“An appeaser is one who feeds a crocodile, hoping it will eat him last.” – Winston Churchill on Neville Chamberlain
It’s over. Done. Netanyahu addressed Congress, and the Iran debate is still raging. The common critiques among his detractors that “he [Netanyahu] doesn’t represent me,” “he’s playing politics with elections looming,” or “Jews in exile need to keep a low profile and not so grandiloquently challenge a sitting American president,” seem to miss the very essence and purpose of his speech. Why? Because, even if they are true, his speech will be etched in history for two reasons: Firstly, his address before Congress may mark the turning point between when the world could still feign ignorance of the dubious terms of an Iranian deal, and when the troubling truth was laid bare in detail before them. Secondly, in an almost unprecedented occurrence, a nation-state leader has forewarned the world of a grave impending disaster that’s likely to materialize should they fail to act correctly or resolutely.
Frankly, I care not if the messenger was Bibi Netanyahu or Bobby Whoever, for as long as that speech was delivered to this world, then, whatever the consequences may portend, we shall accept no future ignorant cries of “We didn’t know.” When history will have to judge the characters who forged the path that led to a nuclear Iran, it’s very likely the president will be compared with Chamberlain, who naively opted for appeasement through sweet deals, as though they could suffice in quelling Hitler’s raging desire to dominate.
It’s true that Netanyahu, despite his Revisionist leanings and the nationalist ideology that comes with those leanings, does not —however he might perceive himself — in fact represent all Jews. But if Churchill will be remembered as the one who warned Britain of Hitler’s true intentions for Nazi Germany, then Netanyahu’s speech will be identified by history as the harbinger of a nuclear Iran.
Was the prime minister’s speech simply a clear presentation of a potential deal, something his detractors say could’ve been expressed in a less confrontational context, like an Op-Ed piece in some international paper? If it’s seen as such, then Obama’s criticism of the speech for containing “nothing new” has the ring of legitimacy.
I see it differently. The speech was polarizing, by design. There should be no room for gray areas in this debate. Either what’s at stake is understood, or not. And that’s where America and Israel, Obama and Netanyahu are distinctly divided. Obama’s America is one that’s distant from the potential reality of an existential threat. For all threats America faces at home and abroad, none of them could be classified as existential. Even when the USSR was threatening nuclear war, though potentially devastating, it still wouldn’t have been an existential tragedy. Thank G-d. This medinah shel chessed was blessed with the most geostrategic terrain a superpower can ask for. The downside of this benefit, though, is a tendency towards being “out-of-touch” with distant realities across the globe.
So the first achievement of Netanyahu’s speech was to properly frame the debate in its contextual proportions. America, operating from existential safety, is willing to risk an Iran that becomes an existential threat to Israel, as it believes it can respond in time if the Iranians break the deal. To Israel, that is the scariest notion on the planet, and the fear is not unwarranted — not if we look to North Korea for historic precedent. America and the world powers issued condemning resolutions, enacted sanctions and even threatened military force to try and curtail the North’s nuclear ambitions. The result? Not only does North Korea have nukes and the facilities to produce more, it was America who built it for the late Kim Jong-il in a deal that was supposed to “guarantee” that he wouldn’t use it for nukes.
With that in mind, America’s assurances seem oblivious to facts on the ground at best, if not downright illusory. Bibi’s speech scored by clearly letting the world know that the global assurances and guarantees that are meant to force Iran’s complicity aren’t worth the paper they’re written on, and quite the contrary, such a deal would only cement the path to a nuclear Iran.
Lastly, Netanyahu’s speech underscored as a matter of fact that “even if Israel has to stand alone, Israel will stand.” That statement, I believe, is the crux of the matter: that if the world will fail to institute the fresh lessons of history, Israel still has an obligation to defend itself. The imperative to save a life, or in this case, many lives, should greatly outweigh the concern that in doing so we might offend the generous gentiles in whose lands we sojourn. And no, I don’t see that statement as arrogantly referring to military might, but instead to the age-old promise to our Forefathers that Klal Yisrael “will be for Me [Hashem] a nation.” Who else can face a threat of existential proportions while still maintaining the awareness that, despite any tragedy, we will in fact, by Divine command, remain standing?
There are many for whom Netanyahu does not suffice as a leader. But even if he’s just a Jew who got up on the biggest stage possible to warn the world of history repeating, then he has my tacit support. The only thing I would’ve changed from his entire address was his choice of quotes to end with. I’d have finished with Moshe Rabbeinu’s last recorded statement to the Jewish people: “Fortunate are you, O Israel! Who is like you, O people whose salvation is through Hashem, the Shield Who helps you, your majestic sword! Your enemies will lie to you, but you will tread upon their heights.” (Devarim 33:29) n