With much anticipation Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu took the stage at the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) Monday morning to lambast Hamas and refuting claims of his soldiers targeting civilians during Operation Protective Edge. He followed the Palestinian Authority President’s charges of “genocidal” Israeli army conduct in Gaza, but, like in years past, Netanyahu focused on Iran (and employed the use of a prop). As he spoke the galley of the GA assembly hall was stacked with members of the Israeli delegation, including casino mogul Sheldon Adelson, who cheered at key moments while delegates from member countries refrained from applause.
“I’ve come here to expose the brazen lies spoken from this very podium against my country,” opened a stern Netanyahu immediately turning to ISIS: “militant Islam is on the march.” When discussing Hamas at a later point Netanyahu unfolded a poster of a still by a France 24 journalist of a rocket launcher with Palestinian children feet away from the weaponry. “Let me show you a photograph,” he said exposing the blown up color image taken during Israel’s 50-day Operation Protective Edge in Gaza, “Ladies and gentlemen, this is a war crime.” He made the case that while the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) chose to investigate Israel for crimes against humanity in the summer war, (which they will release in 2015) Hamas is not under review. “These are the real war crimes you should have investigated,” he said.
Netanyahu also compared Hamas’s political bureau leader to ISIS’s self-appointed head Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi as both operating under expansionists goals. He also likened the Gaza group to Boko Haram, al-Shabab; Hezbollah, al-Nusrah, Mahdi militants in Iraq, and al-Qaeda. Their threat, he said is global because both ISIS’s and Hamas’s “ultimate goal is to dominate the world,” continuing, “Hamas has a broader objective. They also want a caliphate.” (I’ve covered the fallacy of Hamas and territorial expansion before. It is unfounded that the group has any inclination to establish a caliphate or move beyond at maximum the borders of historic Palestine.)
While the bulk of Netanyahu’s remarks comparing Hamas to ISIS and other terror groups using resolute but broad strokes was a reiteration of statements made over the past month and a half, when turned to Iran, Netanyahu compared the country to Nazi Germany. “Ladies and Gentlemen,” he began,
‘Militant Islam’s ambition to dominate the world seems mad. But so too did the global ambitions of another fanatic ideology that swept to power eight decades ago.
The Nazis believed in a master race. The militant Islamists believe in a master faith. They just disagree about who among them will be the master… of the master faith. That’s what they truly disagree about. Therefore, the question before us is whether militant Islam will have the power to realize its unbridled ambitions.
There is one place where that could soon happen: The Islamic State of Iran.’
Using a non-sequitur Netanyahu then related Iran back to ISIS:
‘Ladies and Gentlemen, Would you let ISIS enrich uranium? Would you let ISIS build a heavy water reactor? Would you let ISIS develop intercontinental ballistic missile?
Of course you wouldn’t. Then you mustn’t let the Islamic State of Iran do those things either.’
At times Netanyahu’s speech seemed directed directly at American sensibilities: “To say that Iran doesn’t practice terrorism is like saying Derek Jeter never played shortstop for the New York Yankees.” And in his opener he echoed a famous maxim from former Speaker of the House of Representative Tip O’Neill: “’All politics is local’? For the militant Islamists, ‘All politics is global.’ Because their ultimate goal is to dominate the world,” said Netanyahu. He closed with an Old Testament verse that perhaps spoke to allies in the U.S. as well as a constituency back at home, “For the sake of Zion, I will not be silent. For the sake of Jerusalem, I will not be still.” This phrase from the prophet Isaiah has become a slogan for the settler movement and American Christian Zionists.
For the most part member states in the UNGA sat quietly with only a handful of applause from Israel’s strongest supporters (Czech Republic and Denmark). Yet throughout the talk scores of Israelis cheered at key moments. They had filled an alcove on the floor and an upper level, which traditionally is the press viewing station. Notably Sheldon Adelson was among the some 100 Israelis (around a quarter of the total number of people seated in the room). When Netanyahu said sound bites like, “We will defend ourselves against our enemies on the battlefield” and “Today we, the Jewish people, have the power to defend ourselves,” they rallied.
Netanyahu’s words directed at the leaders who had railed against him earlier in the week were with rancor, but lacked the same attention given to Iran and ISIS. To Abbas who on Friday accused him of presiding over a genocide in Gaza, without naming the Palestinian leader, Netanyahu said, “I suppose it’s the same moral universe where a man who wrote a dissertation of lies about the Holocaust, and who insists on a Palestine free of Jews, Judenrein, can stand at this podium and shamelessly accuse Israel of genocide and ethnic cleansing.” Similarly, Netanyhu held back personal comments on Iran’s Hassan Rouhani other than stating he had “crocodile tears” and “phony tears,” when addressing the UNGA at the beginning of last week.
The following day among supporters in New York, Netanyahu said the battle with Hamas, Iran and ISIS were wars against our “common civilizations.” He went on, “Every time I come to the UN I try to tell the truth as it is. But here’s a picture I didn’t show in the UN yesterday. This is an impending execution.”