This is part of Marc H. Ellis’s “Exile and the Prophetic” feature for Mondoweiss. To read the entire series visit the archive page.
An original take on Benjamin Netanyahu’s speech before the United Nations yesterday is hard to find. It isn’t easy to creatively analyze United Nations’ kitsch.
Kitsch can be sentimental. Netanyahu’s speech had that. Kitsch can be vulgar. Netanyahu covered that angle, too. Netanyahu left his cartoon props from last year’s speech behind. Thus he didn’t employ another aspect of kitsch – tackiness. Or did he?
Iran, Iran, Iran. Without one nuclear weapon and without any real sense of how close Iran is to that one nuclear weapon, nowhere in his address did Netanyahu allude to Israel’s ultimate threat – to retaliate with its many nuclear weapons.
Why not threaten to use Israel’s ace in the hole? The rhetorical drama alone would be worth it. Because Israel won’t admit it has one nuclear weapon, let alone the scores everyone knows it has.
On the Palestinians, the real issue, Netanyahu continued in a rote mode, contrasting his honesty with Iran’s dishonesty:
Israel welcomes engagement with the wider Arab world. We hope that our common interests and common challenges will help us forge a more peaceful future. And Israel’s — continues to seek an historic compromise with our Palestinian neighbors, one that ends our conflict once and for all. We want peace based on security and mutual recognition, in which a demilitarized Palestinian state recognizes the Jewish state of Israel. I remain committed to achieving an historic reconciliation and building a better future for Israelis and Palestinians alike.
Now, I have no illusions about how difficult this will be to achieve. Twenty years ago, the peace process between Israel and the Palestinians began. Six Israeli prime ministers, myself included, have not succeeded at achieving peace with the Palestinians. My predecessors were prepared to make painful concessions. So am I. But so far the Palestinian leaders haven’t been prepared to offer the painful concessions they must make in order to end the conflict.
For peace to be achieved, the Palestinians must finally recognize the Jewish state, and Israel’s security needs must be met.
Israel’s painful concessions are like Iran’s one nuclear weapon, a fantasy concocted for an audience that doesn’t believe a word Netanyahu says. Netanyahu’s so-called concessions are without specifics – as in where are Israel’s borders, what will happen with Israel’s settlements and how a Palestinian state can be achieved where there is so little land, no continuity, no military and no foreign policy allowed. Israel’s concessions are unilateral power grabs.
As for history, why bother. Palestinians are without a history in Netanyahu’s rendition of Israel’s existence. But Jews, why yes, Jews have a history, one filtered through the Bible and Netanyahu’s grandfather, Nathan, who way back when was assaulted by a mob.
Here it is, in two parts, Netanyahu’s understanding of Jewish history. In the beginning:
We are an ancient people. We date back nearly 4,000 years to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. We have journeyed through time. We’ve overcome the greatest of adversities. And we re-established our sovereign state in our ancestral homeland, the land of Israel.
At the end:
Ladies and gentlemen, one cold day in the late 19th century, my grandfather Nathan and his younger brother Judah were standing in a railway station in the heart of Europe. They were seen by a group of anti-Semitic hoodlums who ran towards them waving clubs, screaming “Death to the Jews.”
My grandfather shouted to his younger brother to flee and save himself, and he then stood alone against the raging mob to slow it down. They beat him senseless, they left him for dead, and before he passed out, covered in his own blood, he said to himself “What a disgrace, what a disgrace. The descendants of the Maccabees lie in the mud powerless to defend themselves.”
He promised himself then that if he lived, he would take his family to the Jewish homeland and help build a future for the Jewish people. I stand here today as Israel’s prime minister because my grandfather kept that promise.
And so many other Israelis have a similar story, a parent or a grandparent who fled every conceivable oppression and came to Israel to start a new life in our ancient homeland. Together we’ve transformed a bludgeoned Jewish people, left for dead, into a vibrant, thriving nation, defending itself with the courage of modern Maccabees, developing limitless possibilities for the future.
In our time the Biblical prophecies are being realized. As the prophet Amos said, they shall rebuild ruined cities and inhabit them. They shall plant vineyards and drink their wine. They shall till gardens and eat their fruit. And I will plant them upon their soil never to be uprooted again.
Netanyahu’s history, such as it is, is so selective it begs the question of what history is and how history should be communicated by the leader of a nation. For Netanyahu, it’s Abraham, Isaac – and Nathan.
Perhaps Netanyahu should expand his address and publish a book length text – Netanyahu’s Idiot’s Guide to Jewish History.
Stories from the Bible and family humiliations hardly add up to statecraft. Israel, with its nuclear stockpile – and its chemical weapons’ arsenal as well – isn’t standing up to a raging mob. From the Palestinian perspective, Israel is the raging mob. Netanyahu is the leader of the mob.
Palestinians experience daily the “bludgeoned Jewish people, left for dead” transformed into a “thriving nation, defending itself with the courage of modern Maccabees.” Israel is a nation that deliberately and systematically forecloses for Palestinians what Netanyahu’s family wanted desperately.
“Ladies and gentlemen, the people of Israel have come home never to be uprooted again.”
To permanently uproot others?