Curtain up on UN General Assembly
Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas is expected to present the Palestinian bid for statehood to UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon in the coming days.
Meanwhile the Israeli Defense Force is gearing up to bear the possible consequences of the Palestinian aspirations for sovereignty.
What happens in the United Nations headquarters becomes a mirror image of the engaging game politics can be. From the confrontational, to the surprising, to the outright wacky – the UN General Assembly pilgrimage never fails to impress.
Over 190 members make up the General Assembly, and to get attention leaders have to be creative.
“If you want a lot of attention, you could try to, like, streak the United Nations,” says media critic Danny Schechter. “Nobody has done that yet, nobody has come in butt naked with a goat on their back. I mean, so far none of this is happened, but I wouldn’t rule it out in the future.”
That is one of few tricks that have not been performed at the UNGA yet.
“I think the one that I remember the most,” an Inner City Press’ journalist Matt Lee recalls. “There was Gaddafi, who I guess will now never be back here again, so it has become memorable. It is a collector’s item now – his long speech, and tearing up the UN charter and falling asleep.”
“We are just like décor,” Gaddafi said in 2009. “You are made like décor. You are like Hyde Park. It should not be called the Security Council, it should be called the terror council.”
The record-holder for speech length is an Indian envoy in the ’50s.
“Nobody remembers what he said, but they remember that it went on for eight-and-a-half hours,” Schechter said.
Exhausted, the diplomat collapsed at the podium, only to return and carry on.
“The UN is really owned by its member states, so it is not really anyone’s role to be Kanye West,” Lee said. “When they are up there, they can go on as long as they want."
They can also say whatever they want and accusations often go flying, both towards the US and from the US.
“Yesterday the devil came here,” Hugo Chavez said in 2006. “Right here. And it smells of sulfur still today.”
“The greatest obstacle to this future is that your rulers have chosen to deny you liberty,” George W. Bush said in 2006, addressing to the people of Iran.
And the media is obsessed with creating legends out of politicians’ performances.
From chicly clad Carla Bruni becoming a headliner for the simple act of showing up, to Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev allegedly banging his shoe against the podium.
“A grave for colonial slavery!” Khrushchev declared in 1960. “It should be buried: the deeper the better!”
Half a century later, the story is rumored to be a favorite among tourists visiting the UN.
But the Soviet leader’s son says the episode is a legend, as the shoe-banging was never captured on video.
“The shoe showed the power of the media, of you, of the TV,” Sergey Khrushchev, son of the Soviet leader, said. “This means how powerful now the propaganda that you can believe in many things that didn’t happen.”
To showcase word as deed, officials pull out so-called facts. Whether it were spying accusations backed up by a bugged carved-wooden Great Seal of the United States, or the need to invade Iraq justified by non-existent weapons of mass destruction.
“It was like a football game,” Khruschev’s son said. “You have the fans from one side, another side, and they’re just trying to support your team, and booing the opposite team.”
The key players come and go, but year after year, with a fierceness clearly not foreign to this international political stage, drama is the number one guest to RSVP.