Netanyahu's UN Moment of Silence Is the Ultimate Expression of His Foreign Policy

In an unexpected way, the prime minister's gimmick actually represents Netanyahu: do nothing and be dragged along by external developments instead of taking the initiative.

ברק רביד - צרובה
Barak Ravid
New York
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Netanyahu pauses in silence as he addresses the UN General Assembly, October 1, 2015.
Netanyahu pauses in silence as he addresses the UN General Assembly, October 1, 2015.Credit: AFP
ברק רביד - צרובה
Barak Ravid
New York

UNITED NATIONS — Kazakhstan Ambassador to the UN Kariat Abdrakhmanov, who chaired yesterday’s General Assembly session, took a long moment to introduce Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. One after the other, he read out Netanyahu’s titles. Prime minister, foreign minister, health minister and communication minister. It was certainly unintentional, but the outcome was somewhat ironic. Netanyahu stood behind the podium, put on his glasses to look over the mostly empty hall, took them off again, and began speaking.

Read the full transcript of Prime Minister Netanyahu's address to the UN General Assembly

Netanyahu’s speech was, as usual, a collection of clichés, slogans and PR messages ground to dust over the years. It would even be a hollow cliché to say that the speech said nothing new, but that was the situation. Netanyahu launched the speech with the Iranian issue and devoted almost half an hour to it. He enumerated Iran’s crimes, the disadvantages of the nuclear agreement and directed threatening messages at the regime in Tehran. He devoted less than seven minutes to the peace process with the Palestinians — an issue that just the day before had been at the center of the General Assembly’s discussions — and to the unstable relations with the United States.

Credit: Haaretz

How strange that as masterful an orator and rhetorician as Netanyahu is, he chooses time after time to give speeches like this. If one had to advise a different Israeli prime minster, one would certainly read the draft of that speech and say: “The other way around, sir, the other way around.” The few minutes that he devoted to the Palestinian issue and his relations with Obama would have been very interesting for his international audience.

One assessment is that the long monologue about Iran was Netanyahu’s way of closing the door on his struggle against the nuclear agreement. That from now on he would put the matter behind him both psychologically and practically. Hard to believe; if only it were true.

His current gimmick was his minute of silence on the podium while attacking the nations of the world for doing nothing against Iran and remaining silent in the face of its threats to destroy the State of Israel. In an unexpected way, the gimmick actually represented Netanyahu in the most authentic way. While pouring out words like sand in Congress or at the UN General Assembly, in Israel he is actually silent on most issues. Netanyahu’s silence from the UN podium was the ultimate expression of his foreign policy — passivity. Sitting and doing nothing and being dragged along by external developments instead of taking the initiative that would change the reality.

Netanyahu’s main problem is the utter lack of faith the international community has in his sincerity and intentions. It was enough for the foreign ministers who had come the day before to a meeting of the donor nations to the Palestinians to listen to the speech by deputy foreign minister Tzipi Hotovely, to scratch their heads and wonder — what is the real policy of the government of Israel toward the Palestinians?

In about two weeks, a delegation of senior diplomats will arrive in Israel representing the Quartet — the United States, Russia, the European Union and the United Nations. The Quartet representatives will want to hear what Netanyahu is prepared to do. What steps he intends to take to change the current direction and return to a two-state solution.

Whole sections of Netanyahu’s speech seemed directed mainly for domestic consumption. The enraged posturing, the contempt for the hypocrisy of the world, the endless references to the Holocaust, pogroms, the Inquisition and the new wave of anti-Semitism in Europe and, of course, his calls of “Am Yisrael Chai.” All these messages will be received enthusiastically on the Israeli right and among Likud voters. The only thing that will be left with the diplomats after the speech, though, is the jokes that will go around about yet another Netanyahu speech.

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