For years, Israelis most often believed the poison oozing from the United Nations was so implausible that it had to be benign. But this week Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu departed his country immediately after the sun set on the holiest day of the Jewish calendar to address the General Assembly on September 27. Unfortunately, the urgency has as much to do with President Obama’s UN address earlier in the week as it does with Iranian President Ahmadinejad’s speech on Wednesday.
Here’s what sets off alarm bells.
First, President Obama’s address indicated he doesn’t grasp, or doesn't want to grasp, grievous threats to American national security, let alone Israel’s. During the most important general foreign policy address in his annual schedule, he referred a whopping six times to a single anti-Muslim YouTube “video” – which he has helped make famous. In his words: the “video sparked outrage.” “We understand why people take offense at this video.” And so on and so forth.
By the time of his speech, the Libyan president and members of Obama’s own administration, had already called the murder of an American ambassador on the anniversary of 9/11 a terror attack and fingered Al Qaeda. And yet, President Obama never referred to the strike in Libya as terrorism and trumpted a”weakened” Al Qaeda.
Second, the opening of the UN’s annual session is traditionally used by American presidents to demonstrate US foreign policy priorities throughout the world. The president’s priorities raised a lot of red flags.
The president devoted half of his thirty minutes to the grievances of the Muslim world. “[T]he video…is an insult to Muslims.” “Muslims have suffered…” “The future must not belong to those who slander the prophet of Islam.”
In the course of this exhibition he even managed to insult Holocaust survivors, by analogizing the denial of the historical fact of six million Jewish dead to the insult taken by a 14-minute video. The president: “[T]o be credible, those who condemn that slander must also condemn...the Holocaust that is denied.”
Moreover, the concept of “slandering the prophet of Islam,” or what is also called defamation of religion, in practice is defined and applied by extremists and used to deny individual freedom. Which is why the president’s false analogy happens to originate from the centers of anti-semitism in the Muslim world. It is no accident that on September 19 from Egypt, Muslim Brotherhood spokesman Mahmoud Ghozlan, for instance, complained that it wasn’t “fair” that those who “doubt the Holocaust happened” are treated differently than “those who insult Islam.”
Third, President Obama’s words on Iran reinforced the widely-held belief in Israel that he does not have the political will necessary to prevent an Iranian nuclear weapon. The president stood before world leaders, wrung his hands and said this about Iran: “[I]t has failed to take the opportunity to demonstrate that its nuclear program is peaceful.”
Maybe that’s because the Iranian nuclear program isn’t peaceful!
Rather than at the very least coming clean on Iran’s intentions, President Obama repeated his empty refrain that he had the “time and space” to “resolve this issue,” “but that time is not unlimited.”
An Israeli government faced with the threat of its country’s annihilation would add this latest “freebie” – to use Netanyahu’s apt language from last spring – to the long list of similar administration pronouncements on Iran.
The message here has been heard loud and clear by Iran and Israel. No deadlines. Just blah-blah-blah.
The wink-wink to Iran is even more disturbing for Israel because of simultaneous pressure surrounding the creation of a nuclear weapons-free Middle East.
President Obama touched on the nuclear non-proliferation treaty (NPT) in his address, and it featured prominently in the first UN speech of Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi on September 26.
In the works is a 2012 international conference which Obama agreed to promote and co-sponsor – contrary to assurances he gave Israel in 2010 – on this Middle East weapons-free zone. Given that Muslim states, headed by Egypt, clearly intend the meeting as a means to gang-up, disarm and disable Israel, President Obama has put the scheduling on the back burner – in the run-up to the American election. Discussions about a Helsinki venue for post-November 2012 continue.
In a similar opportunistic vein, for the first time President Obama decided to pull U.S. delegates from their seats prior to the commencement of Iranian President Ahmadinejad’s remarks on Wednesday. He didn’t take that step in 2009, 2010 or 2011. By contrast, Canada has stayed completely away from the Iranian’s speech for all of those years.
Faced with an Iranian President openly committed to genocide but still welcomed by the vast majority of UN members, Prime Minister Netanyahu bears a heavy burden when addressing the organization’s General Assembly – one made so much heavier by the current president of the United States.
Anne Bayefsky is director of the Touro Institute on Human Rights and the Holocaust. Follow her on Twitter @AnneBayefsky.