Bibi, a Modern-day Arafat, Provides Fodder for anti-Israel Left

In Netanyahu, the Boycott Israel movement has an eloquent new spokesman. So does Iran.

Bradley Burston
Bradley Burston
Bradley Burston
Bradley Burston

On November 13, 1974, the leader of the Palestinian people mounted the rostrum of the world's monument to the potentials of diplomacy. Wearing a handgun holster to that session of the United Nations General Assembly, Yasser Arafat closed his address with what amounted to a ringing threat, one that for decades was to play directly into the hands of Israelis keen to make Palestinians look bad:

"Today I have come bearing an olive branch and a freedom-fighter's gun," Arafat declared. "Do not let the olive branch fall from my hand. I repeat: Do not let the olive branch fall from my hand."

Although the speech was rhetorically accomplished - an impassioned if one-sided overview of the tragedies that had befallen his people, as well as a delineation of terms to which he knew his adversaries would never agree - there was an undertone of insult and extortion in Arafat's message: Do as I say, or else. It's either this, or we open fire.

It's not the sort of tone one hears at the UN General Assembly.

Until this month.

This month, the prime minister of Israel stood at the same podium, and delivered an address that climaxed in a threat, and, for good measure, insulted the world body to its face - Israel's ally Washington included.

Noting that "The last century has taught us that when a radical regime with global ambitions gets awesome power, sooner or later its appetite for aggression knows no bounds," Netanyahu could not resist a fierce barb: "The world may have forgotten this lesson. The Jewish people have not."

Then he landed his threat:

"Ladies and gentlemen, Israel will never acquiesce to nuclear arms in the hands of a rogue regime that repeatedly promises to wipe us off the map. Against such a threat, Israel will have no choice but to defend itself.

"I want there to be no confusion on this point. Israel will not allow Iran to get nuclear weapons. If Israel is forced to stand alone, Israel will stand alone."

Inevitably, perhaps, the Netanyahu speech, and his subsequent interviews with American television networks, backfired in spectacular fashion.

Instead of entrenching the concept of Iranian President Rohani as a wolf in sheep's clothing, Netanyahu managed to convey the concept of Israel as friendless and bellicose, unwilling to negotiate, the odd country out. An obstruction to a possible solution.

To the undisguised delight of those who hate Israel, this month Netanyahu became the goat in hawk's clothing.

Leftist journalist Philip Weiss, one of the more prominent explicitly anti-Israel voices in the United States, wrote after the Netanyahu visit last week:

"I think we must all agree that Benjamin Netanyahu is the best thing that ever happened to anti-Zionism."

Palestinian American writer and Electronic Intifada founder Ali Abunimah, who like Weiss advocates replacement of a Jewish state of Israel with a one-state solution for Jews and Palestinians, wrote of the Netanyahu speech with something approaching glee.

"How many countries did Netanyahu win over with his mad, hateful rant at the UN? Let's have more such Israeli 'diplomacy'!"

When Netanyahu returned home, there was another unintended wink toward Arafat. Israelis, with Netanyahu in the lead, regularly assailed the Palestinian icon for speaking reasonably when addressing the world in English, then taking an extreme line when speaking to his own people in their own language.

At the UN, in English, Netanyahu barely mentioned the Palestinians. This week, however, in his remarks in Hebrew at Bar-Ilan University, Netanyahu broke new ground in apportioning blame, and setting out conditions to which he knew the Palestinians would not, could not, agree.

He signaled that peace may be impossible ("We did not wait for our neighbors in order to develop our country. We continue to do so.") He dismissed the notion that "the occupation, the territories, the settlements and so on" had any bearing whatsoever on peace. He placed 100 percent of the blame for the Israeli-Palestinian conflict on the "poisonous tumor" of fundamental Palestinian opposition to the idea of Israel.

"This is the tumor that must be removed, this is the root of the conflict, this is what keeps it alive and the root of the conflict was and remains that which has been repeated for over 90 years – the profound objection by the hard core of Palestinians to the right of the Jewish people to its own country in the Land of Israel."

Just as with the Iran issue (in which Netanyahu, faced with the prospect that Tehran was complying with last year's red line, set out four new conditions) the prime minister indicated that even his own non-negotiable threshold demand - that the Palestinians recognize Israel specifically as a Jewish state - was now insufficient.

According to Netanyahu, "even if we do achieve this recognition, after years of incitement that still continues, we have no assurance that this recognition will filter down into all levels of Palestinian society."

Netanyahu, ever the foe of incitement, also devoted a substantial portion of his remarks in Hebrew to indicating that the Palestinians bore partial responsibility for the Holocaust in Europe.

Who benefits from all of this? Certainly, not Israel. Not even the right, which at this point doesn't trust Netanyahu any more than it trusted Arafat.

When it comes to Netanyahu as the new Arafat, there are only two clear winners. The movement to boycott Israel acquired an eloquent spokesman this month. So did Iran.

Benjamin Netanyahu.Credit: Moti Milrod

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