Mixed Reactions to Netanyahu’s UN Speech

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Middle East In Focus

Israeli Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu showed his knack for the dramatic at the UN yesterday, bringing out a cartoony diagram in the course of his speech in front of world leaders to underline the risk of an Iranian nuclear build-up. Israelis accustomed to Netanyahu’s props and marketing gimmicks reacted with a mixture of indifference and good humor. But while political opponents felt Netanyahu should have focused more on substance than gimmicks, many suggest that the prop achieved its objective, that is, to get everyone to speak about the alleged threat of the Iranian nuclear program.

Writing about the reaction of the Israeli politicians, Yedioth Ahronoth’s Moran Azoulay reports: “Interior Minister Eli Yishai waxed poetic, expressing hope that ‘Netanyahu’s speech would serve as the call of the Shofar that would lead to a global awakening,’… ‘Netanyahu drew a pretty diagram, but he failed to draw an effective international road map towards stopping the nuclear program’ Opposition Chairman Shaul Mofaz (Kadima) said…. MK Shelly Yachimovich, who heads the Labor Party, echoed Mofaz’ sentiment: ‘Red lines are not achieved through drawing presented on stages, but in closed rooms and via cooperation and the restoration of trust between us and our most important ally — the United States.’”

But for Lisa Goldman, considering the viral nature of Netanyahu’s actions, it is more likely that his actions accomplished exactly what he had in mind: “A few people commented that it looked as though it were drawn by Acme Cartoons and that it should have had the word BOOM!! drawn across it in red letters. Netanyahu followed up by taking out a red marker and drawing a thick line at the 90 percent line – i.e., *this* was where the red line had to be drawn. Or else! But even as people jeered on Twitter at the cartoonish diagram, Buzzfeed’s Zeke Miller suggested that Bibi’s buffoonery might have disguised a clever tactic. Who, now, remembers the speech Mahmoud Abbas gave less than one hour earlier?”

As Ami Kaufman notes the Israeli on-line community had a lighter take on the matter, with Times of Israel Deena Levenstein calling “Netanyahu – the meme hero. Our dear prime minister has become an expert at inspiring the little (internet) people to create memes about him….Within minutes there were memes being shared on Facebook and within a few hours, there are some totally lol funny memes….I think that only a Jewish prime minister, with the fate of his people in his hands, could add a touch of humor when talking to the UN (a very not funny place) about Iran’s nuclear weapons. Kudos to him.”

Netanyahu’s speech was also a topic of discussion for the main Israeli dailies. Haaretz’ Barak Ravid for example believes the speech was effective because it was simple: “Netanyahu’s speech was good. Indeed it was written in his image, with his spirit — a combination of marketing, public relations, some slightly exaggerated theatrics, and the use of visual aides to convey his message….The dramatic performance — unsheathing the marker, drawing the red line — was perhaps slightly childish, but it got the job done. Netanyahu’s stunt is sure to become a headline picture for many an international news outlet. And if that leads to more worldwide coverage of Iran’s uranium enrichment, that’s a good thing.”
Meanwhile, according to a special report on the right wing Debka, Netanyahu’s speech seems to have annoyed the U.S. administration: “US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton berated Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu for the powerful presentation of his case for confronting Iran with red lines instead of hitherto failed diplomacy and sanctions in his speech to the UN General Assembly Thursday, Sept. 27. This is reported by DEBKAfile’s Washington sources….Our sources report that Clinton made it clear that President Barack Obama would not tolerate the Israeli prime minister having a say in his Iran agenda. He remained committed to diplomacy regardless of Netanyahu’s warning that it was getting ‘late, very late’ to stop a nuclear Iran.”

This sense of urgency to tackle the Iranian threat is also evident in an op-ed by Yoel Meltzer, who wonders whether Netanyahu is up to the task: “despite his enormous potential — intelligent, charismatic, superb oratory skills, in-depth knowledge of economic issues — and despite the fact that he’s been given chance after chance to be the type of Jewish leader that is so desperately lacking in Israel, Netanyahu has repeatedly failed to act at precisely those moments where his actions might have propelled the Jewish State in a very different and most likely healthier direction….Although the result of an Israeli strike, either alone or with the United States, will possibly mean war, the cost of Israeli inaction might be far worse. This is certainly clear to Prime Minister Netanyahu. The question is whether he will finally rise to the occasion and overcome his tendency of failing to act.”

There is a similar urgency and emphasis in drawing ‘red lines’ in yesterday’s editorial on the Jerusalem Post in what could be another attempt to corner the Obama administration on the issue of Iran: “there is a real danger Iran’s leaders still believe force will not be used to stop them from achieving nuclear weapon capability, and that once they have the bomb, they will succeed in intimidating the international coalition and force it to stop the sanctions….the West, led by the U.S., must make it clear to Iran the severe consequences of its actions. President Obama might be averse to making public statements about ‘red lines.’ But he has already said that the U.S. will ‘do what it must’ to prevent Iran from going nuclear. He should spell out the meaning of this statement in clandestine yet candid messages relayed directly to Iran’s reckless leaders.”

In Iran, meanwhile, Netanyahu’s speech is more of the same and, according to at least one observer, amounted to “political escapism”: “Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s blatant remarks at the UN on Iran’s nuclear energy program is ironic….And I think that this was a desperate measure reflecting a state that is increasingly isolated in the international community and it is not a secret that Washington is not on the same page with Israel on Iran. And I think that this speech was a failure and will not add too many friends around the world, particularly among the developing nations that are solidly behind Iran, as reflected in the recent Non-Aligned summit in Iran that produced a communiqué in defense of Iran’s peaceful nuclear program.”

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Middle East In Focus is a synopsis of commentary and news from Middle Eastern and other international media. Its purpose is to provide a succinct and balanced summary of the main developments and views that are often overlooked or not properly reflected in the U.S. media. For the most recent collection of articles on and from the Middle East, please go to: http://mepc.org/articles-commentary/articles-hub. Comments and feedback are welcome at info@mepc.org.

  • Middle East Policy

    Middle East Policy has been one of the world’s most cited publications on the region since its inception in 1982, and our Breaking Analysis series makes high-quality, diverse analysis available to a broader audience.

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