Bennett to UNGA: Time to Focus on Iran, Covid, & Fighting Polarization - The Jewish Voice
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Tuesday, May 17, 2022

Bennett to UNGA: Time to Focus on Iran, Covid, & Fighting Polarization

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Edited by: Fern Sidman

Israel’s new prime minister, Naftali Bennett, appealed to the international community Monday morning to stand together against Iran, accusing Tehran of marching toward the development of a nuclear weapon and threatening to act alone if the world does not take action, according to an AP report.

In his maiden speech to the United Nations General Assembly, Bennett said: “Iran’s nuclear program has hit a watershed moment, and so has our tolerance. Words do not stop centrifuges from spinning.”

After four inconclusive elections in two years, Bennett succeeded longtime Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in June by forming a diverse coalition of small and midsize parties spanning the Israeli political spectrum.

As opposed to Netanyahu’s style of speaking and his use of visual props in his previous addresses to the U.N., Bennett — a former high-tech executive — took a more traditional approach. His voice was measured as he sought to portray his country as a “lighthouse in a stormy sea” of the volatile Mideast, as was reported by the AP.

But the content of his message was largely similar to that of Netanyahu as he focused heavily on archenemy Iran.

“Iran’s great goal is crystal clear to anybody who cares to open their eyes: Iran seeks to dominate the region — and seeks to do so under a nuclear umbrella,” Bennett said.

AP reported that he called Iran’s new president, Ebrahim Raisi, the “butcher of Tehran” for his past role in suppressing political dissent and accused Iran of arming, funding and training Israel’s enemies across the region. He said Iranian meddling had brought disaster to countries like Lebanon, Syria and Yemen.

“Every place Iran touches fails,” he said, correctly claiming that Iranian activities threatened the entire world. He pointed to Iran’s development of attack drones, which have been blamed for a string of attacks on shipping in the Persian Gulf, as was reported by the AP.

Bennett said that some in the international community have concluded that a nuclear-capable Iran is an “inevitable reality.”

“Israel doesn’t have that privilege,” he said, according to the AP report. He signaled that Israel is ready to act alone if necessary. “We will not tire. We will not allow Iran to acquire a nuclear weapon.”

Israel National News reported that Bennett pointed to both Iran’s atomic aspirations and its support for terrorist groups.

“Israel is, quite literally, surrounded by Hezbollah, Shia militias, Islamic Jihad, and Hamas.”

“What do they all have in common? They all want to destroy my country, and they’re all backed by Iran. They get their funding from Iran, they get their training from Iran, and they get their weapons from Iran,” he said.

Bennett stopped short of criticizing the United Nations and did not mention PA Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas or the Palestinians even once in his 25-minute address, as was reported by the AP. As prime minister, he has rejected calls for peace talks with the Palestinians, though he hopes to promote better economic relations to reduce friction.

In a subtle message to his detractors, he said Israel was prepared to work with the international community and share its technological expertise to address other issues, including the coronavirus pandemic, as was reported by the AP.

“For way too long, Israel was defined by wars with our neighbors,” he said. “But this is not what Israel is about. This is not what the people of Israel are about.”

On the matter of the coronavirus, Bennett compared it to global polarization as the two diseases that are plaguing humanity.  “There are two plagues that are challenging the very fabric of society at this moment. One is the coronavirus, which has killed over 5 million people around the globe, the other, has also shaken the world as we know it — it’s the disease of political polarization,“ Bennett said, as was reported by Israel National News.

“Both coronavirus and polarization can erode public trust in our institutions, both can paralyze nations. If left unchecked, their effects on society can be devastating. In Israel, we faced both, and rather than accept them as a force of nature, we stood up, took action, and we can already see the horizon.”

INN reported that the Israeli premier cited the formation of his government as proof Israel has moved beyond worsening polarization, calling it a step towards restoring normalcy, and touting his coalition as the ‘most diverse’ in Israel’s history.

“In a polarized world, where algorithms fuel our anger, people on the Right and on the Left operate in two separate realities, each in their own social media bubble, they hear only the voices that confirm what they already believe in.”

“In Israel, after four elections in two years, with a fifth looming, the people yearned for an antidote: Calm. Stability. An honest attempt for political normalcy.”

“About a hundred days ago my partners and I formed a new government in Israel. The most diverse government in our history. What started as a political accident, can now turn into a purpose. And that purpose is unity.”

Bennett also noted that his government had abandoned the use of lockdowns and heavy reliance on mass restrictions, emphasizing instead mass vaccination, as was reported by INN.

“The Israeli model has three guiding principles: One — the country must stay open. We all paid a huge price: an economic price, a physical price and an emotional price—for bringing life to a standstill in 2020. Lockdowns, restrictions, quarantines – cannot work in the long run,” he said.

“The second rule: vaccinate early. Right from the start, Israelis were quick to get vaccinated. We are in a race against a deadly virus and we must try to be ahead of it. In July we were the first to learn that the vaccines were waning—which is what brought a surge in Delta cases. It was then when my government decided to administer a third dose of vaccine—the booster—to the Israeli public,” Bennett said, as was reported by INN.

“We pioneered the booster shot. Two months in I can report that it works. The third rule: Adapt and move quickly. Running a country during a pandemic is not only about health. It’s about carefully balancing all aspects of life that are affected by corona, especially jobs and education. The only person that has a good vantage point of all of this – is the national leader of any given country,” Bennett said.

INN reported that the Prime Minister praised the Abraham Accords, (the peace agreements with the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Morocco, and Sudan), saying that they show that not all “is dark in the Middle East.”

On Sunday evening in New York, Bennett met with Bahraini Foreign Minister Dr. Abdullatif bin Rashid Al Zayani and UAE Minister of State in the Foreign Ministry Khalifa Shaheen Almarar. The three noted that the anniversary of the Abraham Accords occurs this month. Bennett said that Israel aspires to tighten and strengthen relations with the UAE and Bahrain in all fields and added that he hopes that additional countries in the region will join the circle of peace, according to a statement released by the Israeli government press office.

“For way too long, Israel was defined by wars with our neighbors. But this is not what Israel is about. This is not what the people of Israel are about,” Bennett said in his UN speech, according to a World Israel News report.

“Israelis don’t wake up in the morning thinking about the conflict. Israelis want to lead a good life, take care of our families and build a better world for our children.”

Bennett went on to describe the challenges Israel faces, being located “in the toughest neighborhood on earth.”

WIN also reported that Bennett said that supporting Israel in its fight against terrorism is a moral choice, taking a harsh stance against anti-Israel bias.

“Attacking Israel doesn’t make you morally superior. Fighting the only democracy in the Middle East doesn’t make you ‘woke,’” he said, as was reported by WIN.

“Adopting clichés about Israel without bothering to learn the basic facts, well, that’s just plain lazy,” he continued. “Every member state in this building has a choice. It’s not a political choice, but a moral one. It’s a choice between darkness and light.”

Despite the many challenges Israel faces, it remains a “beacon of democracy,” Bennett stated, adding that “our best days are ahead of us.”

“At a ripe young age of 73, more and more nations are coming to understand Israel’s value and unique place in the world,” Bennett said, as was reported by INN.

Not everyone was in agreement with Bennett’s address before the UN General Assembly. INN reported that the Likud party issued a strongly worded condemnation of Bennett’s speech.

“Netanyahu’s speeches at the UN made waves all over the world and brought Israel’s interests to the forefront of the world stage. In contrast, Bennett gave an empty speech in front of an empty hall and wasted empty words instead of taking advantage of an important international stage,” the statement read, according to an INN report.

“Bennett talks about the need for unity and internal Israeli brotherhood, but he is pitting citizens against each other. In general, since when has an Israeli prime minister raised internal political issues to the top of the agenda on an international stage?” the Likud wondered.

Also critiquing Bennett’s UN address was Religious Zionism party chairman MK Bezalel Smotrich. According to the INN report, Smotrich wrote on Twitter: “To all who are rightly puzzled, Bennett’s speech is not intended for the UN. Nor is it intended for Israeli ears. It is meant to help Bennett in the psychological process he is devoting himself to and that is developing a deep self-identification with his conversion in forming this government and turning against everything he believed in until yesterday.”

INN reported that MK Michal Woldiger from the Religious Zionism party also posted on Twitter: “Great speech, but still. We defeated the coronavirus? His method, the prime minister’s, works? Over a thousand people have died from the coronavirus during his term. Patients here in the corona wards and hospitals are collapsing. There’s no policy, no decisions, no method.”

Bennett did receive some support from Coalition chairperson MK Idit Silman, who wrote on Twitter: “‘A little light repels a lot of the darkness.’ Prime Minister Naftali Bennett, we are all behind you.”

Also praising Netanyahu’s address was the leadership of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations. In a statement released subsequent to Bennett’s address, Dianne Lob, Chair, William Daroff, CEO, and Malcolm Hoenlein, Vice Chair said:

“We commend Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett on his first speech to the United Nations General Assembly this morning, where he articulated the challenges Israel faces both domestically and internationally.

Prime Minister Bennett addressed Iran’s nuclear ambitions and malevolent regional activities, matters of utmost importance to the international community. The annihilation of the Jewish State is a frequently and openly stated objective of the regime’s leaders, making the threat of a nuclear Iran particularly acute for Israel. We are hopeful that the Prime Minister’s warnings today do not fall on deaf ears.”

World Israel News reported that Bennett wrote most of the speech himself, though he received input from philosophers including Micah Goodman and a number of other prominent writers.

“It was important to him that the speech be in his voice and reflect what he thinks as accurately as possible,” a source said.

WIN reported that prior to departing the Jewish State for New York on Saturday evening, Bennett told a crowd of reporters on the tarmac that he’d use his speech as a reality check for Iranians and Palestinians.

Both groups, Bennett said, must “deal with their own people and improving their lives, and stop their obsession with Israel.”

On Sunday, WIN reported that Bennett lauded as a ”sweeping victory” the approval of $1 billion spending on Israel’s Iron Dome by the United States House of Representatives, following attempts among Democrat ranks to quash it.

Speaking from the tarmac at Ben-Gurion Airport on his way to New York to speak at the United Nations, Bennett said “At the moment of truth, we saw the representatives of the American people overwhelmingly support Israel, 420 to 9, in the vote on rearming Iron Dome.”

“This is an important international stage and I am very pleased for the opportunity to bring the voice of Israel, of Israelis, to this important stage,” he said. “This will be an opportunity to tell our story, about Israel’s place in the world and about the special spirit of Israelis and our contribution to the world.”

WIN reported that the budget line was originally part of a larger bill, but was left out following protests from some Democrat representatives. However, the spending was approved in a stand-alone vote on Thursday, despite scenes of infighting among Democrats on the floor. (Sources: AP, Israel National News, World Israel News)





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