In all the traffic and confusion that is New York on the week the United Nations General Assembly is in town, there were some very important events that occurred that few may have paid attention to. Some people have become all worked up over the timing of the final address of Iran’s President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to the General Assembly, for it was on Yom Kippur; the highest and most solemn of the Jewish holidays. Echoing the war that was launched on October 6, 1973, while Jews prayed for the future and took stock of their past; some saw the timing as an affront.
I saw it differently; who cares what Ahmadinejad has to say. It is better that we give as little credence to him as possible. We know what he thinks, we understand his hatred for the west and for Israel, and nothing he said came as a shock. We are prepared for his vitriol and appreciate the risks that his regime poses whether or not we heard him speak. Those who sat in the U.N.'s assembly hall yesterday for the most part are among those who want to see him succeed.
There was a speech, however, that went largely unnoticed though, and maybe it should have been given more attention; that was the one by Egypt’s new President Mohammed Morsi. The voice of the Moslem Brotherhood spoke with a clear intent to show his dominance over a new Arab world, and with his words, he made some very strong statements—made knowing that his speech would likely be largely under-reported.
First, and most noticeable, his speech, which dealt heavily on Palestinian and Syrian issues and equally as strong on the desire to protect and defend Islam around the world, never mentions Israel once but talks about peace and human rights, dignity for Palestinians. Something was evident in his words. Morsi was alluding to something, and in those allusions were either an attempt at doublespeak or a genuine positive overture. The former is more likely.
Morsi attacked the makers of the YouTube video that was claimed to be the reason for the murder of the United State’s Ambassador to Libya Chris Stevens and three other diplomats, as well as the other embassy attacks across the Arab world. He said that his country is one of tolerance, he said it would not tolerate attacks on Islam from anywhere, “We will not allow anyone in word or deed that insults and harms Islam,” and he followed it with the warning, that they are inclined “not to accept or allow foreign concepts to interfere with that,” clearly alluding to the U.S. right to free speech and the arguments made by Secretary of State Clinton and others about the need to respect the constitutional rights of Americans even when it is disagreeable. Morsi rejected that in what could easily be a subtle warning about more attacks should more criticism of Islam be seen.
Yet, his words left the door open to more tolerance. “[We] must move together to confront extremism discrimination or incitement to hatred on basis of religion or race.” Morsi proudly addressed his new Egypt’s desire to defend tolerance; “Egypt respects freedom of expression that is not used to incite hatred against anyone, and not a freedom of expression that targets a specific religion or a specific culture.”
Will he be held to his word if Jewish interests and Israel are attacked or did he mean everyone but Jews? That remains to be seen, but the lack of coverage on the day of his speech offers some cover for him if this was classic Arabic double-speak. What did it sound like in Arabic and will anyone hold him to that if the time should come?
The day after Yom Kippur, it was Israel’s turn and Bibi Netanyahu lit up the stage with a tremendous presentation that clearly went over his allotted time slot, noted by the long-blinking red light on the speaker’s podium. Maybe he did it on purpose to match the red light to his call for a clear redline on Iran’s nuclear ambitions.
Netanyahu offered what may have been the clearest pitch for forewarning of the potential for the days of a radicalized Islamic hegemony. He laid out the differences between what he referred to as the battle between modernity and medievalism; a world in which women are subjugated, knowledge is suppressed and death is glorified or a world where we embrace the new while respecting and enhancing traditional values. “In Israel, we walk the same paths tread by our patriarchs Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. But we blaze new trails in science, technology, medicine, agriculture.”
“The forces of modernity seek a bright future in which the rights of all are protected, in which an ever-expanding digital library is available in the palm of every child, in which every life is sacred,” Netanyahu said. The forces of medievalism “[S]eeks supremacy over all Muslims. They are bent on world conquest. They want to destroy Israel, Europe, America. They want to extinguish freedom. They want to end the modern world. Militant Islam … [is] all rooted in the same bitter soil of intolerance. That intolerance is directed first at their fellow Muslims, and then to Christians, Jews, Buddhists, Hindus, secular people, anyone who doesn’t submit to their unforgiving creed. They want to drag humanity back to an age of unquestioning dogma and unrelenting conflict.”
He talked about the printing press and how it changed the world and said that medievalism will be beat, but “how many lives will be lost before it’s defeated.”
In what was the highlight of the United Nations speeches for everyone, judging by the chatter on the Internet, Netanyahu took out a simple chart—a line drawing, actually—of a bomb. He showed what he believed was Iran’s progress on achieving nuclear bomb—at 70 percent—and said that the next was the second stage which would be 90 percent, then the fuse—100 percent. He drew a red line on the 90 percent line and said that we had to stop Iran before completing the 90 percent stage. In his words, Netanyahu was not so subtly suggesting that Israel’s intelligence organizations knew more about Iran’s progress, installations and other details about their weapons program. While he talked about redlines and talks, the undertone appeared to suggest the message to Iran that Israel knew where they needed to attack if it came to it. Netanyahu pulled few punches, as if this was a final stand at the talking stages. The question, he said, “is not when Iran will get the bomb … [but] at what stage can we no longer stop Iran from getting the bomb.”
“There are those who believe that a nuclear-armed Iran can be deterred like the Soviet Union,” he said. When Netanyahu raised the comparison to the Marxists Russian regime of old he said that that self preservation came before idealism, which is irrelevant to Iran. He then raised the words of the Middle East Scholar Bernard Lewis who declared, “mutually assured destruction is not a deterrent, but an inducement” for radical Islam. Then reiterated the words of Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, an influential Iranian politician and writer and fourth President of Iran who said “The use of even one nuclear bomb inside Israel will destroy everything, however it would only harm the Islamic world.”
Netanyahu delivered no softballs; he came with fire and brought a chart. While Egypt’s new president made some promises we doubt he plans to truly deliver on, Netanyahu emphasized that Iran’s president and radical Islam will indeed deliver on all that they say. The redline must be drawn now.
While advising anyone who challenges the Jewish place in Israel and in history, Netanyahu declared that the “Jewish people have come home, and we will never be uprooted again." He drew a line in the sand, saying that he will defend Israel with the "indomitable courage of Joshua David and the Maccabees of old."
That message was heard loud and clear.