CNN broadcast Mahmoud Abbas’s speech to the General Assembly today with a split screen of a huge, respectful, flagwaving crowd in Ramallah. Truly inspiring optics: Tahrir Square had come to New York.
Myself I found the Abbas speech hugely moving. It pulsated with history, with the Nakba and Partition and the ’67 war and the occupation, and it was incredibly dignified. As dignified as the people gathered in Ramallah, so many of them older. So many of them dressed for a global welcome. A beautiful people, I thought to myself, and they only want what we take for granted…
Abbas may not have any charisma, but his sense of the moment was flawless and Martin Luther Kinglike. Our dreams have been deferred forever– this is inarguable. His factual rendition of the unending occupation and of the thousands of prisoners of conscience and the refugees twice displaced was straightforward and unemotional. His invocation of the nonviolent protest movement against the racist, apartheid wall and the settlers touched on every freedom-loving heart in the room. He did not resort to figures of speech or any cheap histrionics.
It was a speech that called the U.N. back to its roots, in human rights. The calm description of 100s-year-old olive trees being uprooted was crushing, and surely comes as a revelation to many Americans.
I can’t think of a greater contrast than Netanyahu’s subsequent performance. It was casual and derisive and scowling. He seemed to be leaning on his elbow on the podium as he insulted the body. His sneers and one-liners reminded me of performances I’ve seen at the American Enterprise Institute; and when he said that he speaks for 100 generations of Jews who longed to return to Jerusalem, he seemed deluded. The Daily Beast is likening him to Caligula.
On CNN even Jamie Rubin of Bloomberg News trashed Netanyahu’s speech as unworthy of the body, a “debating society” speech. That is a sign of how the optics of the Palestinian movement have changed in just the past few days. Andrea Mitchell interviewing Diana Buttu– even the American elites seem dubious about the political cartel that is working to deprive the Palestinians of their Arab spring. In months to come, we can expect probing coverage of the occupation at last from the American press, reports on the children seized in the middle of the night, the demonstrators shot, the cisterns destroyed, the olive trees uprooted.