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Echoes of Churchill in Netanyahu's Speech

Last week, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu delivered a historic speech to Congress. Writing at Real Clear PoliticsBelladonna Rogers points out the ways in which Netanyahu’s speech invoked another historical address by another world leader facing down an evil regime, one given by Winston Churchill in 1941:

If Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu sounded Churchillian in his speech to the Congress on Tuesday, one reason is that he echoed several of the most memorable phrases in Winston Churchill’s 1941 address to the Canadian House of Commons, a speech still celebrated by Canadians as rallying their nation at a crucial moment in World War II.

Those phrases deserve attention because of the message they convey to the United States in 2015. Alas, most members of Congress are insufficiently aware of one of the greatest speeches of the 20th century to have taken notice. A line that should have had them on their feet left them in their seats.

Only three weeks after the Dec. 7 Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor had drawn the United States into World War II, the British prime minister braved the cold and the perils of wartime travel to visit Washington to speak to the Congress on Dec. 26. He then left for Canada.

His speech there contains two lines that have become part of the Churchill canon …

The second notable line in Churchill’s address concerned the Nazi conquest of four sovereign nations — Norway, Denmark, Holland, and Belgium — followed by the “great French catastrophe” when the French army collapsed. Churchill proclaimed that if France had remained loyal to Britain, the two allies might have already won the war. Then he said this:

When I warned them that Britain would fight on alone whatever they did, their generals told their prime minister and his divided cabinet, “In three weeks England will have her neck wrung like a chicken.” Some chicken; some neck.

The Canadian Parliament responded with a spontaneous burst of laughter and sustained applause.

In Natanyahu’s address to Congress, he echoed Churchill’s mention of the four neutral European countries overrun by the Nazis when he said:

In the Middle East, Iran now dominates four Arab capitals, Baghdad, Damascus, Beirut and Sana’a. And if Iran’s aggression is left unchecked, more will surely follow. So, at a time when many hope that Iran will join the community of nations, Iran is busy gobbling up the nations. 

Then he paraphrased the line that had provoked a warm response 73 years earlier:

We must all stand together to stop Iran’s march of conquest, subjugation and terror. Now, two years ago, we were told to give President Rouhani and Foreign Minister Zarif a chance to bring change and moderation to Iran. Some change! Some moderation!

In 1941, Churchill did not have to persuade his listeners of the evil of the Nazi regime: Canada and the United States were then at war with Germany. By contrast, one of the Israeli prime minister’s main purposes was to warn his American audience of the malevolent and untrustworthy nature of the Iranian regime with which the Obama administration is negotiating. Not only from the Israeli perspective, but also that of Saudi Arabia, Egypt and other American allies in the Middle East, the deal under consideration appears to be a what Churchill called “a separate peace” with a terrorist state the U.S. is on the brink of recognizing as the new hegemonic power in the region:

Rouhani’s government hangs gays, persecutes Christians, jails journalists and executes even more prisoners than before … Iran’s regime is as radical as ever, its cries of “Death to America,” that same America that it calls the “Great Satan,” as loud as ever … and that’s why this regime will always be an enemy of America.

Churchill only had to rally his listeners; Netanyahu had to educate his. The address to the Canadian Parliament was one of the greatest in the history of western civilization, and one of the most consequential in World War II. In his unmistakable reference to it, Netanyahu sought to urge America to stand by its allies in the Middle East.

Tags: Netanyahu , History

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