Published On: Fri, Sep 23rd, 2016

The turn of the screw

Op-ed: Even Netanyahu’s detractors can appreciate the elegance with which he used his UN speech to turn away from the old UN guard and toward what might very well be the new world powers; WATCH Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu FULL addresses the U.N. General Assembly (Sept 22, 2016)

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Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s speech before the UN General Assembly on Thursday left me in awe of what I had just witnessed. Before we go any further, though, I need you to know that I am not a Bibi fan. I don’t like his slight-of-hand mentality when it comes to civil rights or an endless list of additional causes that affect the people living in Israel, such as civil marriage and an engorged education system that leaves its students lacking in basic knowledge. I cannot understand how, as a sitting prime minister, he felt it legitimate to incite panic by pushing the idea that Arabs exercising their right to vote are a threat to Israel. And I find it genuinely alarming that he has managed to convince my homeland that it won’t survive without him. Our existence does not depend on any one man, and it is this kind of mindset that scares people again and again into choosing the status quo.

And yet. Netanyahu’s speech mirrored what he has already shown in the past: namely, that he is an oratory genius. In point after point, Netanyahu hammered home the idea that the UN systematically attempts to discredit Israel’s actions, which while some may be reprehensible, are certainly not exclusive to Israel.

Shining a light on the bias and hypocrisy that the UN has shown toward Israel, though, was only the beginning for him. After flatly rejecting the UN’s criticism of Israel, Netanyahu began weaving together three extremely powerful narratives that helped shape Jewish history, American history and humanity at large.

Netanyahu has made Judaism his most defining feature, particularly stopping on the many hardships and traumas that are folded into Jewish identity. Despite being the handsome, charismatic and brilliant son of a family of warriors and scholars, he is quick to describe in visceral detail the feeling of persecution that is familiar to every Jew on the planet. For even if our adult selves have chosen to turn away from this narrative, we were still raised on the notion that other people innately hate us. While such an outlook is not exclusively Jewish, the difference between the Jewish people and most other minorities is that Jews were sometimes, temporarily, allowed to work really hard, beat out their competition, and make it based on merit. Jews, in short, are the quintessential underdog, and in a certain way—the embodiment of the American Dream.

 

 

Netanyahu not only recognizes this link between the self-identified Chosen People and the Greatest Country on Earth™, it’s his siren song. Channeling both the Jewish need for survival and America’s hope for a better tomorrow, Netanyahu stated that Israel was not going anywhere, refused to cower before the big bad UN, and ushered in a new narrative, of a future worthy of today’s struggles. He did this during the last part of his speech, making sure to be lockstep with some of the most iconic speeches, mantras and moments in US history: his words and imagery conjured up Martin Luther King, Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech, President Barack Obama’s “Yes We Can” campaign motto and both the Civil Rights Movement and its current reincarnation, Black Lives Matter.

The concepts and leaders that Netanyahu drew from have managed to inspire Americans into action, and in doing so change the course of their nation. They are also all the products and children of the African American community, whose own take on the idea of a cast-out underdog was forged from the trauma of slavery and being othered due to the color of their skin. Back in 2008, it was Obama’s embodiment of rising to the highest position in the land that inspired America to emerge from the conservative rut it was stuck in with George W. Bush and make history. It is this form of zero-sum salvation that allows Netanyahu to insist that we, too, shall overcome.

Swept up in his dream of making the world a better place, Netanyahu’s words managed to gloss over the fact that this time, a key factor in all of his speeches was missing. Hearing him elaborate on how Israel will finally be invited to sit with the other nations acted only as a distraction from the fact that it is almost inconceivable for Netanyahu to give a talk without referring to the Holocaust. But that’s exactly what he did. He couldn’t point to the absurdity he found in Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas’s demand that the UK apologize for issuing the Balfour Declaration almost 100 years ago while going back to the tragedy that preceded Israel’s own fight for recognition. By deciding not to raise the memory of the Holocaust, he signaled, perhaps more to himself than anyone else, that a change was coming.

As fundamental as the narratives of hope and overcoming adversity are to both the US and Israel, in addition to Netanyahu’s personal life story, they are both familiar to his audience. It is only by eloquently shifting the perspective through which he presented them—walking us through the day in the life of a brainwashed Palestinian teenager, labeling it child abuse and listing the myriad of Israeli accomplishments—that he managed to keep people interested and intrigued.

The truly subversive part of his speech, though, was nestled in between his opening strike against the UN’s anti-Israeli tradition and the finishing touch of hope for a brighter future. Describing a world where Israel is respected by its many allies, Netanyahu cast the widest possible net, throwing it over almost the entire world; he stopped short of the European Union, and for the time being also refrained from mentioning the US. Instead, he turned to Africa, Asia and ultimately, the Arab World, describing how he is actively working to strengthen Israel’s ties with all of them. Telling them they are the future.

These regions all share a painful commonality: colonialism. From the Far East to the Fertile Crescent to the land of the Sahara, the nations and countries within them have been gutted by the West, which showed no remorse when it was pillaging their resources and enslaving their people.

In the face of such a compelling call to arms, it seems almost inappropriate to dwell on the fact that Israel has also supplied guns to African leaders in order to unload itself of African refugees, or that it created a reality so ironic only a Jew could write it by paying the road-less-traveled-by country of Uganda, which Herzl famously rejected, to take in the refugees that Israel did not want.

But Africa, Asia and yes, even the Arab World, don’t view Israel as the main threat to their well-being or way of life. The nations that abused and continue to take advantage of them don’t speak Hebrew, and as idyllic as the idea of the United Nations is, in reality these regions have not forgotten the atrocities they have endured. By speaking to them and only them, Netanyahu tapped into what might turn out to be the greatest force this generation has yet to see, which, even dormant, left a sizable impression on the dynamics in this summit.

After Netanyahu was finished speaking, I kept the television on and watched as each and every commentator chuckled at what he had said, dismissing it as one of his weaker performances. It was a familiar image, of the satiated elite laughing off something that didn’t quite fit with their own convenient gospel.

But I was also reminded of something else: a long time ago, long before the internet began storing every sentence and exchange, I read a quote about how in the future, after the Third World will finally cast off the shackles placed on it by those who have never stopped exploiting it, Bob Marley will be considered a prophet before his time.

I can’t imagine any two people more diametrically opposed than Benjamin Netanyahu and Bob Marley. But maybe none of that’s important: this moment isn’t about what the old guard heard in Netanyahu’s speech, or how I interpreted it. Because the Third World was listening, and though Netanyahu is not their champion, his recognition of their power—an acknowledgement they never really needed—may signal the subtle awakening that will turn our world on its head.

Ynet News

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