Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s mean-spirited and angry address to the United Nations General Assembly on Thursday was mostly as predictable as it was desperate and creepy.
But it did contain one surprise.
After scolding the international community for what he called its “deafening silence” over the Iran nuclear agreement, Netanyahu spent 45 awkward seconds silently scowling at the assembled world leaders and diplomats.
Not since his famous cartoon bomb chart has a public appearance by the Israeli leader elicited so much mockery. Entertaining remixes of Netanyahu’s silent glare quickly appeared on YouTube:
The rest of his speech was, in characteristic Netanyahu fashion, not so much entertaining as dreary and menacing.
The majority of the 43-minute diatribe was dedicated to antagonizing and demonizing Iran, culminating in thinly veiled threats of apocalyptic war against the nation of 80 million.
“In every generation,” said Netanyahu, “there were those who rose up to destroy our people. In antiquity we faced destruction from the ancient empires of Babylon and Rome. In the Middle Ages we faced inquisition and expulsion. And in modern times we faced pogroms and the Holocaust. Yet the Jewish people persevered.”
Conflating the modern, settler-colonial state of Israel with all Jews throughout history, Netanyahu claimed: “And now another regime has arisen swearing to destroy Israel. That regime [Iran] would be wise to consider this. I stand here today representing Israel, a country 67 years young but the nation-state of a people nearly 4,000 years old. Yet the empires of Babylon and Rome are not represented in this hall of nations. Neither is the thousand year Reich. Those seemingly invincible empires are long gone. But Israel lives. The people of Israel live. Am Yisrael chai!”
“Am Yisrael chai,” or “the Jewish people lives,” is the Hebrew slogan chanted most frequently by right-wing Israeli nationalists, sometimes as they beat Palestinians in racist attacks.
While the Iran deal and the lifting of sanctions represent a hopeful step for the Iranian people and world peace more generally, Palestinians may be paying for it with their lives.
In one memorable line, Netanyahu warned “When bad behavior is rewarded, it only gets worse.” He was talking about Iran, but of course those words apply most aptly to US coddling of Israel no matter what it does.
The Obama administration bent over backwards to quell Netanyahu’s attempts to sabotage the deal with Iran by lavishing Israel with billions more dollars in weapons to use against Palestinians.
No wonder Netanyahu made sure to express his appreciation of “President Obama’s willingness to bolster our security.”
But as far as propoganda wars go, Netanyahu’s failure to garner the support of enough members of Congress to block the deal in upcoming votes is a resounding defeat for Israel and its bullying lobby. At the UN, he was fighting a war he already lost. It reeked of desperation and made Israel look irrelevant and even more out of step than usual in a world that has overwhelmingly welcomed the agreement with Iran.
Aware of his country’s increasingly tarnished image, especially after the slaughter of 551 children during the July-August 2014 attack on Gaza, and the election earlier this year of the most openly racist government in Israel’s history, Netanyahu devoted the last 15 minutes of his speech to marketing damaged goods.
The world needs Israel, he argued, because it is vital to science, technology, medicine and agriculture.
“Israeli know-how is everywhere,” Netanyahu said, claiming that computers, smartphones, instant messaging, GPS navigation and drip irrigation, among others, all depend on Israeli innovations. He even credited Israel for the deliciousness of the cherry tomato.
“We are so proud that our small country is making such a huge contribution to the entire world,” he said.
Despite his seemingly high regard for science, Netanyahu comfortably invoked ancient religious texts to assert Jewish ownership over historic Palestine as “enshrined for eternity by the great prophets of the Bible.”
While his past speeches have focused on maligning Palestinians as a dark force bent on Israel’s destruction, this year Netanyahu was more invested in branding his country as the vanguard of defense against the evils of militant Islam.
“Ten miles from ISIS, a few hundred yards from Iran’s murderous proxies, Israel stands in the breach proudly and courageously defending freedom and progress,” he bellowed. “Israel is civilization’s frontline in the battle against barbarism.”
“Israel is not just defending itself,” he concluded. “Israel is defending you.”
Israel, he seemed to be saying, must be allowed to oppress Palestinians with impunity for the sake of global security. In reality, Israel is a destabilizing force that makes the region and the world less safe.
With an ever more unhinged bully like Netanyahu at the helm, that reality is only becoming more obvious.