Netanyahu, the representative of enlightenment
Netanyahu's attempt to teach his audience chapters of history, with his primitive descriptions and analogies, did not help present him in a serious light.
The Israeli media did Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu a great favor when they published nothing of his long speech at the UN General Assembly other than the illustration of the Iranian nuclear bomb. Anyone who really wanted to harm him could have done so merely by publishing the speech in full, which seemed as if it was intended for a fund-raiser in Las Vegas.
Indeed, Netanyahu's attempt to teach his audience chapters of history, with his primitive descriptions and analogies, did not help present him in a serious light. It is very possible that - unlike high-school graduates in most Western countries - Netanyahu, who spoke about the darkness of the Middle Ages, hasn't heard about the culture of that period, both Jewish and general; about the literature, the poetry, the art, the philosophy, the universities and the Gothic cathedrals. It is possible that he was also absent from the classroom when they taught the students about the 20th century: Netanyahu believes that if Hitler had been given red lines, World War II could have been averted. But establishing lines like these would have been possible only if the ruling classes in England and France were prepared to create a close alliance with the Soviet dictator, Joseph Stalin. Who wanted that in the West? Those who preferred the right-wing dictatorships over cooperation with the communists carried far more weight. That was why they also let republican Spain fall.
However, the most interesting point is the way in which the prime minister tried to associate himself with enlightenment and modernity. Apparently Netanyahu doesn't know that in the West, enlightenment is identified with human rights, with secularism, with rationalism and with universalism. Enlightenment preceded the Industrial Revolution and is identified with the revolution in the status of humans in the world, and not with technology. According to these parameters, the Israel of the settlers and rabbis who stir up hatred for gentiles; the Israel of the various kinds of messianic movements, that of Shas leader Eli Yishai, Rabbi Ovadia Yosef and their followers, of those who pray on the graves of sages - that Israel is light years away from secular Europe. Israel - with the emphasis that is placed here on religion in defining nationhood, in legislation, and in everyday life; with the power of religious parties in politics - really does belong to the Middle East and not to Europe.
Indeed, the three big revolutions of the Enlightenment - the Glorious Revolution in England, the American Revolution and the French Revolution - were revolutions of human rights. On this basis, by the end of the 18th century the Jews in the United States and France had become equal citizens. The three revolutions positioned man, as an autonomous being who shapes his own life through his reason, at the center of the world. But here in Israel, the term "human rights" is a term of abuse, and human-rights organizations are persecuted. As the Israeli right sees it, only Israel-bashers fight for human rights because that principle gives the Palestinian Arab exactly the same rights to freedom and self-determination as the Israeli Jew.
Translated into our reality, this is the significance of enlightenment: It is defined by the striving for freedom and equality and not by achievements in high tech. Even an unenlightened regime can have advanced technology - like Iran, for example. Can we agree that the Israeli Arab and the Palestinian Arab should have exactly the same rights as the Jew?
All of the above is not aimed at invalidating the benefit of red lines in principle. It is also possible that in Iran's case it is desirable to lay down a dictate of that kind. But there are other cases as well. Why not draw red lines for the Israeli occupation and settlements? If lines like that had been drawn back in the 1970s and 1980s it is possible that today there would be peace with the Palestinians. But better late than never. The current creeping annexation is also desperately in need of red lines.