BINYAMIN NETANYAHU aroused my pity. From my 10 years of membership in the Knesset I know how unpleasant it is to speak before an empty hall.
His die-hard followers -- a pathetic residue of Casino magnates and burnt-out Zionist right-wingers -- sat in the gallery and an over-blown Israeli delegation sat in the hall, but they only underlined the general emptiness. Depressing.
How different from President Hassan Rouhani's reception! Then the hall was overcrowded, the General Secretary and the other dignitaries leapt from their seats to congratulate him at the end, the international media could not get enough of him.
Much of Netanyahu's misfortune was just bad luck. It was the end of the session, everybody was eager to get home or go shopping, no one was in the mood to listen to yet another lecture on Jewish history. Enough is enough.
Worse, the speech was totally eclipsed by a world-shaking event -- the shutdown of the federal government. The breakdown of the celebrated US system of governance -- something like an administrative 9/11 -- was a riveting sight. Netanyahu -- Netanya who? -- just could not compete.
PERHAPS THERE there was also a tiny bit of schadenfreude in the delegates' reaction to our Prime Minister.
In his General Assembly speech last year he assumed the role of the world's primary school teacher, using primitive teaching aids on the rostrum, drawing a line in red ink on a third-grade presentation of the Bomb.
For weeks now Israeli propaganda has been telling the world's leaders that they are childishly naive or just plain stupid. Perhaps they didn't didn't appreciate being told that. Perhaps they were reinforced in their belief that the Israelis (or worse, the Jews) are overbearing, condescending and patronizing. Perhaps it was just one arrogant speech too many.
All this is very sad. Sad for Netanyahu. He invested so much effort in this speech. For him, a speech before the General Assembly (or the US Congress) is like a major battle for a renowned general, a historic event. He lives from speech to speech, weighing in advance every sentence, practicing over and over again the body language, the inflections, like the accomplished actor he is.
And here he was, the great Shakespearean, declaiming "To be or not to be" before an empty hall, rudely disturbed by the snoring of the sole gentleman in the second row.
COULD OUR propaganda line have been less boring?
Of course it could.
Before setting foot on American soil, Netanyahu knew that the world was sighing with relief at the signs of the new Iranian attitude. Though he may be convinced that the ayatollahs were cheating (as usual, he would say) was it wise to appear as a serial killjoy?
He could have said:
"We welcome the new tones coming out of Tehran. We listened with much sympathy to Mr. Rouhani's speech. Together with the entire world, represented by this august assembly, we very much hope that the Iranian leadership is sincere, and that in serious negotiations a fair and effective solution can be found.
"However, we cannot ignore the possibility that this charm offensive is but a smokescreen behind which Mr. Rouhani's internal enemies continue to build the nuclear bomb, which threatens all of us. Therefore we expect all of us will exercise utmost caution in conducting the negotiations..."
It's the tone that makes the music.