Speech impediment
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Hebrew media reviewAn incursion into Persian

Speech impediment

Netanyahu and Trump's speeches at the UN may have been fine, but with pundits trying to figure out who the intended audience was, it's not clear what message got across

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu addresses the 72nd session of the General Assembly at the United Nations in New York September 19, 2017. (AFP PHOTO / Jewel SAMAD)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu addresses the 72nd session of the General Assembly at the United Nations in New York September 19, 2017. (AFP PHOTO / Jewel SAMAD)

Most analysts will tell anybody who will listen that speeches at the UN General Assembly are largely pabulum. They may be major policy addresses on a world stage, but without action, most of them are ignored, or forgotten a few minutes after they end. As Yedioth columnist Alon Pinkas noted Tuesday, Israel is the only country where the press and punditry obsess over what its leader will say at the rostrum.

On Tuesday night, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu got on stage, told some bad jokes, spoke a little Persian, and quipped that the Iran deal should be “fixed or nixed,” not a new stance from him. This was a few hours after US President Donald Trump actually did make news with a fiery unorthodox broadside that heralded the brash head of state’s entrance onto the world stage — and not necessarily in a good way.

For newspapers that have no choice but to cover the Netanyahu speech, there isn’t much there (as Netanyahu likes to say about allegations against him), and both tabloids choose to highlight his incursion into Persian to tell Iranians Israel has no aversion to them, a sign of the lack of actual meat in the address.

Yedioth Ahronoth even goes as far writing its headline in Persian, an act of obsequiousness that the prime minister himself would likely be proud of. But when it comes time for analysts, commentators and all their friends to weigh in, things get a lot more critical.

Analyses in both Yedioth Ahronoth and Haaretz look at the difference between Netanyahu the orator in New York, and Netanyahu the petty kingpin facing possible prosecution in Israel.

“It’s like there are two prime ministers,” Yoaz Hendel writes in Yedioth. “One who does everything right and proper, manages to wrangle unprecedented support out of the US president and advance ties with moderate Arab states. The second prime minister is busy with the former house manager at his residence, takeout trays and the terrible stories about him in the media.”

In Haaretz, Yossi Verter says Netanyahu speech was “professional and polished as always,” but was meant for justice officials back home as much as for diplomats in New York.

“When they have to decide whether to indict him for the various allegations against him, they ought to understand whom it is they seek to remove over the most trivial things. What a world leader and statesman, by divine grace; what a strategic asset for Israel, whom the president of the United States honored with his first visit abroad after entering the White House, and so on,” he writes.

It’s no surprise that Israel Hayom leads off with Netanyahu and does some boot-licking of its own, only more to Trump than Netanyahu — in the style of emulating the premier’s fawning response to Trump’s speech as the best ever.

“The thought that there is a president speaking at the UN in a language different than what we became accustomed to in the last eight years is an encouraging thought. The 45th president of the US connected North Korea to Iran like he was an Israeli prime minister. Remember, in past years at the UN General Assembly, during the Obama era, Iran was upgraded to the standing of a normal country. Trump shoved them back in the corner, the same corner where North Korea stands isolated. The Islamic Revolution, which gained recognition thanks to the nuclear deal, has now been returned to its correct proportions: a dangerous historical perversion that must be fought.”

US President Donald Trump speaks during the UN General Assembly at UN headquarters in New York on September 19, 2017. (AP Photo/Seth Wenig)

In Haaretz, Chemi Shalev tries to drill down as to what Netanyahu loved so much about Trump’s speech.

“His speech was like a dream come true for right-wing nationalists everywhere, including Israel. With the exception of the embarrassing fact that Trump refrained from expressing America’s commitment to its best friend in the Middle East, as that Israel-basher Barack Hussein used to, the 45th president pressed all the right buttons, said all the required things and even used the kind of belligerent rhetoric that was once reserved for half-crazed despots from semi-developed countries. It was this speech that Netanyahu described as the sharpest and bravest he’d ever heard at the UN,” he writes.

In Yedioth, Nahum Barnea notes that Trump’s speech wasn’t meant for Israel or Iran, but rather his own Obama-hating base.

“When Trump said ‘The Iran nuclear deal embarrassed America’ it was intended for his voters more than for the Iranian regime. It’s important for Trump to repeat and to emphasize that everything the Obama administration did was against US interests,” Barnea writes.

Since it’s all just talk anyway, Haaretz is justified in not leading with the UN goings-on, instead reporting at the top of its front page that Netanyahu tried to help buddy Hollywood mogul Arnon Milchan buy a stake in Israel’s Channel 2 when he was receiving gifts from him, which could be a no-no. The paper doesn’t have a smoking gun proving there was a quid pro quo, but it doesn’t look great either.

The report includes the response from Netanyahu’s office when asked about these and other allegations — namely, “Your claims are baseless and aimed solely at exerting improper pressure on the law enforcement authorities to harm Prime Minister Netanyahu. The prime minister has always acted in the state’s best interests. We repeat – there will be nothing, because there is nothing.”

The response is pretty much boilerplate by now, but the old adage about repeating something until it become true apparently isn’t working here, according to a Yedioth poll which finds that 54 percent of Israelis don’t believe Netanyahu when he says the claims are baseless, while 34% do. The poll also finds that most Israelis think he should have to step down if indicted and that new elections should be called if that happens. And were elections held today, Netanyahu’s Likud Party would drop from 30 Knesset seats to 24, just two above the Zionist Union and six more than Yesh Atid, which surges from 11 to 18, according to the survey.

There are no elections in the offing, but with the Jewish New Year starting Wednesday night, anything can happen and papers are all about talking about their hopes for the coming 12 months.

In Israel Hayom, columnist Nadav Shragai makes an impassioned plea for Israelis to use the new year to get to know the “other,” those they might not otherwise be in the same circles with. But while the term usually denotes people of other ethnicities, he seems to mean just within the Jewish community.

“These days, of judgment, prayer and forgiveness will be beneficial not just for the individual but also for the community, if everyone from the various parts of the community knows you can’t just kick someone out for not thinking or acting just like you,” he writes. “ A tyrannical, domineering and coercive fanaticism, like that which tries to separate between ‘Israelis’ and ‘Jews,’ which leads to unilateralism and, God-forbid, rejection, to ‘us’ and ‘them,’ is a harmful fanaticism that we cannot afford.”

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