Drama at the UN

Sep 23, 2011

Drama at the UN

Update from AIJAC

September 23, 2011
Number 09/11 #06

As readers are aware, the UN General Assembly session for 2011 has begun in New York amidst considerable drama of various sorts. While the media focus has mainly been on the status of the Palestinian bid to gain UN recognition as a state, there’s a great deal more going on. This Update focuses on the various dramas occurring.

First up some useful analysis of US President Barack Obama’s UN General Assembly speech on Wednesday (New York Time) from Robert Satloff, head of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy. Satloff notes that on Israel and the Palestinians Obama gave “one of the most impassioned statements in support of Israel ever made by an American president in the well of the General Assembly” while also explaining at length his opposition to the Palestinian UN bid. Satloff goes on to look at some of the President’s other points – including his scant attention to the Iranian nuclear program, and his lack of policy initiatives regarding Syria and the Arab Spring.  For this insightful look at the significance of both what Obama said, and what he did not say, CLICK HERE. Israeli PM Netanyahu liked the speech, but the Palestinians did not. Additional, generally positive, reviews of the aspects of the Obama speech on Israel and the Palestinians are here, and here.

Next up is a discussion of the Durban III conference –  the latest iteration of the UN’s infamous 2001 anti-racism conference which was hijacked to demonise Israel and Jews  –  taking place today (yesterday, New York time) without the attendance of numerous Western countries including Australia. Political analyst Ben Cohen explains one of the two counter-conferences paralleling and protesting Durban III, the “We Have A Dream: Global Summit Against Persecution and Discrimination”. The conference will feature more than 20 victims of torture and other horrific rights abuses from China, Zimbabwe, Vietnam, Iran and North Korea, demanding that democracies go beyond boycotting Durban III, but actually “create a genuine new human rights agenda.” For all the details, CLICK HERE. The other major counter-conference, “The Perils of Global Intolerance Conference” can be watched here. Early reports on some of the speeches and panels of this conference are here and  here.

Finally, another major news headline from the UN on Wednesday was the walkout of more than 30 countries after Iranian President Ahmadinejad used his General Assembly speech to engage in Holocaust denial and 9/11 trutherism – again. We therefore bring you 10 questions the media and other leaders should be asking Ahmadinejad during his visit to New York, compiled by noted Iran scholar Abbas Milani. Milani says that Ahmadinejad arrives in New York with clipped political wings, facing possible impeachment, and is therefore more vulnerable than ever to probing questions about human rights abuses, corruption, economic and ecological mismanagement, and Iran’s destructive role on the international stage. For the ten questions Milani recommends, CLICK HERE. Meanwhile, former Canadian Attorney-General and legal expert Irwin Cotler argues Ahmadinejad could and should have been denied a visa to come to New York. Also, law Professor Menachem Rosenzaft argues that Ahmadinejad and Iran are much more serious threats to the peace than any Israeli-Palestinian dramas going on.

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By Robert Satloff

Policywatch, September 22, 2011

President Obama’s speech at the United Nations yesterday may have lacked both the thematic power of his other major speeches on the world stage — “the pursuit of peace in an imperfect world” is not likely to capture imaginations — as well as new, bold ideas to address Iran’s push for nuclear weapons or the deepening humanitarian crisis in Syria. But on the emotive issue of the Palestinian request for UN admission as a state, Obama delivered one of the most impassioned statements in support of Israel ever made by an American president in the well of the General Assembly.

It was no surprise that Obama devoted considerable text to explaining his opposition to UN membership for Palestine, which — as he noted — appears to contradict his oft-stated support for the establishment of a Palestinian state. And it was no surprise that Obama made a “process” argument, defending his position on the grounds that a Palestinian state can only truly emerge from a negotiation with Israel, rather than a “substance” argument, which might have noted the attributes of statehood that “Palestine” lacks (control over territory, for example) or the fact that the Palestinian Authority had, in the Oslo Accords, promised not to pursue these very sorts of international stratagems to circumvent negotiations.

What was surprising is that Obama went far beyond just making a case for negotiations as the only way to resolve the conflict. Rather, like an embattled attorney representing an unpopular client before a skeptical jury, Obama’s speech to the assembled leaders from more than 190 countries was essentially a call for people around the world to put themselves in the shoes of Israel and, most notably, the Jewish people. As he said:

“Let us be honest with ourselves: Israel is surrounded by neighbors that have waged repeated wars against it. Israel’s citizens have been killed by rockets fired at their houses and suicide bombs on their buses. Israel’s children come of age knowing that throughout the region, other children are taught to hate them. Israel, a small country of less than eight million people, looks out at a world where leaders of much larger nations threaten to wipe it off of the map. The Jewish people carry the burden of centuries of exile and persecution, and fresh memories of knowing that six million people were killed simply because of who they are. Those are facts. They cannot be denied.
“The Jewish people have forged a successful state in their historic homeland. Israel deserves recognition. It deserves normal relations with its neighbors. And friends of the Palestinians do them no favors by ignoring this truth, just as friends of Israel must recognize the need to pursue a two-state solution with a secure Israel next to an independent Palestine.”

Perhaps most remarkably, Obama did not pair that recitation of a fundamentally pro-Israel narrative with an equal but opposite recitation of the Palestinian narrative — the themes of rootlessness, humiliation, and dispossession that he has cited on previous occasions. (In last year’s UN address, for example, he said: “This time, we will think not of ourselves, but of the young girl in Gaza who wants to have no ceiling on her dreams, or the young boy in Sderot who wants to sleep without the nightmare of rocket fire.”) Instead, with no discussion of Israeli settlement activity, building in Jerusalem, or the difficulties of Palestinian movement through checkpoints, Obama limited himself to one side of the story. In essence, the punishment meted out to Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas for rejecting Washington’s request to shelve his UN gambit was that Obama came to New York as Israel’s ally, not as an impartial mediator of peace diplomacy.

Obama’s statement was not, one should point out, the unvarnished, chapter-and-verse recitation of Israel-friendly policy views on substantive issues. He could have noted that only one of the two parties — the Palestinians — has refused to negotiate since last September. He might have specifically underscored the reality of a divided Palestine, in which a sizable part of the state seeking UN recognition is under the control of a terrorist movement committed to Israel’s (and the Palestinian Authority’s) destruction. He did not take the opportunity to clarify certain aspects of his parameters for peacemaking that he sidestepped in his May remarks, such as the eminently logical principle that Palestinian refugees will return to Palestine, not Israel, or the urgency of an agreement that ends the conflict and terminates all claims once and for all. He could have scolded many in the room, especially Arab states and their all-talk-but-no-action approach to the Palestinian state-building project. And he should have called specifically on rulers and peoples in countries that already have treaties with Israel (i.e., Egypt and Jordan) to strengthen the regional environment for peace by defending their strategic choice for peace, rather than letting it be the preferred pinata for discontent over domestic issues.

Still, those deficiencies only marginally detract from the declaratory power of his speech. Many factors may have motivated the president to make his passionate statement opposing Palestinian UN recognition, but whether it was born of high policy, moral conviction, or crass politics, it will be compared in the annals of America’s lonely defense of Israel at the United Nations alongside Daniel Patrick Moynihan’s castigation of the Zionism-is-Racism resolution during the Ford administration, and John Negroponte’s declaration during the George W. Bush administration that the United States would veto any Security Council resolution on the Middle East conflict that failed to condemn terrorism against Israel.

Beyond the peace process, the more substantial critiques of the president’s speech concern the following:

* On Iran, the president could spare just one bland sentence; he passed on the opportunity of linking Iran’s atrocious human rights record with the equally atrocious repression of Iran’s only Arab ally, Syria; and he offered no specific suggestion on ways to impose what he called “greater pressure and isolation” on their nuclear program. The rhetorical sidelining of the multifaceted challenge posed by Iran was the most disappointing — and worrying — aspect of the speech.

* On Syria, the president talked of the need for rhetorical measures — “we must speak with one voice… [and] stand with the Syrian people” — but he offered no glimpse of U.S. commitment to take practical measures to protect innocent Syrians from the brutality of their government, such as the creation of internationally protected humanitarian zones on Syria’s borders or the formation of a formal contact group to engage with the Syrian opposition.

* On support for Arab transitions to democracy, Obama confirmed that America’s cupboard is bare and there is little to spare. Whereas he spoke in May 2011 of supporting Egypt and Tunisia with “trade, not just aid,” there was no mention of aid at all in yesterday’s remarks, just “greater trade and investment.”

* As is now customary in the president’s speeches on the Middle East, he boldly affirmed America’s commitment to a range of “universal rights” (about women, religious tolerance, etc.) but never mentioned a country in which these rights are routinely and legally denied — Washington’s premier Arab ally, Saudi Arabia.

* And in the a-bit-too-much category, the president could not restrain himself from three specific references to Usama bin Laden, as if the assembled gathering needed multiple reminders that he was the commander-in-chief who ordered the raid on the compound in Abbottabad.

Taken together, the president’s words on the broader Middle East lacked both the power and the import of his passionate statement on behalf of Israel. That is almost surely the way he planned it.

Robert Satloff is executive director of The Washington Institute.

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The fight for rights

New York Post,
September 21, 2011

All sides of the human rights spectrum are descending on New York City this week.

At one end, the tyrants, thugs and terrorism-enablers are here for the 66th session of the United Nations General Assembly. Tomorrow, many will also hit a UN conference that promotes hate even as it pretends to be combating racism.

At the other end, you have their victims. More than 20 survivors of genocide, torture, mock executions and similar horrors come together today for a summit to highlight continued human-rights abuse.

They includes former Iranian political prisoners and a former inmate of North Korea’s gulags, but invitations to speak in the hallowed halls of the UN have not been extended to any of them.

Instead, delegates to the General Assembly will be treated to the ravings of Iran’s Mahmoud Ahmadinejad for the sixth year in a row. They’ll also hear from Ahmadinejad’s rival for the leadership of the Muslim world, Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan. While his army violently crushes the aspirations of the Kurdish minority back home, Erdogan will be screeching about Israeli “war crimes” at the United Nations.

Then there’s the human-rights summit — “We Have A Dream: Global Summit Against Persecution and Discrimination,” today and tomorrow at the W Hotel. There, two of Syria’s leading Internet dissidents will relate their experiences of organizing protests under the nose of Hafez al-Assad’s bloodstained regime.

At the UN, talk of Syria will focus on Russian and Chinese attempts to insulate Assad from further sanctions.

Meanwhile, Assad’s Iranian patron, Ahmadinejad — a serial Holocaust denier — will attend the racism conference.

The gathering is known as “Durban III,” because it’s the UN’s third attempt to promote the agenda drawn up at its 2001 “conference against racism” in Durban, South Africa.

The shrill outbursts of anti-Semitism that defined the first Durban confab shocked the delegations of Israel and the United States into walking out. Barely a month later, al Qaeda glorified its 9/11 atrocities with hateful rhetoric that would have been perfectly at home at the Durban parley.

Fourteen countries, all democracies, have withdrawn from Durban III before it even convenes. They refuse to affirm the declaration against racism adopted by a conference that pushed the oldest prejudice of all — hatred of Jews.

Indeed, Durban III will be a platform for some of the world’s most heinous abusers of human rights to hijack the language of tolerance. If there is such a thing as moral terrorism, this is it.

The farce on display tomorrow won’t sanitize the reputations of Ahmadinejad and those like him. It can’t deliver any answers either.

Back at the human-rights summit, courageous dissidents and exiles from China, Zimbabwe, Vietnam, Iran and North Korea will offer perspectives on fighting racism and persecution that are actually worth listening to.

Moreover, they’ll send two messages.

* One to the dictators: We will not be silenced.

* And one to the countries that pulled out of Durban III: You won’t defeat the Durban legacy of lies and hate just by withdrawing. A new agenda is needed — one that places human rights, not warped ideology, front and center.

Ben Cohen is a political analyst and writer, based in New York.


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10 Questions for Ahmadinejad

Instead of letting Ahmadinejad spout out lies and vitriol, here’s what the media should be asking.

Abbas Milani

The Daily Beast, Sept. 18, 2011 1:59 PM EDT

Once again September is upon us and Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is about to make his yearly pilgrimage to the mecca of international media for the U.N. General Assembly. He is a narcissist addicted to the glare of the camera, and every time he comes to New York and rehashes his inanities against the Holocaust, about Sept. 11 as an American conspiracy, about Iran having no homosexuals, or, tragicomically, about Iran as a genuine democracy, he gets more than his needed “fix” of camera time. Nearly every major media outlet competes to “interview” him. Those afforded the chance are usually carefully chosen based on a past record of staying clear of hard-probing questions and follow-ups. An American-trained retired professor is among his media advisers.

This time he comes with clipped wings. It is even possible that he will be impeached this week. Now is the time for the media to ask questions with impunity—he may well not be coming back next year. He has little to do with setting nuclear policy—contrary to much hype—and it is the corrupt, closed society he created that must come under scrutiny. These are the questions he must be forced to reckon with:

1. Your administration came to power on the platform of fighting corruption and nepotism; you now stand accused by your own country’s judiciary, media, Parliament, and even your own brother, of having the most corrupt regime in the post-shah era. Your son’s father-in-law has been appointed by you to more than 13 key positions, with billions of dollars of funds at his disposal, and he now stands accused of complicity in a $3 billion heist, as well as theft of antiquities. Your brother and many in the official Iranian media accuse your confidants of voodoo and devil worship. What say you to these allegations?

2. When the Islamic Republic of Iran took over the country, virtually every socioeconomic category—from annual economic growth to life expectancy—was on par with Turkey. Now Turkey is one of the fastest-growing economies in the world, and Iran is its junior economic partner. Is it true that economic statistics, like growth of GNP, inflation, and unemployment, are so disastrous that you have ordered the government to keep them secret?

3. You have repeatedly claimed that in Iran no one is in prison for their political views, but as we speak your two opponents in the last contested election have been in prison for 178 days, with no indictment; dozens of top journalists, politicians, and public intellectuals have suffered similar fates; and only last Thursday, a young doctoral student of sociology was humiliated by receiving 50 lashes in Evin prison simply because she had been a volunteer in Moussavi’s campaign. Do you deny these claims?

4. What say you to the fact that members of a pious Sufi sect, Gonabadi Darvishes, members of the Sunni minority, and also members of the Bahai faith have all been persecuted under your administration—Darvishes and Bahai leaders been put in prison, Sunni mosques destroyed, and Sunni leaders banned from holding religious ceremonies?

5. Your critics, which now include websites close to the IRGC (Jahan and Javan online) and to Khamenei (Keyhan), accuse you of trying to create controversy in your New York trip as a way to deflect attention from the problems your allies and advisers face at home. Is that why you are raising the issue of war reparations for the Allied occupation of parts of Iran in World War II?

6. What say you to the fact that in the years leading up to the Second World War many of Iran’s clerics cooperated with Nazi propaganda, and offered succor to the Nazi-sympathizing Mufti of Jerusalem?

7. Your government has been oblivious to the grave ecological dangers faced by your country. The Zayandeh Rude River in Isfahan has dried up; the drying up of Lake Orumiye will affect the lives of hundreds of thousands of Iranians living in the area. Why have you, in spite of your much-touted trips around every province, ignored these grave problems?

8. There are increasing signs of your government enforcing sex segregation in Iran in general and universities in particular; there are also indications of the Parliament’s intent to pass laws that limit women’s rights to higher education. What will you do to counter this?

9. In recent Zogby polls, Iran has only 14 percent support among Muslims of the region, while Turkey’s model of secular, democratic governance in an Islamic society is gaining more and more power and popularity. With Turkey’s star on the rise and your ally Ayatollah Sistani, Shiism’s highest-ranking cleric in the world, refusing to create a clerical regime in Iraq, and with Syrian despot Assad on the ropes, what do you think is the future of Iran’s style of clerical absolute rule?

10. Do you think you will be impeached before the end of your tenure? You have repeatedly threatened that you will take action when your redlines are crossed. What are these redlines, and what do you plan to do? Why did you think you could take on Khamenei and the IRGC?

At no other time has Iran faced a greater crisis of authority. At no other time has its leadership been so vulnerable. And the people of Iran are suffering. It’s about time the media forced Ahmadinejad to answer for his actions rather than allow him to use airtime to stir up fear abroad and strengthen his position at home.

Abbas Milani is Hamid and Christina Moghadam Director of Iranian Studies and Research Fellow/Hoover Institution, Stanford University.

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