On October 1, the 68th United Nations General Assembly’s final speaker of 2013 took the stage at the U.N. headquarters in New York City. Benjamin Netanyahu, representing Israel, was tardy in getting his paperwork in and ended up in the unfortunate position of going last, after all the big names had gone home or passed out. Normally, being a closer at a world-class event is an honor, but in the case of Israel at the UNGA it was the equivalent of being the last comic to go up at an open mic at 3:30 a.m. with only seven Swedish tourists and your mom left in the audience. When Bibi stepped up to the plate, he looked like he’d stayed up too late the night before at the J Street conference and would much rather be snoozing than giving a speech at the useless U.N. The state of Israel had also ignored a bevy of U.N. resolutions, which had to make being there, center stage, a bit awkward for the PM.
Netanyahu’s speech left me quite bewildered. At first I thought Bibi was Iran’s new leader, Dr. Hassan Rouhani’s hype man. Kind of like the Dennis Rodman to Rouhani’s Kim Jong Un. Like a professional emcee introducing the next act, Bibi rattled off a slew of Rouhani’s credits: “This dawg has served on the Islamic council, loves cats, and was most recently elected the President of Iran. Give it up for Dr. Hassan Roukkkkkhani!” However, this was no sparkly introduction. This was a cautionary tale. The kettle was adamantly calling the pot black as Netanyahu accused Iran of doing all sorts of shady things with nuclear power. The types of things only cool countries like America and Israel, who refuse to sign the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons, are allowed to do.
Eleven minutes into the address, I gave up on waiting for Netanyahu to mention She Who Must Not Be Named (Palestine) and went to grab a snack. When I got back at the 17-minute mark, Bibi was still droning on about Iran. Netanyahu had pulled out all the stops and went punny. He quipped that, “Rouhani thinks he can have his yellow cake and eat it too.” Someone should remind Netanyahu that Rouhani learned it from watching him and that this is the United Nations, not a comedy club. Eight minutes later, Netanyahu was still going on about how Rouhani was just Ahmadinejad minus the Members Only jacket. I kept waiting for the Palestinian delegation to leap up like Glenn Close from “Fatal Attraction” and shriek, “Palestine will not be ignored, Bibi!” Unfortunately, they—like everyone else—had already gone home.
Netanyahu’s Iran soliloquy at UNGA 2013 inspired viewers on social media to create a drinking game that required those watching to take a shot every time Bibi said “Iran.” Three minutes into the speech, I leapt onto Twitter to beg anyone participating in the game to quit now before they ended up dead of alcohol poisoning. Abir Kopty, a Palestinian blogger and gladiator, created an alternate game for those opposed to ending up in a coma. Players were instructed to “Replace every ‘Iran’ with ‘Israel’ and every ‘Rouhani’ with ‘#Netanyahu.” I highly recommend trying Abir’s game; it is downright creepy. Finally, 27 minutes and 48 seconds into his monologue, Benjamin Netanyahu mentioned the unmentionable: Palestinians.
Israel’s decades of occupation and the alleged peace negotiations were but a blip on the teleprompter screen at the tail end of Netanyahu’s speech. The Israeli prime minister dedicated an entire 93 seconds to the topic of two states and the continued denial of basic human rights of the Palestinian population. Apparently, the Palestinians, whom Israel felt the need to build a wall around, were no longer a threat to Israel’s security and should now be ignored by the world so they will just go away. If the Palestinians did still pose an existential threat, wouldn’t Netanyahu dedicate more than a measly minute and a half of his 33-minute talk to the issue?
Maybe Bibi chose to avoid the subject of Palestinians because as a child he was taught that if you don’t have anything good to say then you should avoid the topic like the plague. He couldn’t exactly discuss Israel’s ongoing illegal settlement building on land that is meant to house the future demilitarized, jelly-like Palestinian state. Nor could he mention the ongoing demolitions of non-Jewish homes in Jerusalem or the forced transfer of the Bedouin population under the Prawer Plan. It would spoil the mood to mention that Israel’s state-of-the-art military technology wiped out multiple generations of the al-Dalu family. Ten of them, plus two neighbors, were killed by a bomb dropped on their home in No Exit Gaza. Netanyahu couldn’t publicly admit that he didn’t give a flying fig newton about human rights, the U.N., or its stinking resolutions because Israel is above the law protected by the USA’s almighty veto. The Prime Minister of Israel couldn’t possibly share that his government has no intention of giving up an inch of the land between the river and the sea to create a state for the Palestinians because that would have gotten him booed off the stage by even Micronesia. Perhaps Netanyahu was at a loss for words when it comes to Palestine because anything he might say could be held against him in a court of international law.
The Prime Minister shut it down with a biblical prophecy, first spoken in English then in Hebrew. I’m sure this was a huge hit with the Tea Party gang and anyone else who is looking forward to the end of days. Netanyahu’s meandering and uninspired drivel left many confused but I will attempt to summarize it. The gist was: Don’t worry about the Palestinians’ ongoing persecution; look at the Iranian dude over there wearing a wolf suit and a funny hat. He is gonna kill us all and then eat yellow cake to celebrate. The Jerusalem Fund’s Yousef Munayyer provided a far more nuanced take and captured the essence of the Israeli PM’s UNGA speech in one tweet: “Netanyahu: There will be peace with Palestinians when they accept their subjugation to us.”
Rather than speak ill of the dead two-state solution at the UNGA, Bibi deftly turned attention away from the kuffiyeh-wearing elephant in the room by screaming, “Look over there!” for almost half an hour straight. Netanyahu hoped beyond hope that if he ignored the Palestinians’ existence, the world would forget about them and they’d just go away. Desperate to shift focus from the question of Palestine and Israel’s numerous violations of U.N. resolutions, he committed himself to convincing the handful of diplomats in the room and the World Wide Web that Iranian President Hassan Rouhani was a wolf in sheep’s clothing and that it was crucial President Obama and the rest of these inconsequential countries’ leaders not be wooed by Rouhani’s Clooney-esque charm. But if Rouhani is a wolf in sheep’s clothing, doesn’t that make Netanyahu the boy who cried wolf?