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Nadav Eyal
Prime Minister Naftali Bennett addressing the UN General Assembly on Monday

Bennett's UN address was not so different from Netanyahu after all

Opinion: PM approached his speech at UNGA somewhat differently from his predecessor, but the change was not that drastic; he also took a gamble by emphasizing his questionable domestic policies and mentioned Iran over 30 times, despite knowing that attack on Islamic Republic possible only with U.S. consent

Nadav Eyal |
Published: 09.28.21, 18:55
Prime Minister Naftali Bennett's speech at the UN General Assembly on Monday was an important diplomatic initiation for Israel's first leader since Benjamin Netanyahu and his 12-year reign.
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  • The former premier's rhetoric on the world stage was his greatest source of political power domestically and did very little to bring glory to Israel internationally.
    5 צפייה בגלריה
    נפתלי בנט בנאום ראשון באו"ם
    נפתלי בנט בנאום ראשון באו"ם
    Prime Minister Naftali Bennett addressing the UN General Assembly on Monday
    (Photo: GPO)
    When Netanyahu picked up on this trend, he started to schedule foreign visits and addresses to his political needs back in Israel.
    This display of ostensibly public diplomacy always served the previous prime minister well back at home.
    Bennett on the other hand stressed before his speech that his address will be stately and thorough and that he will do away with visual aids - utilized so frequently by his predecessor.
    All and all, it can be said that his speech was a successful one. The prime minister delivered a balanced, classic "Israeli leader" speech.
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    Benjamin Netanyahu holds up a diagram featuring a cartoonish drawing of a bomb he used as a prop to illustrate what he sees as Iran's drive for an atomic weapon during his speech at the UN General Assembly, September 27, 2012
    Benjamin Netanyahu holds up a diagram featuring a cartoonish drawing of a bomb he used as a prop to illustrate what he sees as Iran's drive for an atomic weapon during his speech at the UN General Assembly, September 27, 2012
    Benjamin Netanyahu holds up a diagram featuring a cartoonish drawing of a bomb he used as a prop to illustrate what he sees as Iran's drive for an atomic weapon during his speech at the UN General Assembly, September 27, 2012
    (Photo: Reuters)
    His English was a combination of an American accent with a hint of strong Israeliness. But there was something else in the speech: gravitas. Something that Netanyahu certainly had, while Bennett has been missing, at least in his speeches in English.
    His attacks on Iran were coherent, as was the information regarding Tehran's suicide drone apparatus – even if these discoveries are no secret to anyone.
    What is more significant is him issuing a thinly veiled threat of an attack on Iran by saying that "talks will not stop the centrifuges."
    Bennett knows that any potential military action depends on the success or failure of the renewed talks on revival of 2015 nuclear deal. If they do fall through, the possibility of a strike becomes ever more realistic.
    If the world powers achieve their goal, Israel will not be able to act in any way that contradicts the U.S. policy.
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    ארכיון משמרות המהפכה איראן
    ארכיון משמרות המהפכה איראן
    Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps soldiers
    (Photo: AP)
    Therefore, the purpose of his remarks was to emphasize that the clock is ticking and the threat of an Israeli attack on Iranian nuclear facilities is always there. The very talk of a military option serves the Americans very well in pressuring Iran.
    The omission of the very work "Palestinians" from his speech was glaring and will no doubt serve Bennett domestically. He wants us to make sure we note their absence from the speech, thinking it acts as proof he has maintained his right-wing values and his position in the government.
    In general, the attempt to paint a picture of a tremendous change in Israel's international policy from the Netanyahu era does not match the reality. The Iranian nemesis was mentioned more than 30 times, but the Gaza Strip and its Palestinian terror groups, a much more pressing and problematic issue in terms of Israeli foreign relations, were only mentioned once.
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    ישיבת ממשלה שבועית והרמת כוסית לכבוד השנה החדשה
    ישיבת ממשלה שבועית והרמת כוסית לכבוד השנה החדשה
    Prime Minister Naftali Bennett overseeing a cabinet meeting
    (Photo: Yonatan Zindel)
    What was repeated in the speech was the prime minister's not so obvious attempt to paint Israel as a model for things new and innovative - from coronavirus to diverse coalition government.
    Bennett spoke of the "political polarization epidemic," and the way in which the right and the left were united in his government and how a political accident became destiny.
    This is certainly a line we have heard in the past from Bennett and his cabinet, but it has some issues.
    In the U.S., there is a lot of talk about the new Israeli government and its members, but it is important to emphasize that more than its actions, what everyone is interested in is its survival.
    The fact that the government was formed out of an "impossible" coalition is not uncommon in the world at all. Just now, Germany finds itself looking into the possibility of forming a variety of seemingly impossible coalitions following its elections on Sunday.
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    מחלקת הקורונה בבית החולים שיבא, תל השומר
    מחלקת הקורונה בבית החולים שיבא, תל השומר
    Sheba Medical Center's coronavirus ward
    (Photo: Tal Shahar)
    Bennett's greatest gamble of course was using the international stage to slam health officials who advise the government on the pandemic. The problem is that right now the country has one of the highest rates of seriously ill COVID patients, fatalities and infection rates since the start of the pandemic.
    His attempt to portray this as a success is questionable.
    Israel has to deal with a long line of shortcomings when it comes to the pandemic: its density, its large young population (which leads to lower vaccination rates), the vaccines' degrading efficacy over time and the extensive spending on enforcement of social distancing measures.
    It is one thing to try and turn this situation - in which the government insists on not imposing tough restrictions - into a kind of internal ideology. It's a completely different thing to go to the UN and talk about it in English.
    For Bennett now, it is glory or downfall, which all depends on how the pandemic will develop in the coming months.
    Even if data presented to the prime minister shows a significant decline in cases and infections is expected in the coming months, his speech will be remembered long after the pandemic ends.
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