's comments on Iran, Jalina Porter, Principal Deputy Spokesperson, said that the Biden administration believes that a "mutual return to compliance is in America’s national interest."
She added that "we believe the best available option is to restrict Iran’s nuclear program and provide a platform to address Iran’s destabilizing conduct."
Reuters and Tovah Lazaroff contributed to this report.