My word: Selective hearing

The prime minister’s speech fell on deaf ears in the UN where party-pooping is not popular.

Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu holds up a photograph as he addresses the 69th United Nations General Assembly (photo credit: REUTERS)
Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu holds up a photograph as he addresses the 69th United Nations General Assembly
(photo credit: REUTERS)
It was all there, delivered in his flawless American-accented English. Or not. Binyamin Netanyahu’s address to the UN on Monday, like his previous speeches to the world body, came as no surprise to those who closely follow the message and signals emanating from the Prime Minister’s Office in Jerusalem. He developed the theme that “ISIS and Hamas are branches of the same poisonous tree”; that the terror-supporting, nuclearizing Islamic State of Iran presents a global threat that should not be ignored, despite President Hassan Rouhani’s “crocodile tears”; that moderate Muslims are also victims of the militant and militarizing Islamist terrorist forces, alongside Christians, Jews and members of other creeds; that Israel responded to the massive rocket attacks on its citizens with immense moral force – “Israel’s soldiers deserve not condemnation, but admiration”; “Israel was using its missiles to protect its children.
Hamas was using its children to protect its missiles”; and that Palestinian Authority head Mahmoud Abbas, who a few days before had accused Israel from the same podium of committing genocide in Gaza, is responsible for the war crimes committed by Hamas in the national unity government he heads.
It was a brilliantly written and executed address. But it fell on deaf ears, echoing among those who did not want to hear it.
As much as the prime minister’s speech was predictable, so was the criticism sounded soon after its live broadcast. It wasn’t the contents of the speech that drew fire; it was what didn’t appear in it.
“The speech did not deliver an ounce of good news for citizens of Israel who are desperate for hope,” said former opposition leader Labor MK Shelly Yacimovich.
Netanyahu is the perennial party-pooper in an age when everyone just wants to have fun – or, at second best, to at least be seen as having fun.
The prime minister’s message was not in touch with the times simply because it was so in touch with reality.
We live in an era when information, distressing or uplifting, passes from person to person with smartphone speed, a pace that’s hard to keep up with. And yet it is an age in which it is increasingly hard to get the true picture – not for lack of information, but for lack of desire.
We live in our media and social media bubbles, feeding on the information we choose to see in a world where details can be changed with the touch of an edit or delete button.
Now you see it, now you don’t. Seeing is not necessarily believing.
There is still a tendency to laugh at Islamic State (ISIS) as some kind of Toyota-driving maverick mujahideen movement. I’ve got news for you. And it’s bad news. The Islamic State forces are no longer some 15,000 ragtag volunteers. They number scores of thousands, are close to Baghdad, have equipped themselves on the way with tanks, planes and drones, and if they were to attain some of the nonconventional weapons that are floating around the ever more dangerous Middle East and beyond they could pose the greatest threat to world order known to humankind.
I know you didn’t want to hear that. It shouldn’t be keeping you awake at night. But Netanyahu would not be doing his job if he was sleeping through such a threat or allowing other world leaders to ignore the wake-up calls they have tried to put to the back of their minds for so long.
Netanyahu’s speech was composed of carefully selected catchphrases and thoughts such as “Hamas is ISIS and ISIS is Hamas” and “Ladies and gentlemen, would you let ISIS enrich uranium?” and the painful truth that “Israel’s fight against Hamas is not just our fight. It’s your fight.”
It was met by selective hearing.
Abbas’s hate-filled speech, one worthy of the politician whose doctoral dissertation was soaked in elements of Holocaust denial, did not provide Netanyahu with an opening for a new dialogue. And incidentally the 79-yearold Palestinian leader might enjoy portraying himself as a moderate, but a democrat he is not. He has not dared hold elections since he began his extraordinarily elastic four-year term in January 2005.
President Barack Obama warned in his UN address that the hostilities have “made too many Israelis ready to abandon the hard work of peace.”
Israelis haven’t given up the dream of peace, but they find it ever harder to ignore the realities on the ground. The last mini-war in Gaza evoked an almost palpable sense of unity in part because as Hamas lobbed its rockets ever further afield, Israelis in places increasingly far from Gaza got a taste of what residents of the South have been putting up with, particularly since “disengagement” in 2005.
We have tried the Oslo track – and paid a painfully high price in lives and peace of mind; we have tried unilateral withdrawal, and witnessed the rockets that followed.
While at least half the Palestinian unity government is determined to kill the peace process and as many Israelis as possible, the answer is not to stretch out a hand and hope for the best, with an American stopwatch ticking away in the background like the countdown to a bomb.
As I have noted before, very few Israelis today regret that the Golan Heights were not transferred to Syrian President Bashar Assad’s bloody hands despite international pressure less than a decade ago.
In his desire for instant solutions and justification for his Nobel peace prize, Obama is unable to accept that the Palestinian issue is not the source of all instability in the Middle East and if only Israel would allow the Palestinians to set up a judenrein state of their own and trust them to police it with a little help from their friends, all would be well with the world.
But I don’t want to bore you. You might have better things to do, like watching a reality show or flicking through your Facebook feed.
If you want something almost serious – and out of date – you could always go to YouTube and remind yourself what a laugh the ALS ice-bucket challenge was.
WE ALL want to feel good and Bibi’s speech lacked that feel-good factor.
The world does not fear Netanyahu. It fears what Netanyahu has to say.
And it is easier to blame Israel (and the Jews) for the world’s problems than to solve them.
Among the criticisms leveled at Netanyahu is that no major speech lacks a reference to the Holocaust. He didn’t disappoint this time either.
“Militant Islam’s ambition to dominate the world seems mad. But so too did the global ambitions of another fanatic ideology that swept to power eight decades ago,” declared Netanyahu, to the quiet groans of those who didn’t flinch when Abbas so blithely used genocide terminology.
Netanyahu’s problem isn’t that his American English is out of sync with his position as prime minister of the State of Israel, it’s that the people who bothered to listen in the UN still didn’t understand what he was saying.
It’s not a language barrier, it’s a different world and mind-set.
Netanyahu did not, it’s true, offer to host a new round of talks. He didn’t, however, reject peace, despite what his detractors say. There was even room for hope, if you were willing to hear him out.
“I believe we have an historic opportunity.
After decades of seeing Israel as their enemy, leading states in the Arab world increasingly recognize that together we and they face many of the same dangers.... Our challenge is to transform these common interests to create a productive partnership. One that would build a more secure, peaceful and prosperous Middle East,” declared Netanyahu. “Together we can strengthen regional security. We can advance projects in water, agriculture, in transportation, in health, in energy, in so many fields.”
Sounds good to me. I just hope some of the right people in the right places were also listening.
The writer is editor of The International Jerusalem Post.