North Korea to Bibi: Israel’s ‘a cancer’

A week of debate at the United Nations came to a close this week with a much-anticipated address from Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu who, as expected, devoted nearly all of his speech to Iran’s nuclear program.

Then, things got interesting.


See, there’s this thing at the United Nations called the right of reply. Basically, if someone takes a shot at you in a U.N. meeting, you have the right to respond. Then the person who was replied to can speak again. And then the first replier can have a second go.

Not surprisingly, Iran had a few things it wanted to get off its chest. First it disputed Bibi’s claims of nefarious nuclear intent, noting that he had said little different from last year, except this time he had left the cartoons at home. The Iranian representative also offered a dark warning that Israel better not misinterpret Iran’s commitment to non-aggression as an indication that the country can be messed with.

“Iranians are the best at exercising their inherent right of self-defense,” the Iranian said. “Therefore the Israeli prime minister had better not even think of attacking Iran, let alone planning for that.”

Got that Bibi? Don’t even think about it.

I expected Israel to jump in at this point, but instead a round robin began involving Bolivia, Libya, Azerbaijan, Armenia, and both Koreas. Armenia and Azerbaijan have a longstanding dispute over a territory that sounds like it was named for the forgotten daughter of a certain singing rabbi, which one of their leaders made the mistake of mentioning in his address. Their respective representatives basically took turns calling each other liars.

Bolivian leader Evo Morales had pointed to the intervention in Libya in his speech several days ago as a case study in Western imperialism, which of course could not be left unanswered, so those two countries had a go at it as well.

Then North Korea jumped in. Netanyahu had used the North Korean example as a warning of what happens if the world is not sufficiently resolute in confronting aspiring nuclear powers. The representative from the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea responded with a withering attack on Israel.

“It is a cancer in the Middle East,” the North Korean said. “It is disturbing the peace and security, shifting blame to all other countries in the region.”

Then the South Korean representative took the floor to say that North Korea does the exact same thing.

All the while, John Ashe, the heroic Antiguan who has presided over a whole week of speechifying, looked as if he was containing a geyser under his shiny bald pate. His you’ve-gotta-be-kidding-me expression as replies unfolded looked like a man on the verge of release from prison who had just learned that a bureaucratic snafu was keeping him in the slammer for an indeterminate period. Poor guy. President of the General Assembly must look like a great job on paper.

Ben Harris is JTA’s news editor. In his seven years with JTA, he has reported from more than 15 countries. His writing has appeared in the Wall Street Journal, the Boston Globe, New York magazine, among other publications.