Harkening back to some of history’s more memorable addresses at the United Nations in New York, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu took many member delegations to task for a “systematic assault on the truth” embodied in their castigating the Jewish people and consistently condemning Israel for defending its citizens against terrorism.

Immediately following the speech, the prime minister said that his spirited defense of his people was inspired by the Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem M. Schneerson, of righteous memory, who urged him during a 1984 discussion at Chabad-Lubavitch headquarters to “light a candle of truth” in his dealings with the U.N.

In his 29-minute address before the General Assembly, widely reported in the media, Netanyahu asserted that anti-Semitism harms not only the Jewish people and Israel, but the entire world, and that the extreme fundamentalism fueling it “has swept the globe with a murderous violence and cold-blooded impartiality in its choice of victims.”

Going so far as to unfurl the original blueprints, signed by Hitler deputy Heinrich Himmler, of the Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp where one million Jews perished during World War II, Netanyahu pointedly charged contingents of the family of nations with undermining the U.N.’s own charter by granting a forum to Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who just days before his own Wednesday address at the General Assembly, once again denied the Holocaust.

“Is this too a lie?” asked Netanyahu. “I say on behalf of my people, the Jewish people, and decent people everywhere: Have you no shame?”

Turning to the recently released report by a U.N.-chartered commission accusing Israel of war crimes during last winter’s offensive against Hamas terrorists in the Gaza Strip, the prime minister asserted that calls to prosecute Israeli leaders, generals and soldiers at the International Criminal Court in The Hague are part and parcel of the same assault on morality and reason represented by the government of Iran.

Whereas the Iranian-backed Hamas fired rockets against Israeli population centers and shielded its operations behind its own civilians, said Netanyahu, Israel’s military warned Palestinians of impending attacks, facilitated evacuations and tirelessly worked to further limit civilian casualties.

“Ladies and gentlemen, the jury is still out on the United Nations, and recent signs are not encouraging,” he stated. “Rather than condemning the terrorists and their Iranian patrons, some here have condemned their victims.”

He finished his address by quoting the biblical leader Joshua: “Let us be strong and of good courage. Let us confront this peril.”

Future Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu meets the Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem M. Schneerson, of righteous memory, during the holiday of Sukkot.
Future Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu meets the Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem M. Schneerson, of righteous memory, during the holiday of Sukkot.

Dispelling Darkness

During the lead up to the prime minister’s much anticipated speech, people close to Netanyahu heard him refer to a 1984 conversation he had with the Rebbe. It was at a post-General Assembly appearance co-sponsored by the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, however, that the prime minister publicly revealed the source of the passion he displayed just hours earlier.

Speaking before an invitation-only crowd of 1,000 Jewish leaders and community members at the 92nd Street Y in New York, Netanyahu explained by way of an anecdote that parts of his U.N. speech were directly inspired by guidance he received from the Rebbe during the Jewish holiday of Simchat Torah.

Beginning in the 1960s, it was customary for members of the Israeli diplomatic mission in New York to celebrate with the Rebbe at his synagogue in Brooklyn on the second night of the holiday. Netanyahu, the newly arrived Ambassador to the United Nations, entered the brick edifice at 770 Eastern Parkway, and encountered thousands of Chasidim eagerly awaiting the arrival of the Rebbe and the beginning of festivities.

When the Rebbe entered the room, Netanyahu was prodded by a friend to meet him.

“I said in English, ‘Rebbe, I came to see you,’ ” the prime minister detailed. “And he said, ‘Just to see? Not to talk?’ ”

As Netanyahu remembered, some 4,000 people anxiously stood, looking to the Rebbe for the start of the traditional rounds of dancing known as hakafos, but the Rebbe instead engaged him in a lengthy conversation.

“He switched to Hebrew,” recalled the prime minister. “And after 40 minutes, he stopped. He said what he wanted to say, and he turned to the audience, and with his hands, started to get the Chasidim to sing and dance.

“And then something happened, I’ll never forget till the end of my life,” continued Netanyahu. “The Rebbe and his brother-in-law … took the Torah scroll and they went into the center of this hall … and I see [them] dancing in a circle of light with a Torah. I felt the strength of generations, the power of our traditions, our faith, our people.”

His crowd primed, Netanyahu revealed what the Rebbe told him that night.

“He said many things, but he said one big thing,” began the prime minister. “He said, ‘Remember that in a hall of perfect darkness, totally dark, if you light one small candle, its light will be seen from afar. Its precious light will be seen by everyone. Your mission is to light a candle for truth and the Jewish people.’ ”

The recollection was an expansion of comments the prime minister made to a gaggle of Israeli correspondents in the hallway outside the General Assembly. In a two-minute clip of the remarks posted online by Israel’s Channel 2, Netanyahu, speaking in Hebrew, recounts the Rebbe’s directive as an unending charge: “There is only one way to eradicate the lies [against the Jewish people]. Repeat the light of truth over and over and over, and don’t stop.”

The message also features prominently in an upcoming documentary from Jewish Educational Media that explores the Rebbe’s personal concern for Israel and his trust in its people. In the film, entitled “Faithful and Fortified,” Netanyahu quotes the Rebbe’s 1984 caution upon representing Israel at the United Nations, in which deliberations frequently occurred in “a house of … utter darkness.”

“A little light of truth can push the darkness away,” the Rebbe told Netanyahu. “Be that little light of truth.”

Earning a standing ovation at the 92nd Street Y Thursday night, Netanyahu said that the Rebbe’s message had relevance for Jews everywhere, telling the audience that when they light candles to usher in the holiday of Yom Kippur, they should “light one other candle, the candle of truth and justice for the Jewish people.”