NEW YORK (JTA) – Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni used an address to the United Nations General Assembly to blast the failure to enact tougher sanctions against Iran.
“Too many see the danger but walk idly by hoping that someone else will take care of it,” Livni said in a speech that capped her nine-day visit to New York in conjunction with the opening of the annual U.N. gathering.
Iran’s nuclear program topped the agenda of Israel and Jewish organizations in their yearly rounds of meetings with visiting world leaders.
Livni in her U.N. speech accused those who favored the delay in imposing new sanctions of obstructionism and a failure to appreciate the magnitude of the threat from Iran and its nuclear aspirations.
“What is the value, we have to ask, of an organization which is unable to take effective action in the face of a direct assault on the very principles it was founded to protect?” she said. “It is time for the United Nations, and the states of the world, to live up to their promise of never again.”
Livni spoke just days after objections from Russia, China and Germany to a tougher round of sanctions led the U.N. Security Council to delay the issue until November. But it was the use of the phrase “never again” – a widely understood reference to the Holocaust – that suggested a subtly directed swipe at Germany, Iran’s largest European trade partner.
Two weeks ago Germany hosted a conference intended to promote trade with the Islamic Republic, and it is also opposing the prospect of separate European Union sanctions – an idea floated by French President Nicolas Sarkozy.
Reports of the trade conference caused angst in Jewish circles, even as German officials sought to stress their commitment to staking out a hard line on Iran. An Israeli diplomat traveling with Livni told JTA that Israel appreciates Germany’s statements on Iran but wishes it would take a firmer position on sanctions.
In her General Assembly speech, German Chancellor Angela Merkel spoke out against Iranian nuclear ambitions.
“If Iran were to acquire the nuclear bomb, the consequences would be disastrous – first and foremost for the existence of Israel, secondly for the entire region and ultimately for all of us in Europe and the world who attach any importance to the values of liberty, democracy and human dignity,” she said. “That is why we have to prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear arms.”
In two meetings held with Jewish leaders on the sidelines of the General Assembly, German officials reiterated their strong opposition to Iran’s acquisition of a nuclear weapon and the special responsibility they feel in particular when the State of Israel is imperiled. World Jewish Congress President Ronald Lauder also raised the Iran issue with Merkel and Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier at a meeting Monday in Berlin.
Speaking last week before the Appeal of Conscience Foundation, Merkel said that responsibility to confront manifestations of anti-Jewish hatred would be Germany’s “in perpetuity.”
David Harris, the executive director of the American Jewish Committee, who attended both meetings with German officials, said they “understand Germany has a special responsibility when Israel is threatened.”
“Given the German record of support for Israel over the years, one should not cynically dismiss that,” Harris said.
Germany has argued that it has reduced its commercial ties with Iran more than is commonly known, an argument repeated in meetings with Jewish leaders. The government also has reportedly prepared a dossier showing how French and American companies continue to do a robust business with Tehran.
In her statement, Livni called for Iran to be given the same choice given to the Palestinian terrorist organization Hamas – between legitimacy and violence.
“They cannot have both,” she said.
Germany’s position is in a certain respect the analogue of the line put forth consistently by Jewish leaders – namely that Iran is a threat not only to Israel but to the entire world. German efforts to preserve unity in the Security Council are motivated in large measure by precisely the same concern – that any response be seen as global rather than Western.
“This to them is critically important,” Harris said.
“For the Germans, they believe that holding the consensus in the Security Council is worth a great deal,” he said.
The global nature of conflicts is a theme Livni stressed repeatedly during her visit.
On Sunday she hosted a Sukkot celebration attended by U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, music impresario Russell Simmons and New York City Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly in which she presented the sukkah as the reflection of universal human values of peace and tolerance. She also urged the religious leaders present to “reclaim religion” from extremists.
In her speech to the assembly Monday, she described Israel’s battle with extremists on its borders as part of a global struggle.
“Today it is clear that the extremists are engaged in a bloody war against civilians and communities, against hearts and minds, in every corner of the world,” she said. “And it is clear, too, that the Middle East conflict is not a cause of this global extremist agenda but a consequence of it.”
Even her one original policy proposal also had a distinctly global sheen: the establishment of universal standards for participation in democratic elections. Though clearly motivated by the recent successes of Hezbollah and Hamas in using democratic methods to win power, Livni cast the need for such standards in a broader context.
“We need a universal democratic code that requires that all those seeking the legitimacy of the democratic process earn it by respecting such principles as state monopoly over the lawful use of force, the rejection of racism and violence, and the protection of the rights of others,” Livni said.
“The goal of such a universal code is not to dictate our values or to stifle legitimate voices with which we may disagree. Its goal is to protect core democratic values from those determined to use the democratic system against itself.”