For Zion's sake: Netanyahu’s right, but wrong to think anyone’s listening

No matter how great a speaker our prime minister is...we cannot count on the nations of the world to listen.

Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, right, confers with Defense Minister Moshe Ya'alon. (photo credit: HAIM ZACH/GPO)
Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, right, confers with Defense Minister Moshe Ya'alon.
(photo credit: HAIM ZACH/GPO)
One of the Likud’s campaign ads just before the last Knesset elections declared, “When Netanyahu speaks, the world listens.” Showing clips of Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu speaking forcefully before the UN General Assembly and the US Congress, it was one of the few effective parts of the Likud campaign.
But for anyone watching the prime minister deliver his fifth speech to the General Assembly on Monday night, it should have been clear that the world is not listening.
In his latest speech, Netanyahu hit all the familiar notes: Hamas is the same as Islamic State; don’t let Iran fool you; the IDF makes every effort to avoid civilian causalities even as terrorists use civilians as shields; and of course, the world must rally to fight the new Nazism, militant Islam.
These were all things Netanyahu has said before, many of them in previous speeches to the UN. But despite Netanyahu’s hammering away at the same message year after year, the nail does not seem to sink in, especially when it comes to Israel and its interests.
For years Netanyahu demanded that Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas recognize Israel as a Jewish state. This was perhaps the main point of his first UN speech as prime minister in 2009. “Just as we are asked to recognize a nation-state for the Palestinian people,” Netanyahu said, “the Palestinians must be asked to recognize the nation-state of the Jewish people.”
Abbas effortlessly deflected the demand, the world ignored it and even the US rejected it. In March this year, for example, US State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki stated that, “We do not see a need that both sides recognize this position as part of the final agreement.”
Netanyahu has also spent years pressing Western powers to aggressively confront Iran over its nuclear program.
Specifically, he demanded that they set a red line over which Iranian nuclear development must not cross. He even dedicated a significant portion of one of his UN speeches to it, memorably drawing a red line on a cartoon bomb in front of the General Assembly in 2012 while declaring (if not warning): “Red lines prevent wars.” US President Barack Obama, however, refused to set one, dismissing the idea both before Netanyahu’s speech and maintaining the position afterwards.
In his speech before the UN the next year, Netanyahu warned the international community not to fall for newly elected Iranian President Hassan Rouhani’s “charm offensive,” and demanded that the pressure on Iran be maintained (a message he repeated this week).
But only two weeks after Netanyahu’s 2013 UN speech, President Obama succumbed to the charm offensive and granted Rouhani a public relations coup by holding a telephone conversation with him. About two months later, the US led the West to reach a tentative deal with Iran which lifted some sanctions, easing trade for Iran and freeing up of billions of dollars worth of Iranian assets. Today, the US remains eager to reach a deal with Iran and is courting Iran to cooperate in the stabilization of Iraq, forgetting that Iran was only recently bent on destabilizing that country, including by supporting violence against US soldiers.
Not only in word but also in deed has the prime minister has sought to garner international support, only to be ignored.
In July 2013, the prime minister led the government to agree to the release of 104 Palestinian murderers and would-be murderers in order to support John Kerry’s quixotic attempt to reach a peace agreement within nine months (only 78 of terrorists were ultimately released).
The prime minister explained in an open letter to the public that the move was necessary “in order to establish Israel’s position in the complex international reality around us.” He went on to mention “Egypt, Syria and Iran” as being part of that reality. With Netanyahu having spent so much time warning the world about Iran, the implication was that Israel must be receiving some kind of special assistance from the United States vis-a-vis Iran in exchange for releasing the terrorists. A few months into Kerry’s initiative, however, sanctions on Iran were partially lifted. In addition, when Kerry’s peace process had fallen apart, Kerry lashed out at “unhelpful” Israel.
Most recently, Israel took considerable and repeated security gambles when it agreed to cease-fire after ceasefire in its operation against Hamas. The prime minister and his team apparently believed that the cease-fires would earn Israel crucial diplomatic support or “legitimacy” during the operation.
As the prime minister’s national security advisor Yossi Cohen told the Knesset’s Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee earlier this month, “The international community...
gave us legitimacy during the operation,” and “knows Israel’s security reality better today than it did in the past.”
Similarly, this week, Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon claimed that Israel had international legitimacy during Operation Protective Edge.
And just before Rosh Hashana, in an interview with Makor Rishon, Netanyahu claimed (though his exact words were not provided) that the initial cease-fire (agreed to prior to the launching of the limited ground offensive to destroy Hamas’s infiltration tunnels) was a tactic intended to earn international support. Presumably similar considerations lay behind the many other cease-fires that followed.
But as was obvious to all, Israel did not have international support during the war, especially not publicly.
While France’s president, for example, was initially supportive of Israel during the operation, by July 22, the French foreign minister soon declared that, “Nothing justifies continued attacks and massacres which do nothing but only claim more victims and stoke tensions, hatred” and that “France will act forcefully to demand an immediate cease-fire.”
As Hamas broke or rejected cease-fires, Britain threatened to prohibit the sale of arms to Israel by British companies.
Even the US began to turn on Israel. About halfway through the operation, the White House practically jumped at the chance to condemn “the shelling of a UN facility” as “totally unacceptable and indefensible,” while the Pentagon told reporters that “the Israelis need to do more to live up to their very high standards.” Two weeks later, the White House had another message when it blocked the sale of Hellfire missiles to Israel.
With the cease-fires, Netanyahu led Israel to make a statement to the world no less audible than his UN speeches: despite our military might, we will restrain ourselves even as our children cower in their nurseries.
This was done in the hope that when the attacks did not stop, the world would support Israel in defending itself. But the world turned a deaf ear as it has time and time again, leaving Israel to send the same messages and Netanyahu to make the same speeches over and over.
Of course, Israeli leaders should not stop speaking and making our case at the United Nations and in other public forums. But in the “complex international reality around us,” we cannot not risk our citizens’ lives by halting the pursuit of murderers who seek to harm us or by releasing those we have caught, just to garner international legitimacy or support.
No matter how great a speaker our prime minister is or how powerful the message we send, we cannot count on the nations of the world to listen. Fortunately for us, gone are the days when we depended on them to do so.
The writer is an attorney and a Likud Central Committee member.