Foreign Policy Blogs

Bibi’s U.N. Speech

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Below is an article by Roger Cohen in the New York Times, which favorably references an op-ed by David Harris, the head of the American Jewish Committee. Cohen means to demonstrate that even Harris thinks that Netanyahu “blustered” too much about Iran in his speech before the United Nations General Assembly this week. (Incidentally, he also inaccurately portrays Harris as having previously shunned J Street, when in fact the AJC has hosted J Street at its annual conference.) But in Cohen’s rush to proclaim that even American Jewish leaders have had enough of Bibi and his alarmist, paranoia-fueled foreign policy, he is intentionally or accidentally misinterpreting Harris’ point: Harris is not questioning the danger Iran poses, nor is he is taking issue with Netanyahu’s unwavering focus on this danger. He is simply arguing that Bibi should change his public relations strategy.

Depending on their particular political sensitivities, leaders’ speeches at the UNGA are targeted at some combination of the international community, their national constituency, and their power base. Harris is arguing that Bibi needed to focus more on the international crowd, and to do so in a more palatable way.

I agree with Harris on this point and believe that Bibi’s speech would have been more effective if he acknowledged that Iran is a dynamic country. While acknowledging Iran’s economic woes, he did not concede that Iran’s leaders, including the Supreme Leader, may be forced to integrate some degree of pragmatism into their undeniably fundamentalist outlook, if only to preserve power during the country’s worsening economic crisis. This concession would have shown the world that Bibi is not as dogmatic as he appears and is able to recognize when situations become more fluid. It would have made Bibi’s very persuasive argument against the credibility of new President Hassan Rouhani that much more potent.

However, I also agree with Cohen that Bibi should have allocated more of his time to the Palestinian peace process. Bibi is already largely (and understandably) regarded by the world as a hawkish leader who only pays lip service to the peace process. In all but ignoring the peace process during his speech, he can now be accused of not even doing that. Because of his peculiar blend of political pragmatism and ideological rigidity, I can’t discern what Netanyahu ultimately wants, and therefore I’m not sure what I would expect him to articulate as far as a sincere long-term vision. However, given the focus of the second-term Obama administration on the peace process, he should have spent more time discussing how he plans to get along with his immediate neighbors.

Cohen’s NYT Op-ed:

http://www.nytimes.com/2013/10/04/opinion/cohen-bibis-tired-iranian-lines.html?ref=global-home&_r=0

Harris’ Haaretz Op-ed:

http://www.haaretz.com/opinion/1.549268

 

Author

Zev Wexler

Zev Wexler is an associate at the law firm of Vinson & Elkins LLP, where he represents investment managers. In 2009, he took a sabbatical year and volunteered as a strategic consultant in Malawi for Millennium Promise, a non-profit organization dedicated to reducing extreme poverty in sub-Saharan Africa. Zev is a board member of American Jewish Committee's ACCESS young leadership program, and serves on the Committee's International Relations Commission. Zev is also a board member of the Microfinance Club of New York. Prior to working at Vinson & Elkins LLP, Zev worked at the law firm of Skadden, Arps, and at the asset manager BlackRock Financial Management. He received a BA in Public Policy from Princeton University and a JD from New York University School of Law, and is a Chartered Financial Analyst (CFA). Zev currently lives in New York.

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