Finest Hour 145, Winter 2009-10
Netanyahu and Churchill at the United Nations
By Elliot Berke
Mr. Berke is a Washington, D.C. attorney focusing on political law. He has served as Counsel to the Speaker of the House and to the House Majority Leader. Mr. Netanyahu’s speech is available at http://xrl.us/bfuj3o or by email from the editor.
NEW YORK, SEPTEMBER 24TH— “Over seventy years ago, Winston Churchill lamented what he called the “confirmed unteachability of mankind”: the unfortunate habit of civilized societies to sleep until danger nearly overtakes them. Churchill bemoaned what he called the ‘want of foresight, the unwillingness to act when action will be simple and effective, the lack of clear thinking, the confusion of counsel until emergency comes, until self-preservation strikes its jarring gong.’
“I speak here today in the hope that Churchill’s assessment of the ‘unteachability of mankind’ is for once proven wrong. I speak here today in the hope that we can learn from history—that we can prevent danger in time. In the spirit of the timeless words spoken to Joshua over 3000 years ago, let us be strong and of good courage. Let us confront this peril, secure our future and, God willing, forge an enduring peace for generations to come.”
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel pointedly criticized the UN for its stance on his country. He began by noting how, the day before, the President of Iran had stood at the same podium “spewing his latest anti-Semitic rants,” and challenged delegates who failed to condemn Hamas and its Iranian patron, while simultaneously condemning Israel.
For a world leader to refer to Churchill is of little surprise and has almost become a cliché. Netanyahu’s references are of interest, rather, in demonstrating the large shadow Churchill continues to cast over the Middle East, the UN, and more broadly, the need to learn from history.
Churchill was a supporter of Jews and Arabs. In 1948, while favoring the founding of Israel, he said the “whole question” of the Middle East might have been settled with an Arab Confederation alongside a Jewish State. In 1921, Colonial Secretary Churchill charted new boundaries and vision for the Middle East: ‘‘to set up an Arab government, and to make it take the responsibility, with our aid and our guidance and with an effective measure of our support, until they are strong enough to stand alone [and] to reduce our commitments and to extricate ourselves from our burdens.…” The world still has the same, stubborn burdens, and the burden can no longer be denied by the UN.
Churchill described the Middle East in 1958 as “one of the hardesthearted areas in the world.” Over fifty years later, the UN would be wise to heed his injunction: “We, their representatives in this world-famous assembly, have a great responsibility, and we cannot always discharge it by treading easy paths and saying smooth things.”
Clearly, as Netanyahu demonstrated, the path remains uneasy and the sayings unsmooth. To quote another great Englishman, “what’s past is prologue.” Drawing parallels between the anti-Semitic militarism of 1930s Germany and contemporary Iran should not avoided. It is wrong to stand silent or to remove any tool, including military intervention, from the arsenal that may be required to combat both the rhetoric and action engaged in by the Iranian regime and its beneficiary. While it may seem a cliché, the UN and world community must take heed of this storm as it gathers and looms in the Middle East.
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