Israel’s Prime Minister is beginning to remind me of an unhinged vagrant, who, during my youth, used to amble up and down London’s Oxford Street, wearing a sandwich board scrawled with the words: “The end of the world is nigh”. No wonder President Barack Obama skipped the UN General Assembly eschewing one-to-one meetings with world leaders for other pressing engagements. Indeed, many insiders believe his hasty exit signified his reluctance to allow Benjamin Netanyahu yet another opportunity to bend his ear on Iran. Netanyahu’s rambling self-righteous speech to the UN General Assembly recycled from his previous diatribes, only served to vindicate the US leader’s decision to flee. Clearly, the US envoy to the UN had a hint of what was to come. He took off for lunch before Netanyahu was scheduled to speak.
There were no doubt more than a few yawns in the chamber as Netanyahu launched into his usual preamble, evoking King David who, three thousand years ago, “reigned over the Jewish state in our eternal capital [occupied] Jerusalem”. Naturally, there were the omnipresent references to the holocaust, a nod to “our patriarchs Abraham, Isaac and Jacob” and a pat on Israel’s back for “blazing new trails” in science, technology, medicine, agriculture”.
Then came the inevitable finger-pointing at “the medieval forces of radical Islam”; supremacy-seekers “bent on world conquest” out to “destroy Israel, Europe, America” and to “end the modern world”. That little snippet was the perfect entree to the speech’s main thrust, Netanyahu’s obsession — a potential nuclear-armed country that denies the holocaust, calls for Israel’s destruction and has “spread its international terror networks to five continents”.
Yawns turned to amazement and a few snickers when Netanyahu did an imitation of ex-Fox News programme host Glenn Beck, a ranting apocalyptic, hate-mongering conspiracy theorist, who used a chalk board as a prop to string together his off-the-wall theories before advertisers wanted nothing to do with him and so he was fired. Netanyahu’s puerile props, a cartoonish diagram of a bomb representing his idea of the various stages of Tehran’s uranium enrichment advancements and a red pen, were pure Beck with one difference. Beck’s crazy theories were carefully synthesised and well argued to appeal to the malleable minds of the ill-informed. Netanyahu looked like he was auditioning for Kiddies Hour speaking to a bunch of pre-school children rather than our planet’s top decision-makers.
Moreover, the main thrust of his patronising argument was deeply flawed. On the one hand, he painted the Iranian leadership as out-of-control radicals who would stop at nothing to incinerate Israel and turn the world into an Islamic Caliphate. On the other, he expressed the belief that a red line could deter them from their evil intent, which, if were true, would mean the Iranian leadership was rational. “If the western powers had drawn clear red lines during the 1930s, I believe they would have stopped Nazi aggression and Second World War might have been avoided,” he said. Oh well, what a pity marker pens weren’t invented until the 1940s. Just think how many lives could have been saved if Churchill could have swapped his nibs for felt-tips!
In the past, world leaders have used props to their advantage. Nikita Khruschev forcefully strengthened his anti “American imperialism” argument by slamming one of his shoes on a desk during a UN General Assembly meeting held in 1960. Yasser Arafat got the attention of the Assembly’s delegates in 1974, bearing an olive branch and a gun, saying: “Do not let this olive branch fall from my hand”.
Their theatricals elicited controversy, but neither Khruschev nor Arafat became laughing stocks as a result in the way that Netanyahu has. “It turns out he’s a frustrated illustrator,” remarked a cartoonist with Ha’aretz. Twitterdom is buzzing with “Bibi’s bomb”; Jeffrey Goldberg tweeted “Netanyahu’s bomb cartoon is the Middle East equivalent of Clint Eastwood’s chair.” The Daily Show’s host Jon Stewart said: “Bibi, bubbe. What’s with the Wile E Coyote nuclear bomb?”
However, the Obama administration was neither amused nor swayed. Indeed, the US Secretary of State, Hilary Clinton, announced that the US and its allies were preparing for another round of nuclear talks with Iran and have authorised the European Union’s Foreign Affairs and Security High Representative, Catherine Ashton, to set them up.
It’s ironic that on the day when Netanyahu frittered away his credentials as a serious statesman (will he bring play dough to the next session?) the new Egyptian President, Mohammad Mursi, a former Muslim Brotherhood head honcho, consolidated his. Mursi’s speech was filled with optimism. He reached out to the international community, while asserting his country’s determination to “assume an effective role in global issues”. He reminded the world of its responsibility to achieve a “just and comprehensive peace” and called for a nuclear free Middle East.
Netanyahu’s bomb sketch was funny but, to my mind, this extract from his speech shows how deluded this man really is. “Today, a great battle is being waged between the modern and medieval. Israel stands proudly with the forces of modernity. We protect the right of all our citizens, men and women, Jews and Arabs, Muslims and Christians, all are equal before the law”. Coming from the leader of a nuclear-armed nation that refuses to return stolen land and keeps 1.5 million people locked up in the biggest open-air prison on earth, a person salivating for war, that’s the biggest laugh of all.
Linda S. Heard is a specialist writer on Middle East affairs. She can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org