Heeding the Times from Harry Antonides' Desk

Two Men, Two Speeches, Two Worlds Apart


October 26, 2011

They spoke from the same podium only a day apart, Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, and Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, as they pleaded their case before the world via the United Nations General Assembly on September 22 and 23, 2011. You would be hard pressed to find any two persons more opposite than these two political leaders. You would also be hard pressed to find a more epic, more consequential conflict than the one laid out in these two speeches. One of them is lying. Who do you believe? 

A. The Case for Iran

Ahmadinejad started off by saying that there is an urgent need for fundamental changes in the international order. He believes that such changes must be based on the recognition that some are divinely gifted to provide leadership. Such leaders, he says, must be guided by compassion, generosity, justice, integrity, and liberty, to satisfy men’s desire for happiness, prosperity, and security, all of this in keeping with the God-given dignity of humankind. 

He followed up with a long list about the things that are wrong in the world despite the historical achievements of the UN.  He laments the evils of war, mass-murder, poverty and continuing socioeconomic and political crises, especially the inequality within the U.S., and in the world economy, the evils of slavery, colonialism, world wars, military dictatorship, Zionism and the oppression of the Palestinian people. The entire list is much longer, but you get the point. 

Ahmadinejad said that the same slave masters and   colonial powers that instigated two world wars now have caused widespread misery and disorder. The powerful -- read the U.S and the West-- have become rich by impoverishing the rest of the world, in his words, “through imposing poverty, humiliation and annihilation to others.”  He intimated that the real perpetrators of 9/11 have not been revealed but are hidden in secrecy. So what is to be done according to the President of Iran? 

Collective Global Management

Ahmadinejad called for collective cooperation because real “freedom, justice, dignity, wellbeing, and lasting security are the rights of all nations.”  He insisted that there is no other way to arrive at the “shared and collective management of the world.”  He said that this must take place under the “leadership of Imam al-Mahdi, the Ultimate Savior of mankind and the inheritor of all divine messengers and leaders and to the pure generation of our great Prophet.” He assured us that in this way the “creation of a supreme and ideal society…is the guaranteed promise of Allah.” 

He concluded: “The world is now witnessing more than ever, the widespread awakening in Islamic lands, in Asia, Europe, and America…. Our great nation stands ready to join hands with other nations to march on this beautiful path in harmony and in line with the shared aspirations of mankind.” What to make of a speech like this? 

1. The first thing to note is that Ahmadinejad is using words such as freedom and justice, etc. that all people of goodwill also favour. The problem is that he is borrowing these terms to fool his audience into thinking that he, too, is a person of goodwill. The reality is very different because his frame of reference, or worldview, is one in which those terms have a very different meaning from what most of us would think. For instance, what he means by the words ”freedom” and “peace” are situations where Allah is the supreme ruler and Islamic law (sharia) is the supreme law  for individuals and society. You might say that language (truth) is the first victim of this clash of civilizations.  

2. The contradiction between Ahmadinejad’s words and the reality of life in Iran under Islamic law is stark. The following characteristics are undeniable: a) Mosque and state are merged, so that there is no development of a free, civil infrastructure; b) There is no flourishing of economic, scientific and industrial development, thus backwardness and poverty is rampant; c) All development is dependent on outside sources of knowledge and entrepreneurship. (cf. the annual UN Arab Human Development Report, beginning in 2002); 

 d) Worst of all are the contradictions between Ahmadinejad’s words and the total lack of freedom in all sectors of society in Iran. The aftermath of the 2009 elections and subsequent state efforts to violently suppress all attempts to create a more free society is barbaric; e) The stepped-up persecution of non-Muslims, such as the Baha’is, Zoroastrians, and especially Christians, has been accompanied by imprisonment and murder. The case of Pastor Jousef Nadarkhani who was sentenced to die for becoming a Christian is just one of many instances that belie everything Ahmadinejad claims. (See Paul Marshall, “Ahmadinejad Arrives in New York on a Wave of Religious Repression,” www.nationalreview.com, Sept. 19, 2011)   

3. In belabouring the problems, injustices, and oppression in the world, Ahmadinejad was quick to lay the blame for these conditions at the prevailing international order. Though choosing his words carefully and ambiguously, he left no doubt about his conviction that the U.S. and Israel are the main culprits. He did not call for their destruction at this time though he has done so on numerous other occasions. Who can forget his threat to eliminate Israel, and his declaration of war against the U.S.?  How can he square those with his fine-sounding words about a harmonious new world order?          

4. His call for global governance must be seen in the context of the convoluted sentence at the beginning of his speech, where he said that some are divinely gifted for “dominance and superiority.”  Furthermore, his statement about the need for global management under the “leadership of Imam al-Mahdi, the ultimate Savior of mankind,” who will assure the “creation of a supreme and ideal society” is a telling reflection of Islamic supremacism. But how can an ideal society be established when there is only one religion that nurtures hatred, especially toward the Jews, and to all non-Muslims? It can’t be done and won’t be done. 

B.  The Case for Israel

The tenor and tone of the speech by Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu was very different. He began by reminding his audience that since the founding of Israel 63 years ago it has extended its hand of friendship and peace to all its surrounding nations and to the world, including the Palestinian people.  But Israel has often been denounced and judged by a double standard in the halls and deliberations of the UN. 

Netanyahu said that he did not come to win applause, but to speak the truth in a place that has often been “a place of darkness for my country.”  The truth is that Israel wants peace with a Palestinian state, “but the Palestinians want a state without peace.” He reviewed the history of Islamic–inspired violence, and warned that if Iran is not prevented from developing nuclear weapons, we will be faced with the tragedy of nuclear terrorism. 

Israel is repeatedly advised that it must make concessions.  But each time it has done so, as when it withdrew from Gaza and Lebanon, the attacks did not slow down. On the contrary, they increased in ferocity, including thousands of rockets, supplied by Iran, which rained on Israeli cities and villages. All the while, even the so-called peace partner, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, refuses to negotiate.  

Netanyahu stressed that Israel is prepared to have a Palestinian state in the West Bank, but they are not prepared to have another Gaza there. This is a critical matter since Israel is a tiny country surrounded by those who have threatened to wipe it off the map. That’s why for Israel the issue of security is of grave importance, a matter of life-and-death.  Israel needs defensible borders. Netanyahu reminded his audience that with Israel’s being only 9 miles wide with the current West Bank boundary, it takes 3 minutes to fly across the country.  Israel`s major airport, Tel Aviv, is only a few miles from  the West Bank. Without peace, Israeli planes would be in danger of being attacked by antiaircraft missiles. 

Netanyahu has pleaded many times with Abbas to start negotiations without preconditions. He did so In his address at the UN, as follows:  “President Abbas, you`ve dedicated your life to advancing the Palestinian cause. Must this conflict continue for generations, or will we enable our children and grandchildren to speak in years ahead of how we found a way to end it? That`s what we should aim for, and that`s what I believe we can achieve ….Our destinies are intertwined. Let us realize the vision of Isaiah…. ’The people who walk in darkness will see a great light.’  Let that light be the light of peace." 

Let There be Peace

Netanyahu’s speech was a stirring appeal for Israel’s right to exist in peace and security. Here is this tiny country where the Jewish people literally made the desert bloom and built a thriving civilization that even took in one million Arabs – in contrast to the surrounding countries that soon became Judenrein. Since its very beginning in 1948, it was forced to fight five major wars and countless terrorist attacks on defenceless men women and children.  

All the while, it suffered from a growing anti-Semitism in the West, not to speak of the deeply ingrained Jew-hatred preached in the media, the mosques and schools in the Arab world. Israel’s survival borders on the miraculous.  But now its position has become more precarious again, first because of the anti-Semitism in general. Second, Iran is in the process of obtaining nuclear weapons, which it might well use to destroy Israel. Such a possibility should be unthinkable, but Israel must think about that kind of ultimate threat. Here is my attempt to summarize. 

1. Israel is continually placed on the defensive by the demands that it must be flexible and willing to negotiate away its territory, whereas, the Western authorities, including the Obama White House, are unwilling to insist that the Palestinians stop their attacks on Israel. The heart of the conflict is not about territory, but about the very existence of the state of Israel. That became very clear when Yasser Arafat refused to accept the Camp David offer in 2000 despite the fact that he had obtained nearly every one of the Palestinian demands. He refused because acceptance of this peace agreement would have legitimized Israel’s existence, and that he did not want to do. Arafat said: “We shall never commit a crime against them [future generations], the crime of permitting the existence of a racialist state in the heart of the Arab world.” (Efraim Karsh, Islamic Imperialism, p. 180) 

2. The many`` roadmaps`` of Israel- Palestine negotiations were bound to fail   because three of the major Palestinian organizations, Hamas, Hezbollah, and Fatah are constitutionally bound to the destruction of Israel.  The countless number of mostly American-driven efforts to negotiate a peace agreement was at best wishful thinking and at worst a game of smoke and mirrors. The last three American presidents pushed hard to get a peace agreement. But all they accomplished was creating many jobs among highly paid officials scuttling from one conference to the other. It was all make-belief in pursuit of a mirage that has had the perverse effect of glorifying the “oppressed” Palestinians and demonizing Israel.   

3. Instead of playing games, would it not be better to face the reality that the three major organizations, Hamas, Hezbollah and Fatah want to destroy Israel. So there is nothing to negotiate. This provides at least an honest starting point that acknowledges reality, which is always better than living in a dream world. This unreality has been extremely damaging for Israel, but not less so for the Palestinians whose lives were stunted in depressing refugee camps, or they became victims in the tribal wars between the different factions. What a waste of human potential! 

4. We need to take step back and try to get an overview of what seems to be a hopeless situation. That requires that we start with the truth about the dysfunction of the UN. It was established to prevent wars. To declare war and threaten a member nation with destruction is a violation of the UN covenant which binds all members to settle their differences peacefully. Would it not be better to acknowledge that the UN is no longer capable of doing what was its original purpose? And then to start anew with an organization of countries that are agreed about the guiding principles for a free, open and civilized society?  

5. Netanyahu’s speech was a moving appeal on behalf of a small, historically much-persecuted people, who are now again beset by enemies who have sworn its destruction. This is the time for all people with a sense of justice to stand with Israel. If all freedom-loving countries would openly take a stand and declare that they consider an attack on Israel an attack on the entire free world that would be a tremendous act of solidarity and protection. 

6. Nobody should imagine that what happens to Israel is insignificant and will not affect us very much. The truth is that Israel is -again- in the frontlines of the clash between two different civilizations. If we stand by and do not lift a finger to prevent the destruction of Israel, the only democratic and vibrant civilization in that part of the world, we signal to those who have declared war on us that we will hoist the white flag of surrender. I pray that will not happen. 

Harry Antonides

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