Last week at the United Nations, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas once again accused Israel of heinous crimes, including “genocide.” And, once again, the global community demonstrated its collective gullibility. It was left to Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu Monday to stand at the same lectern before the UN General Assembly and deliver what has become an annual rebuttal to the most preposterous allegations against the Jewish state.
It was not a cheery speech, but nor was it all doom and gloom. In that half-empty assembly hall – many delegates, apparently, cannot even bear to listen to the words of an Israeli leader – Netanyahu took on one accusation after another.
“I’ve come here to expose the brazen lies spoken from this very podium against my country and against the brave soldiers who defend it,” he said, holding up the Israel Defence Forces as representative of “the highest moral values of any army in the world” and insisting that “Israel’s soldiers deserve not condemnation, but admiration … from decent people everywhere.”
He slammed the UN’s Human Rights Council, which he declared an oxymoron.
“By investigating Israel, rather than Hamas, for war crimes, the UN Human Rights Council has betrayed its noble mission to protect the innocent,” the prime minister said. “In fact, what it’s doing is to turn the laws of war upside-down. Israel, which took unprecedented steps to minimize civilian casualties – Israel is condemned. Hamas, which both targeted and hid behind civilians – that, a double war crime – Hamas is given a pass. The Human Rights Council is thus sending a clear message to terrorists everywhere: use civilians as human shields. Use them again and again and again. And you know why? Because, sadly, it works.”
Then he turned his sights toward Iran’s nuclear ambitions. He warned that, while Iran may have softened its tone, its aim is the same as that of ISIS, Hamas and other militant Islamists – world domination.
These common dangers – “a nuclear-armed Iran and militant Islamist movements gaining ground” – provide an opening for peace between Israel and its neighbors. And not only militarily, but also in terms of regional development.
“Together we can strengthen regional security,” said Netanyahu. “We can advance projects in water, agriculture, in transportation, in health, in energy, in so many fields.
“I believe the partnership between us can also help facilitate peace between Israel and the Palestinians. Many have long assumed that an Israeli-Palestinian peace can help facilitate a broader rapprochement between Israel and the Arab world. But, these days, I think it may work the other way around: namely, that a broader rapprochement between Israel and the Arab world may help facilitate an Israeli-Palestinian peace.”
If Israel’s prime minister can talk about the potential for “new opportunities” in the Middle East alongside the dangers, and of “the indispensable role of Arab states in advancing peace with the Palestinians,” perhaps it’s not so naïve to remain hopeful.
Melting ice caps, disappearing Arctic sea ice, imperiled water supplies, heat waves of unprecedented frequency and duration, torrential rains, dying coral reefs, fish and mammals migrating or going extinct. It may sound like a trailer for Hollywood’s just-released biblical fantasy epic Noah, but unfortunately, it’s real and it’s getting worse.
The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, a United Nations-initiated group of thinkers, released a major report on Monday about what is happening to our global climate. The panel received the Nobel Peace Prize in 2007, with Al Gore, for aiding awareness about climate change.
Rising oceans endanger coastlines and habitats, human and animal. And the waters are becoming acidic from absorbing carbon dioxide, killing sea life and, in other cases, altering growth patterns, while industrial and automotive emissions pollute the atmosphere and increase temperatures. As polar ice caps melt, organic matter that has been frozen for millions of years thaws, then decays, causing additional greenhouse gases that compound the problem.
“Nobody on this planet is going to be untouched by the impacts of climate change,” said the chair of the panel, Rajendra K. Pachauri, in releasing the report.
The potentials caused by climate change are vast. Mass migrations of people may be unavoidable. The global health impacts are myriad. Food security may be threatened, with incalculable results to human life and social stability. Wars will be fought over water.
This may seem apocalyptic, but we are already seeing the literal costs of compensating for years of inaction. As just one recent example illustrates, after Hurricane Sandy, the power provider to most of New York City was obligated to invest $1 billion in protecting their infrastructure against flooding and other weather-related threats because this sort of superstorm is becoming more frequent.
There is still a sizable segment of the population that denies the dangers of climate change or who deny what so much evidence demonstrates. More dangerous than the skeptics, however, are the masses, the millions who do not take action individually and demand that our governments do so, as well.
It is, of course, much easier to do nothing. As individuals and as collectives – businesses, organizations, governments – human beings naturally default to what is convenient and comfortable. Change that requires sacrifice is difficult for individuals to undertake, even in self-interest. However, for groups, especially corporations, which have a financial bottom line to protect, and governments, which have a bottom line of getting reelected, the status quo can seem like a good option. Indeed, short-term thinking has led us to this point.
What impact can one person have on this global problem? A lot – and we all know it. Each of us can plainly see areas where our own behaviors can change in small ways. We can reduce the energy we use, for starters. Small changes can have large impacts: leaving our vehicles at home at least one day a week to carpool, walk, cycle or transit to work can reduce our individual energy consumption by 20 percent. Another reasonable change is to take at least one day off meat and dairy each week, a dietary adjustment that the report’s authors assert will help reverse the toll of agricultural climate pollution. Significantly, we can also make these issues a top concern when we vote and when we speak with our elected officials, so that they know we care and that we will vote based on how our representatives treat our environment.
In Pirkei Avot (Ethics of the Fathers), Rabbi Tarfon taught: “It is not your responsibility to finish the work [of perfecting the world], but you are not free to desist from it either.” One individual cannot solve this problem alone. But millions together can.