After PM’s silence at UN, US Jewish groups offer quiet praise

Subdued response to Netanyahu’s speech focuses on peace overtures rather than Iranian nuclear threat

Rebecca Shimoni Stoil is the Times of Israel's Washington correspondent.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu addresses the UN General Assembly on Thursday, October 1, 2015. (screen capture: YouTube)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu addresses the UN General Assembly on Thursday, October 1, 2015. (screen capture: YouTube)

NEW YORK — Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s speech to the United Nations Thursday afternoon was marked by a dramatic pause, a rebuke for the international body’s silence in the face of Iranian threats against Israel. But if Netanyahu’s silence was the theatrical highlight of the day, a second moment of relative quiet was also unusual, with many US-based groups offering muted responses to the speech.

The endorsements he did receive this year focused on the contrast between Netanyahu’s overtures toward negotiations with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas and Abbas’s own combative speech one day earlier, rather than on his discourse as to the dangers of a nuclear Iran.

Following last year’s speech to the international body, at which Netanyahu railed against the threat of a nuclear Iran while diplomats attempted to hammer out an agreement, numerous major US Jewish groups quickly released statements showering praise on the prime minister’s rhetoric.

A few Jewish groups did offer enthusiastic endorsements of Netanyahu’s 2015 speech.

The World Jewish Congress (WJC), for instance, “hailed Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s call at the United Nations for the Palestinians to return to the negotiating table and lauded Netanyahu’s remarks that Israel and Arab states are cooperating against radical Islam.

“Prime Minister Netanyahu today took a significant stand at the UN for peace in the Middle East, in calling for the Palestinians to return immediately and without preconditions to the negotiating table while restating Israel’s firm commitment to a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict,” said WJC President Ronald S. Lauder in a statement Wednesday after the prime minister’s speech.

“It is Israel, a tiny sea of democracy and stability in the Middle East, that is standing up for the free world by working with moderate Arab nations to confront Islamic radical forces such as ISIS on the front lines of terror,” Lauder continued, paraphrasing the closing arguments of Netanyahu’s speech.

Other responses were slow to come and less grandiose in their enthusiasm — if they came at all.

In 2014, then-head of the Anti-Defamation League Abraham Foxman and national chair Barry Curtiss-Lesher issued a strong and lengthy endorsement of Netanyahu’s speech, in which they lauded the address as “an unvarnished and sobering catalog of the challenges of militant Islam and its pursuit of global primacy, the hypocrisy of the UN Human Rights Council and the dangers of allowing Iran to reach the threshold of a nuclear weapons breakout capability.”

On Wednesday, the ADL did not issue a press release on the speech, responding to requests for a response with a comparatively brief statement from National Director Jonathan A. Greenblatt.

“Prime Minister Netanyahu was clear and direct in his affirmation of the Israeli commitment to negotiations, reconciliation and a two-state solution, as well as his commitment to uphold the status quo of shared holy sites in Jerusalem,” he wrote. “These messages were important to reiterate to the international community — particularly after the half-truths, naysaying and excuses of President Abbas’s speech on Wednesday.”

The statement did not mention Netanyahu’s lengthy discussion of the dangers of a nuclear Iran, despite the fact that the ADL had sided with Netanyahu in his opposition to the nuclear agreement signed between Iran and the P5+1 states in July.

Greenblatt was, however, present in person at the General Assembly during Netanyahu’s speech Wednesday, continuing in the footsteps of his predecessor, Foxman, who was a frequent attendee of the annual event and was also present this year.

In the midst of the fight over the Iran talks last year, the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) also issued a ringing endorsement of Netanyahu’s 2014 General Assembly speech shortly after the prime minister delivered it. This year, however, the organization did not release any statement. In lieu of an organizational response, AIPAC live-tweeted a number of key quotes from the speech as it was ongoing.

The American Jewish Committee (AJC) maintained the previous year’s standards of response, issuing a lengthy statement in which the organization “welcomed… Netanyahu’s clear and compelling message to world leaders about Iran’s threat to global security, Israel’s commitment to achieving peace with the Palestinians, and to ending the UN’s obsession with bashing Israel.

“If the world leaders gathered at the UN General Assembly would pause and absorb what Prime Minister Netanyahu said, the potential for collectively and constructively addressing common threats would be enormous,” AJC Executive Director David Harris wrote in the statement, which mostly summarized and quoted from the prime minister’s main arguments.

At the same time, reaction among many of Netanyahu’s frequent detractors was also muted. Neither the dovish J Street nor Americans for Peace Now issued any immediate response to the speech.

Most Popular
read more: