Saturday, September 26, 2009

Netanyahu at the GA

On Thursday, Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu addressed the General Assembly of the UN.

Given the coverage of his meeting with Abbas a matter of hours earlier and the press coverage it garnered, Netanyahu's GA speech does not seem to be generating too much media buzz, especially not in Israeli media where it could have been expected that coverage would be greater. From Israeli English language media, only YNet carried a story on the speech a day after it was given while CNN gave it mention as well as did the Washington Post.

The YNet article on the speech gushed over it and not surprisingly, the YouTube links below to the speech (from Fox news apparently) refer to it as Churchillian, which is quite the over exaggeration.

The speech wasn't bad, but neither was it Churchillian nor was it great. It was a logical, coherent presentation of Israel's position on various matters relating to the UN.

The first part of the speech was a pointed attack on the Iranian President who had spoken the day before. Netanyahu produced Nazi documents, including the blueprints for Auschwitz as he asked the Iranian President, rhetorically, if all these documents, if the tattoos on survivors' arms and if the admission of the German government were lies. He then went on to praise countries that had refused to listen to Ahmedinejad speak while asking of the ones that stayed if they had either shame or decency. This is the first place where Netanyahu falters. Leaving the room when Ahmedinejad spoke should be seen as the correct move. It sends a message to him and to others that his rhetoric is not acceptable. Listening to him speak, however, does not accord him legitimacy. Lambasting those that stayed in the room is not the way to make friends and influence people. A more effective move by Netanyahu may have been to expand more on the evils of Holocaust denial, about how it's patently false and about why denying the Holocaust is such an affront. It would then be appropriate and perhaps even more convincing to explain that walking out on hatred like Ahmedinejad's is the best was to confront him.

The second portion of the speech examines and raises the spectre of the marriage of fanaticism and nuclear weapons specifically with regards to Iran. This portion of the speech was strong, but an effective addition would have to add a line or two on why Iran deserves such close attention when other states like Israel and the US, don't. The answer is in the reliability of the state. The fact that some states are less predictable and stable than others.

What is probably the most upsetting part of Netanyahu's speech was "The jury is still out on the United Nations, and recent signs are not encouraging." What this is meant to convey is the third portion of the speech where Netanyahu criticize the UN for its silence on rockets launched at Gaza and it's disproportionate attention to Israel. The latter arguments are generally well presented by Netanyahu, but his opening is troubling and sounds almost as though he's suggesting that the UN itself is somehow on trial, or not quite a legitimate body. Netanyahu's critiques of the UN hit the nail on the head, but the above quote seems to imply that the UN's work in aid, health, food supplies, help for refugees, development, the promotion of culture and the like are still 'being judged.' Netanyahu chose his words here badly, it's unclear if this is what he meant, bu if so, it should not sit well with anyone.

His arguments about denying Israel's right to self defense are also somewhat shaky. He mentions how those that supported the withdraw from Gaza in Israel thought that at least now they could have support in self defense. Netanyahu argues that after being condemned for self defence Israel will be less assured of the support of the world in taking security risks for peace. This could certainly be interpreted as don't criticize Israel, no matter what, because then we won't trust you. Israelis know they are not and never pretended to be angels, but here Netanyahu seems to be foreclosing the UN from criticizing it. One hopes that this is not what he means to say.

In his final comments Netanyahu reiterated much of the language used in his major foreign policy address earlier on. It reiterates the assertion that Israel is a Jewish state and that Jews are indigenous to Israel. It's also the only part of the speech that drew applause hen Netanyahu stated Israel wanted to live in peace aside the Palestinians.

Netanyahu made his points well and eloquently in English as he often does, but this was no Churchill speech and its impact and implications are likely quite small.

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