Netanyahu’s showmanship fails to deflect attention from occupation

Netanyahu’s showmanship fails to deflect attention from occupation

Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is thriving in the age of populist politics and ultranationalist, crowd-steering tirades. In fact, these have been his tactics since the mid-1990s, when he was depicted as a rabble-rouser as he attacked then-premier Yitzhak Rabin for signing the Oslo Accords along with long-time nemesis Yasser Arafat. His public denunciation of Rabin, as he addressed angry crowds in Tel Aviv, is believed to have inspired a religious fanatic to assassinate Rabin at a peace rally in 1995.

Rabin’s murder had catastrophic consequences for the peace process; and it never recovered. Moreover, it pushed Israeli society toward the right, thus neutralizing the peace camp and paving the way for hardline parties to band together and form coalition governments. Netanyahu became the premier salesman of far-right politics years before the populist phenomenon gathered steam in Europe and America.

So it was not surprising that Netanyahu was the quintessential showman as he spoke at the UN General Assembly last week. He fired salvos in all directions: At Europe for appeasing Iran, at Mahmoud Abbas for “proudly paying Palestinian terrorists who murder Jews,” at the “unreformed” UN agency responsible for Palestinian refugees, and at Hamas, among others. But he dedicated more than half of his speech to attacking Iran and Hezbollah. The right-wing Israeli media said it was his best speech ever.

In an attempt to portray Palestinians living in Israel as equal citizens who live happily, Netanyahu self-righteously said: “Israel’s Arab citizens vote in our elections, serve in our parliament, preside over our courts, and have exactly the same individual rights as all other Israeli citizens. Yet, here at the UN, Israel is shamefully accused of apartheid.”

Osama Al-Sharif

The only praise he had was for the Trump administration and US Ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley for the “unwavering support they have provided Israel at the UN. They have unequivocally backed Israel’s right to defend itself.” He went on to say that “the Trump administration has stood up to what has long been a specialty here at the UN — slandering Israel.” He praised the US exit from what he called a “morally bankrupt” UN Human Rights Council and a “history-denying” UNESCO.

Netanyahu mentioned the peace process briefly, saying Israel was committed to peace. No mention of the two-state solution, UN resolutions, Oslo Accords and dozens of peripheral agreements emanating from that historic deal signed in Washington some 25 years ago. Netanyahu’s views on a final status agreement with the Palestinians are well known.

But what was more shocking was his attempt to paint a rosy, albeit fake, picture of Israel. This was the salesman’s biggest pitch: To deny allegations that Israel was a racist state, now edging toward becoming an apartheid state after adopting the controversial nation-state law that discriminates against non-Jews in Israel. Shockingly, Netanyahu saw Palestinian grievances and criticism of Israel as increasingly racist and their claim that Israel will soon become an apartheid state as anti-Semitism. “Once, it was the Jewish people that were slandered and held to a different standard. Today, it’s the Jewish state that is slandered and
held to a different standard,” he said.

In an attempt to portray Palestinians living in Israel as equal citizens who live happily, Netanyahu self-righteously said: “Israel’s Arab citizens vote in our elections, serve in our parliament, preside over our courts, and have exactly the same individual rights as all other Israeli citizens. Yet, here at the UN, Israel is shamefully accused of apartheid.” Any objective study of the conditions and rights of Palestinians in Israel will reach a different conclusion. For example, their communities there lack basic services and Palestinian villages have little access to development projects. It is a fact that not a single new Palestinian community has been built in Israel since 1948.

And, if the nation-state law was not racist, why did Arabs and Druze in Israel hold unprecedented mass protests against it?

But Netanyahu’s biggest smokescreen was his deliberate omission of Israel’s ongoing crimes and breaches of international law: Occupation. A day after he delivered his speech, Israeli soldiers killed seven Palestinians, including two children, along the borders with the Gaza Strip, bringing the total number of Palestinians killed in cold blood since March to more than 190, in addition to thousands injured.

While he said Israel was committed to peace, he ignored the daily reality in the West Bank, where Israel continues to build illegal settlements, expropriate Arab lands and enforce a life of hardship on millions of Palestinians.

Iran may be a big problem for the countries of the region and the world at large, but the Palestinian tragedy remains the core of decades of instability. The response to Netanyahu’s attempt at deflecting attention from Israel’s occupation came from multiple sides: Jordan's King Abdullah, Egypt’s Abdel Fattah El-Sisi, Saudi Foreign Minister Adel Al-Jubair and even French President Emmanuel Macron, among many other speakers, who all spoke of ending the occupation through the two-state solution.

At the end of the day, no matter how effective Netanyahu’s showmanship and oratory skills were, his attempt at selling Israel as a peace-loving, non-racist state failed. The ugly face of occupation is something that no bag of tricks can hide or conceal.

  • Osama Al Sharif is a journalist and political commentator based in Amman. Twitter: @plato010
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