Magazine article Washington Report on Middle East Affairs

General Assembly "Debate": From Netanyahu's Cheap Farce to Morsi's Urbanity

Magazine article Washington Report on Middle East Affairs

General Assembly "Debate": From Netanyahu's Cheap Farce to Morsi's Urbanity

Article excerpt

It will be right up there with Khrushchev taking offhis shoe and pounding it on the table in front of him, or poor misled Colin Powell fumbling with pictures and diagrams. Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu waving cardboard cutout cartoons of a "bomb" to illustrate his drive for war with Iran is in its own way as risible as Colonel Gadfly's pantomime rambling performances from the same podium.

Some observers were perturbed that Arab leaders did not riposte directly. This is, after all, supposed to be the United Nations General Assembly General Debate-even if, even more than usual, it seemed more like a staged reading of sequential monologues. The silences and omissions often were more significant than what was said, while when real issues actually were addressed, they tended to be by allusion.

So while the Arab leaders, including those sprung from the Arab Spring, did indeed address Israeli iniquities in the occupied territories, and have often invoked the country's failures to engage in nuclear non-proliferation, they did not jump up to challenge the clown waving the jester's bladder.

This reporter was led to conclude that most of the world assumed it was self-evident, and therefore superfluous, to comment on the hypocrisy of a posturing ninny waving a cardboard bomb while sitting on at least 200 nuclear bombs of his own. Knowing that, however, the Arab leaders probably did not realize the extent of Israeli success in inducing amnesia in the West and, particularly in the U.S., about Israel's nuclear arsenal.

After all, when did any Western statesperson last raise the issue loudly in any public forum? Compare the acres of newsprint and hours of media time devoted to the nuclear weapons that the world unanimously agrees that Iran does not have with the deafening sound of silence about Israel. Someone, whether Arab or nonAligned, should have promptly jumped up and called Netanyahu's bluff.

In that context, while it was almost reassuring that President Barack Obama's speech spent so much time on the region, again, the silences were obtrusive. Indeed, in retrospect, Obama's delivery was so low-key he might have been rehearsing for his first debate with Gov. Mitt Romney. The president correctly declared that "freedom and self-determination are not unique to one culture. These are not simply American values or Western values-they are universal values. And I am convinced that ultimately government of the people, by the people, and for the people is more likely to bring about the stability, prosperity, and individual opportunity that serve as a basis for peace in our world."

But one can understand why Bahrainis and Palestinians could wonder why the U.S. arms and finances those who oppress them, or why the Sahrawis and Syrians wonder at Washington's patient tolerance for their disenfranchisement.

With major issues playing out, disguised as cheap farce by Netanyahu, it was hardly surprising that possibly the worst cinematographic production in over a century should have been mentioned in so many speeches. What President Obama called "a crude and disgusting video" sparked outrage worldwide. Of course, the president invoked the right of free speech and, implicitly, the right that Hollywood so often exercises to make very bad films.

"We not only respect the freedom of religion, we have laws that protect individuals from being harmed because of how they look or what they believe...I know there are some who ask why we don't just ban such a video. And the answer is enshrined in our laws: Our Constitution protects the right to practice free speech."

Now, much as I respect the president, actual American experience suggests that Israel is not an unmitigated good thing, or that Hamas or Hezbollah could test the First Amendment to destruction.

California's state assembly, for example, has recently condemned "anti-Semitic activities" on state campuses, which included accusations that the Israeli government is guilty of "crimes against humanity" or that Israel has engaged in "ethnic cleansing," let alone "student and faculty-sponsored boycott, divestment and sanctions campaigns against Israel. …

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