Netanyahu at UN General Assembly: Decide if you're on our side or the terrorists' side
NEW YORK - The speech Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu delivered to the United Nations General Assembly in New York on Thursday was televised live by three American channels, but as one of the forum's last speakers, the Israeli leader delivered his address to an almost empty hall.
Iran, Kyrgyzstan, Turkmenistan, Guinea, Ghana, Samoa and other countries had no representation at the GA during Netanyahu's speech, while many other countries maintained low-level representation. Indeed, most high-level officials - including U.S. President Barack Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton - had left for the G-20 conference in Pittsburgh.
Netanyahu, for his part, missed Obama's address. He told UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon that he had told Obama in advance he would not hear his address, because he did not wish to stay under the same roof as Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, "who denies the murder of six million Jews while he calls for the destruction of six million more," one source quoted him as saying.
Unlike most other countries, Israel sent a full team, including Defense Minister Ehud Barak, Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman, UN Ambassador Gabriela Shalev and the staff of the Israeli consulate in New York.
During his speech, Netanyahu brandished blueprints of Auschwitz, the infamous Nazi death camp, as he exhorted the world to stop Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons. Just days after Ahmadinejad once again denied the Holocaust, Netanyahu used his speech to warn of another catastrophe.
He also held up a copy of the minutes from the notorious meeting at Wannsee Lake, where top Nazis formalized plans for the systematic extermination of Europe's Jews.
"Is this protocol a lie?" he demanded. "Are the successive German governments that have kept these documents for posterity all liars? And what of the survivors whose arms still bear the tattooed numbers branded on them by the Nazis? Are those tattoos a lie, too?"
"The most urgent challenge facing this body today is to prevent the tyrant of Tehran from acquiring nuclear weapons," he declared as he displayed the construction plans for Auschwitz-Birkenau - a representation in chilling detail of gas chambers, crematoria and other facilities where three million Jews perished.
Iran, he added, denies that it is producing nuclear arms, but both Israeli and U.S. intelligence agencies believe otherwise.
Drawing another parallel between the Nazis and Iran, Netanyahu warned that Tehran's nuclear program threatens not only Israel, but the entire world.
"Perhaps some of you think that this man and his odious regime, perhaps they threaten only the Jews. Well, if you think that, you're wrong. You're dead wrong," he said.
The prime minister castigated UN delegates who stayed for Ahmadinejad's speech to the General Assembly. "Have you no shame? Have you no decency?" he demanded, questioning whether the UN was up to the task of standing up to Tehran.
He also roundly denounced a recent UN report accusing Israel of war crimes in its winter war against Hamas in the Gaza Strip. The report, overseen by veterans war crimes investigator Richard Goldstone, accused the Israel Defense Forces of using disproportionate firepower against militants who bombarded southern Israel with thousands of rockets and mortars over eight years.
In this context, Netanyahu compared the Allies' bombing of Germany during World War II - carried out as a retaliatory move against Nazi bombing campaigns - to Israel's attacks in Gaza.
The prime minister moved up his trip to New York after Obama summoned him to a three-way meeting with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas.
"Say yes to a Jewish state," Netanyahu urged the Palestinians in his speech yesterday. "The Jewish people are not foreign conquerors in the land of Israel." He also reasserted his desire for peace with the Palestinians, saying that Israel has gone to "extraordinary" lengths to advance peace in the region, including by unilaterally withdrawing from the Gaza Strip.