A Victim in Churchill’s Clothing

Netanyahu tells the world of his grandfather beaten by thugs, but many Palestinians carry the same memory, from much more recent times.

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Benjamin Netanyahu stood at the podium of the United Nations General Assembly and spoke as if he were the leader of the world. He explicitly threatened Iran and preached to the world's countries what they should do. If Hassan Rohani is a wolf in sheep's clothing, then Netanyahu sounds like a wolf in wolf's clothing. It was dramatic, perhaps, but in fact it was the weakest part in his relatively good and straightforward speech.

What was the point of the threats? If anything can toughen the Iranian stance, after Iran has changed its tone if not yet its deeds, it is those harmful threats. They may have fallen on eager ears in Netanyahu's cheerleading section, sitting in the gallery and clapping, but it is doubtful whether anyone outside of the pro-Netanyahu Israel Hayom newspaper needs to hear any more bombing threats from anyone.

At the same time, Netanyahu's finance minister, Yair Lapid, stood on the stage of the Hungarian parliament and preached to the Hungarians. Lapid made no threats (what is there to threaten Hungary with, anyway?), but he did preach.

Netanyahu told the UN of his grandfather who was beaten by thugs. Lapid told the Hungarian parliament of his father who hid in the ghetto. Both seemed like invalids displaying their stumps for all to see, in order to abash the spectator.

Netanyahu and Lapid returned, as is their habit, to the place from which we should seek release. Israel needs to decide: Is it an invalid demanding the world's pity or a local power deciding who will have nuclear weapons (itself) and mostly who won't (Iran). For now it is holding the stick at both ends, as a certified amputee and a proven bomber.

When Netanyahu says: "Israel will not allow Iran to get nuclear weapons," he sounds like the president of the United States. When he says that "the Palestinian leaders haven't been prepared to offer painful concessions," he is being equally arrogant: After the Nakba and the expulsion of Palestinian Arabs, after 46 years of occupation, after all the abuses, humiliation, dispossession and suppression, the killings and the destruction, all he expects is some more Palestinian pain? Why do they deserve it?

But the main problem with the speeches of Netanyahu and Lapid, Israel's most eloquent and representative speakers, is their tone – the tone of condescension and hypocrisy. Israel is right in its aspiration to prevent the Iranian regime from acquiring nuclear weapons. That is almost universally agreed. But it is not Israel, not even Netanyahu, that rules the world. Israel cannot even bomb Iran on its own, without the backing, support, or at least the silent approval of the United States.

But it is not just Israel's megalomania that is offensive. Israel has a very shaky record when it comes to preaching to others, whether about implementing the explicit resolutions of the international community, upholding international law or maintaining an ethical regime. Netanyahu tells the world of his grandfather beaten by thugs? And how many Palestinians carry the same memory, from much more recent times?

An Israeli statesman seeking to advance Israel's interests would have stepped up to the world's podium and delivered a different speech. Not in the name of thousands of years of history of the world's oldest people, nor in the name of the greatest victim of that history. We've heard enough of "You have chosen us above all peoples." He should have commended Iran for its change of tone and called upon the world to challenge it, without threats, without posing as a victim. He should have inspired hope, rather than spewing threats, and, above all, he should have told the world what his own country is doing to advance peace and justice. But there's very little of that, as we know, which is why the validity of Netanyahu's speech, though it may be based on fact, is so shaky.

One's heart goes out to the prime minister. He seems to truly believe that Iran is Nazi Germany, that Rohani is Hitler, that the spirit of Munich has returned and that he himself is Winston Churchill. It is rather doubtful whether all these beliefs have anything to do with reality. Hitler? Nazism? Munich? One thing's for sure: Netanyahu is no Churchill.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu addresses the UN General Assembly.Credit: AFP