Thursday, October 1, 2009

Isaiah Walking the Streets

Binyamin Netanyahu gave a speech at the UN last week. The official transcript is here. Most of the media attention I saw focused on the part of the speech where he dramatically waved two Nazi documents about murdering Jews and rhetorically asked if this is all a lie. Some observers felt this was cheap theatrics, since most reasonable people know about the Holocaust and only the loonies deny it. This is true in some parts of the world, but probably not at the United Nations. Still, if you read the transcript, you'll notice that the Holocaust-denial section of it was short, and came at the beginning. Most of the speech was about other things, but by the third minute no-one was listening. There was a headline, and that was enough.

There are a number of inaccuracies in the speech. I doubt anyone can document 3,500 continuous years of unbroken Jewish existence. Had he said 3,100 he'd have been on more solid ground, and either number is more than any other nation can claim. I don't think the participants of the Wannsee Conference of January 20th 1942 had a hearty meal before they sat down to discuss how to murder all the Jews of Europe, but there were drinks (Eichmann remembered the Cognac for the rest of his life). These are very minor quibbles. He also implies that he thought uprooting Jews from Gaza in 2005 was a potential step towards peace; in reality, he was against the move, and most of us who were for it never thought it would bring peace - our agenda was far more sardonic. Well, it's a speech, not a graduate seminar.

Overall, however, it's a worthy speech, and adequately states the truth with a simplicity that's almost impossible to find in the public sphere these days. Take his twice repeated point about the UN and the founding of Israel:
In 1947, this body voted to establish two states for two peoples – a Jewish
state and an Arab state. The Jews accepted this resolution. The Arabs rejected
it and invaded the embryonic Jewish state with hopes to annihilate it. We ask
the Palestinians to finally do what they refused to do for 62 years: Say yes to
a Jewish state! As simple, as clear, as elementary as that. Just as we are asked
to recognize a nation-state for the Palestinian people, the Palestinians must be
asked to recognize the nation-state of the Jewish people.
Then he had this paragraph:
The Jewish people are not foreign conquerors in the Land of Israel. It is the
land of our forefathers. Inscribed on the walls outside this building is the
great Biblical vision of peace: "Nation shall not lift up sword against nation.
They shall learn war no more." These words were spoken by the great Jewish
prophet Isaiah 2,800 years ago as he walked in my country, in my city - in the
hills of Judea and in the streets of Jerusalem. We are not strangers to this
land. This is our homeland.But as deeply connected as we are to our homeland, we
also recognize that the Palestinians also live there and they want a home of
their own. We want to live side by side with them, two free peoples living in
peace, living in prosperity, living in dignity.
He should have added that Isaiah walked in our country, our city, and spoke in our language; and that all the thousands of years since he spoke those Hebrew words, we've been repeating them to ourselves, in the same Hebrew.

Sadly, the founders of the United Nations had a fundamental, existential assumption about their actions which Netanyahu may still believe in, but has meanwhile been proven wrong. They assumed there was a universal common language in which to seek universal agreement and peace; and they felt Isaiah was one of its spokesmen. This is not true. Large swathes of humanity doesn't recognize Isaiah, and if he were introduced they would reject him. The Arab world mostly makes no secret of this rejection as they've got a different set of revered figures and sentiments. Significant segments of the atheist West, probably largely on the political Left but not exclusively there, have no interest whatsoever in Isaiah. He's national; he's religious; he's white, male and was revered by the colonialists. He's passe at best, and probably he needs to be confronted. The fact that his words are etched in the concrete of that glass building in Manhattan is unfortunate, regrettable, but certainly not anything to be proud of.

If you need any proof for all this, look who still takes him seriously. Netanyahu! Need we say more?

The section can be watched at about the fifth minute of this tape

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I felt relieved by the beginning of Natanyahu's speech and found the waving of the documents fully in accord of what he was saying and how he was saying it.

Finally, Finally there was a man who dared to show rightful indignation and deep hurt at having been maligned and slandered in the vilest possible manner i.e. finally there was an adult mature man up there saying I won't take that without protest and in case that didn't show the "real" Netanyahu then I am quite content with the performance (though I believe the indignation and the anger were expressed by the real man - the transcript can't bring across his voice.) He sure isn't one of the great speakers of this world but maybe because that he came across so much as an honest man. After all even Churchill started his speeches very haltingly.

I am fed up with the circus of the clowns and the celebs and the sonorously serious etc etc and most of all I am fed up with the "cool"