Israel‘s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu promise to “refute all of the lies being directed at us” when he boarded his flight to New York on Sunday, Sept. 28, 2014, and when he delivered his address to the United Nations General Assembly on Monday, Sept. 29, he kept his promise. Netanyahu delivered what is being hailed as a powerful speech that intertwined all the threats in Middle East; new menace ISIS, the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, nuclear Iran, Israel’s perennial enemy Hamas, all while defending Israel’s right to defend and protect itself, and condemning the new anti-Semitism.
Netanyahu opened his powerful speech with his promise; “I’ve come here to speak about the dangers we face and the opportunities we see. I’ve come here to expose the brazen lies spoken from this podium against my country and the brave soldiers who defend it.” Introducing the twin themes on the threats of terrorist organizations against the world, and Israel right to defend itself from elements of these terrorist organizations without being judged, criticized, and made into the enemy.
Speaking first about the threat from ISIS and other terrorist organizations, the Israeli Prime Minister referred to them as “Militant Islam is on the march. It’s not militants and not Islam, but militant Islam.” Netanyahu believes the imminent threat should not be dismissed, because “Their ultimate goal is to dominate the world. We must remove the cancer in time. Before its too late” He noted the militant Islam views every religion as their enemy; “Its first victims are other Muslims, but it spares no one. Christians, Yazidis, Kurds – no creed is beyond its sights.” They know no bounds and any country in the world is fair game; “All politics is local? For the militant Islamists, all politics is global.”
The prime minister criticized the world for praising the President Barack Obama and United States’ military fight against ISIS, and at the same time, they chastised Israel for the Gaza War, Operation Protective Edge this past summer. Netanyahu explained Israel’s fight against Hamas is no different and is a “microcosm,” because there is no difference in the philosophy and actions of Hamas and ISIS, explaining, “ISIS and Hamas are branches of the same poisonous tree. They share the same fanatical creed….Hamas shares the visions of militant Islamists. Hamas is ISIS and ISIS is Hamas”… “They all share the fanatic ideology. They seek to create ever expanding enclaves of militant Islam. Where there is no freedom or tolerance.”
According to the Israeli leader, militant Islamic terrorist groups including “ISIS, Hamas, Boko Haram, al-Qaida and the Nusra Front” are the 21st century’s primary enemy, similar to the 20th century’s the Nazis. However, the difference lies in that “The Nazis believed in a master race. The militant Islamists believe in a master faith.” It is important to keep them in check and ensure that they do not have the opportunity to “realize” their goals; “The pivotal question before us is whether militant Islam will have the power to realize its unbridled ambitions.”
Although the threat from Iran and their nuclear weapons capability seemed almost forgotten at this year’s UN General Assembly, Netanyahu made sure to remind the world that Iran is still a threat one that might be greater than ISIS, because of their nuclear capability might. Netanyahu for the third straight year made Iran’s nuclear threat a major part of his UN address, he highly criticized Iranian President Hassan Rouhani’s speech to UN General Assembly last week, saying; “Iran’s President Rouhani stood here last week shedding crocodile tears.”
With the UN Security Council P5+1 nations seemingly on the verge of a final deal on Iran’s nuclear weapons program, Netanyahu like last year wanted to be the voice of reason, and warn against any deal that allows Iran to continue enriching uranium. He recounted Iran’s past terrorist activities; “Iran’s global terror campaign has included attacks in two dozen countries on five continents since 2011.” Netanyahu told the UN Nations present “Don’t be fooled by Iran’s manipulative charm offensive,” borrowing a line from his speech last year.
Prime Minister Netanyahu warned again that the only reason Iran is using conciliatory and acceptable rhetoric to the west is to manipulate the nuclear deal; “It’s designed for one purpose only: To lift the sanctions and remove the obstacles on Iran’s path to the bomb.” He again reminded the UN member countries present that any deal that is lax towards Iran would allow; “the world’s most dangerous state would obtain the world’s most dangerous weapon.”
Netanyahu warned that nuclear weapons in Iran’s hands “would be a grave danger to our common future. Once Iran produces atomic bombs the charm and smiles will disappear.” Nuclear weapons are what makes Iran the greater threat than ISIS because they can cause the most significant harm and at a global reach; “Allowing Iran to reach nuclear capabilities will pose the greatest threat to us all.” Hypothetically asking if the world would allow ISIS these capabilities, and then responding the only solution is that any deal with Iran must ensure “Iran’s military nuclear capabilities must be fully dismantled.” He concluded on that issue that disarming Iran has to be part of the global war against ISIS; “To defeat ISIS & leave Iran as a threshold nuclear power would be to win the battle & lose the war.”
After addressing the larger global threats, Prime Minister Netanyahu defended Israel’s 50-day war in Gaza, Operation Protective. He pointed out that Hamas poses the same threat to Israel as ISIS and Iran does to the world, yet not only does Israel have to defend itself against a terrorist organization they have to fight “a propaganda war.” Netanyahu attempted to describe why no other nation in Israel’s position would be attacked and have to rationalize on the global stage a military intervention to protect its citizens. Netanyahu expressed that the fight against Hamas should be included in the world’s broader fight against terrorist organizations, saying “Israel’s fight against Hamas is not just our fight. It’s your fight. What would your countries do if thousands of rockets were fired at your cities? You wouldn’t let terrorists fire rockets at your cities with impunity.”
The prime minister addressed that Israel’s been demonized in the war with “libelous charges,” because of the casualties to Palestinians civilians. Netanyahu shed light that the reason for the high casualties is that “Hamas cynically used Palestinian civilians as human shields. Israel did everything to minimize Palestinian casualties.” He staunchly defended that Israel’s army, the Israel Defense Force (IDF) tries everything to protect all civilians from casualties, warning them in advance of every strike; “No other country and no other army in history has gone to greater lengths to avoid casualties among the civilian population of their enemy.” He praised the IDF for “up[holding] the highest moral values of any army in the world… Israel’s soldiers deserve not condemnation but admiration from decent people everywhere.”
It would not be a speech by Netanyahu at the UN without a prop to demonstrate a point to the audience. Netanyahu exhibited a France 24 TV photo of three children in Gaza playing around Palestinian missiles ready to be launched, pointing out that in that war, “Israel was using its missiles to protect its children. Hamas was using its children to protect its missiles. Hamas deliberately put its rockets in hundreds of residential areas.” The photo was only one prop Netanyahu used; the full display was on social media particularly the prime minister’s official Twitter account.
Netanyahu directly responded Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas’s speech to the UN, delivered on Friday, Sept. 26, where he “accused” Israel of “committing genocide in Gaza” and demanded a UN resolution making Palestine a state based on the pre-1967 borders. Netanyahu stated, “I say to President Abbas: These are the war crimes committed by your Hamas partners in the national unity government that you head, and you are responsible for.” The prime minister lambasted the Human Rights Council’s calling them an “oxymoron.” and for the their treatment and accusation against Israel, while defending a terrorist organization and ignoring Hamas’ war crimes. Netanyahu asserted, “The UNHCR has betrayed its noble mission to protect the innocent. The Human Rights Council has become the Terrorist Rights Council.” The UN’s “bias” against Israel is also giving rise to anti-Semitism especially in Europe where it is “spreading in polite society” and “is being legitimized as a form of criticism against Israel.”
After Israel was blamed for peace talks with the Palestinians falling apart this past April after nine months of negotiation orchestrated by US Secretary of State John Kerry, Netanyahu clarified Israel’s position, what would be necessary to ensure peace, and what terms are acceptable to Israel. Netanyahu introduced a new angle to the peace process; “A broader rapprochement between Israel and the Arab world may help facilitate Israeli-Palestinian peace.” The Israeli Prime Minister elaborated, “The old template for peace must be updated. It must take into account new roles and responsibilities for our Arab neighbors.” Netanyahu however, promised that Israel “will defend ourselves on the battlefield, expose their lies against us in the court of public opinion. Israel will continue to stand proud and unbowed.”
Fighting back against the constant accusation the he nor Israel truly wants peace,Netanyahu said he would make “historic compromise” for a peace agreement explaining “I want peace because I want to create a better future for my people,” however, “It must be a genuine peace anchored in enduring security arrangements.” Reminding the UN of the historical bond the Jewish people have with Israel, “a singular attachment to the land of Israel for over 3,000 years,” much longer that than Palestinians who also try to claim the Jews stole Israel from them. The Israeli leader noted the key however; to any peace agreement is Israel’s security and right to defend itself. Netanyahu stated; “In any peace agreement I will always insist that Israel be able to defend itself by itself. Some may still not take Israel’s security concerns seriously. Make no mistake. But I do and I always will, because as the prime minister of Israel I am entrusted with the awesome responsibility of ensuring the future of the Jewish people and the Jewish state.” He vowed, “I will never waver in that responsibility.”
Netanyahu concluded with a call for a “rapprochement” with other Arab Middle East nations, saying, “There is a new Middle East. It presents new dangers but also new opportunities.” He expressed openness “to work with Arab partners to confront dangers and seize opportunities.” Netanyahu also advised that the “Truth must always be spoken, especially here, in the United Nations.” The Prime Minister quoted from the book of Isaiah in the only words of his speech in Israel’s native Hebrew, “for the sake of Zion I will not be silent, for the sake of Jerusalem I will not be still…” For the final sentence, Netanyahu delivered a memorable call, “Ladies and gentleman, let us light a torch of truth and justice to light our future.”
Netanyahu delivered his speech to a sparse audience in the UN as JTA noted most of the applause coming from the Israeli contingent present; “Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman, Israel’s U.S. and U.N. ambassadors, Ron Dermer and Ron Prosor, and the prime minister’s wife, Sara.” The reactions to his speech were “mixed” as Israeli news source YNet pointed out. Some media sources have called it “epic” and “landmark,” full of “showmanship,” while others called it a “tour de force in déjà vu.” Members of Knesset from right leaning Likud, Netanyahu’s party praised the prime ministers for his sharp rhetoric and “exposing” “Abbas’ true face.” The Left wing opposition naturally maligned the speech calling it “an official seal of Netanyahu’s failure,” and complained that the speech was lack hope and was repetitive.
The United States rejected Netanyahu’s assertion that ISIS and Hamas are cut from the same cloth, arguing that they do not have same threat level. US State Department Spokeswoman Jen Psaki responded during the daily press briefing on Sept. 30, that “They are both designated terrorist organizations under the United States designations, but certainly we see differences in terms of the threat and otherwise.” Psaki also noted that the US does take Iranian nuclear talks and potential threat “seriously” but, do not see it on the same level as ISIS, stating, “we’re equally concerned about the threat of ISIL, given all of the energy that we’re putting into that.”
On his trip to the US, Netanyahu has already met with Secretary Kerry at his residence on Sunday evening, Sept. 28, where he objected to Abba’s speech. Considering the disagreements already between the US and Netanyahu over his positions on “militant Islam,” Iran, Hamas and the peace talks his White House meeting with President Obama on Wednesday, Oct. 1, might be filled with similar antagonism as their last meeting in March.
Bonnie K. Goodman is the Editor of the Academic Buzz Network, a series of political, academic & education blogs which includes History Musings: History, News & Politics. She has a BA in History & Art History & a Masters in Library and Information Studies, both from McGill University and has done graduate work in Jewish history at Concordia University as part of the MA in Judaic Studies program. She covers US, Canadian & Israeli politics, with a particular focus on the Obama presidency, Congress, domestic policy, and elections.