By Jeffrey D. Sachs

Consortium News

 

Jeffrey Sachs on why the General Assembly speech of Israel’s U.N. ambassador advanced the Palestinian cause.

We owe an ironic debt of gratitude to Israel’s U.N. Ambassador Gilad Erdan for advancing the cause of the State of Palestine at the United Nations.

By delivering a speech to the U.N. General Assembly that was so unhinged, absurd, vulgar, insulting, undignified and undiplomatic, Erdan helped to secure a lopsided vote of 143-to-9 in favor of Palestine’s U.N. membership (the rest abstained or did not vote).

But more than that, Erdan helped to clarify Israel’s tactical approach — and why it is doomed to fail.

Let us briefly consider the content of Erdan’s speech. Erdan claimed, in short, that Palestine equals Hamas and Hamas equals Hitler’s Nazi Reich.

Erdan told the U.N. delegates that their nations support a state of Palestine because “so many of you are Jew-hating.”

He then shredded the U.N. Charter at the podium, claiming that the delegates were doing the same by voting for Palestine’s U.N. membership. All the while, on the very same day as his speech and U.N. vote, Israel was amassing its forces for yet more slaughter of innocent civilians in Rafah.

Erdan’s rant rose to the level of venomous hatred and absurdity. Palestine would enter the U.N. as a peace-loving state, a commitment stated firmly and eloquently by the Palestinian Ambassador to the U.N., Riyad Mansour (here at 23:44). “We want peace,” Ambassador Mansour declared unequivocally.

Moreover, the two-state solution will of course not happen in a diplomatic vacuum. According to the Arab Peace Initiative of 2002 and reaffirmed by the Arab and Islamic countries in Riyadh last November the Arab and Islamic countries have repeatedly pledged to support peace and the normalization of relations with Israel as part of the two-state solution.

Contrary to Erdan’s slander, the governments of the U.N. General Assembly are of course not Jew-haters. Rather, they detest the Israeli government’s assault in Gaza, a carnage so vast that Israel is in the dock at the International Court of Justice on the charge of genocide. The same false charge has been made against student protestors who aren’t anti-Jewish but rather anti-apartheid and anti-genocide.

Grandstanding

The question then is what Erdan was actually doing making a speech that was so over-the-top that it could only serve to bolster, not reduce, the overwhelming worldwide vote for Palestine. Of course, he was doing what all politicians do in the social media age. He was grandstanding for his adoring 157K followers on X (formerly Twitter) and for supporters in Israel’s right-wing Likud Party.

 

 

At first, when listening to Erdan, I simply thought that the man was deranged, suffering from post-Holocaust trauma and seeing a Hitler lurking in every shadow. Yet such a view is naïve.

Erdan is a highly experienced political figure, well-educated and well trained, and was in full control of a carefully prepared speech (which included a poster and shredder as props). My initial mistake was to think he was speaking to the rest of the U.N. ambassadors and to viewers of the proceedings such as myself.

The great difference between the broadcast-era politics of yesteryear and the social-media era politics of today is that politicians no longer speak to the broad public. They now communicate almost entirely with their base and “near base.”

Each person today receives a personalized flow of “news” that is jointly constructed by individual choices (which websites we visit), networks of digital “followers,” algorithms of platforms such as Facebook, X and TikTok, and hidden forces that include the intelligence agencies, government propagandists, corporations and political operatives. As a result, politicians mobilize and motivate their base, and little beyond.

Erdan the politician, and his Likud Party, have been fighting against Palestinians for far longer than Hamas has dominated the politics of Gaza, indeed for longer than Hamas has existed. Erdan grew up inside the party, from its youth wing onward, in a movement that has always stood stridently against a Palestinian state and the two-state solution.

Hamas as Political Prop

Hamas graffiti in the Occupied West Bank city of Nablus in 2006. (Michael loadenthal, Flickr, CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)

In fact, Likud has long treated Hamas as a political prop, a ploy to divide the Palestinians and thereby to fend off international calls for the two-state solution.

As even the Israeli media report, Likud leaders worked with Arab nations over the years to keep Hamas funded, so that it would pose a continuing competition to the Palestinian authority.

What, then, is Likud’s strategy as Israel increasingly isolates itself from the rest of the world? Here too, Erdan’s own political past ploys offer a clue. Erdan has been one of Israel’s shrewdest and most successful politicians in building Likud’s alliance not only with the wealthy American Jewish community but with America’s Christian Evangelical community as well. The Christian Zionists ardently back Israel’s control over the Holy Land, albeit as a prelude to their Armageddon, not exactly Likud’s longer-term agenda.

Likud’s tactical belief is that the U.S. will always be there, thick or thin, because the Israel Lobby (Jewish and Christian Evangelical alike) and the US military-industrial complex will always be there. Likud’s bet has always worked in the past and they believe it will work in the future.

Yes, Israel’s violent extremism will cost Biden the support of America’s young voters, but if so, that will just mean Donald Trump’s election in November, so even better for Likud.

Likud’s strategy relies entirely on the U.S. for Israel’s security, as the sole blocking force in a world community that is increasingly united and aghast at Israel’s massive war crimes, and in favor of imposing the two-state solution on an utterly recalcitrant Israel.

Yet U.S. core interests — economic, financial, commercial, diplomatic and military — are at odds with becoming isolated with Israel within the international system.

The Israel lobby will be hit by a pincer movement. On the one side, American voters, especially young American voters, are aghast at Israel’s brutality. On the other side, America’s geopolitical position is crumbling.

Shortly, many European countries, including Spain, Ireland and Norway, are expected to recognize Palestine and welcome its U.N. membership.

Erdan may end up at the top of the heap of the Likud party, but Likud and its extremist and violent partners in the coalition are likely soon to hit the limits of their arrogance, violence and cruelty.

 

-Jeffrey D. Sachs is a university professor and director of the Center for Sustainable Development at Columbia University, where he directed The Earth Institute from 2002 until 2016. He is also president of the U.N. Sustainable Development Solutions Network and a commissioner of the U.N. Broadband Commission for Development.

 

-This article originally appeared in Common Dreams.

MAIN PHOTO: Gilad Erdan, Israel’s U.N. ambassador, shredding a page of the U.N. Charter during his speech to the General Assembly on May 10. (UN Photo/Manuel Elías)