Netanyahu's UN Speech Not Only Aimed at the Average Israeli, but Those Mulling Whether to Indict Him

The PM's address may have missed Israel's prime time TV hour, but it's his audience in the Justice Ministry that he was really talking to

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Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel addresses the 72nd session of the United Nations General Assembly, at U.N. headquarters, Tuesday, Sept. 19, 2017.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel addresses the 72nd session of the United Nations General Assembly, at U.N. headquarters, Tuesday, Sept. 19, 2017.Credit: Richard Drew / AP
Yossi Verter
Yossi Verter

For a moment it seemed as if our prime minister had turned into comedian Louis C.K. Benjamin Netanyahu, whose speeches in Israel aren’t particularly known for their humor, served up punch line after punch line during his annual appearance at the UN General Assembly. The most prominent – and most wooden of them – dealt with penguins on Antarctica that know the difference between black and white, and so on.

Netanyahu’s address at the United Nations, his favorite platform, was professional and polished, as always. As always, it included the inevitable refrain of Iran, Iran, Iran – the black against all the shining white that is modern, innovative, entrepreneurial Israel, whose seawater the Indian prime minister drank two minutes after it had been desalinated.

>>FULL TEXT: Netanyahu's address to the UN General Assembly

In between his praise of the country, Netanyahu inserted some praise of himself. He described at length his travels to various countries, from Australia to Latin America, in some cases for the first time. He was not trying to impress the exhausted diplomats in the hall; their hearts are inured to it. He was trying to appease his people in Zion who, because of the late hour of his speech, 10 P.M., weren’t able to watch him during the usual hour of 8 to 9.

He wasn’t only targeting his nation, but also the officials sitting in the Justice Ministry in East Jerusalem. When they have to decide whether to indict him for the various allegations against him, they ought to understand whom it is they seek to remove over the most trivial things. What a world leader and statesman, by divine grace; what a strategic asset for Israel, whom the president of the United States honored with his first visit abroad after entering the White House, and so on.

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There are those who will regard his performance as a stump speech, while others will say it’s the position of a suspect whose hearing has yet to come. In any case, it was a speech worth watching, even if its effect will pass like the foam on the water. The penguins will hop on the ice and the agreement with Iran will not be canceled.

A few other short comments:

No one has ever been slapped for flattery, according to the well-known adage attributed to Levi Eshkol, among others. But even so, it doesn’t pay to exaggerate. When Netanyahu described President Donald Trump’s touching the stones of the Western Wall as practically the rebirth of the Jewish people, even the object of his boot-licking may have shifted uneasily. Well, maybe not; this is Trump we’re talking about. But everyone else certainly was.

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For two days the media dealt with a speculation that Netanyahu’s office released in advance: Would the prime minister address the Iranian president in his own language? Yes and no. Netanyahu told Hassan Rohani in Hebrew that “Israel’s eternal one does not lie,” while the single sentence in Farsi was addressed to the Iranian people. Thank God, we sighed with relief – this speech didn’t go by without a gimmick, either.

We may have thought the Netanyahus couldn’t surprise us anymore, but we had to rub our eyes at the sight of the prime minister’s wife sitting in the first row of diplomats, a spot usually reserved at these things for ministers and ambassadors. Sara Netanyahu decided that she absolutely had to honor her friend Donald by listening to his address, not from the balcony, where Melania was sitting, but from the “golden ring,” as it were. The decision, which the prime minister may have adopted willingly, or maybe not, caused a few jaws to drop in the UN building. Not all of Netanyahu’s advisers were pleased by this caprice, but go argue.

The prime minister was given a great honor that also posed a difficulty: He spoke on the opening day of the General Assembly along with the presidents, and not the next day in the prime ministers’ forum. This was the result of an effort by Israel’s UN delegation, headed by Ambassador Danny Danon. On the other hand, presidents, being presidents, allow their speeches to run beyond their allotted time, so that Netanyahu’s speech, which had been scheduled for Israeli prime time, was pushed beyond it.

There’s no good without some bad, and no white without black, as any penguin will tell you.