In case you missed it, a speech was delivered yesterday by a world leader that will join a list of oratories that define leadership. It will be added to Churchill’s – “We shall fight them on the beach …”, Thatcher’s – “autumn of understanding … winter of common sense”, Kennedy’s – “Ask not…”, and Reagan’s – “Tear down this wall …” offerings. It came from a battled hardened statesman and was presented to a grateful audience. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin (BiBi) Netanyahu delivered a primer on the icy truths of freedom, democracy, and love of country to the US Congress at a time when those sitting in the leather bound chairs could desperately use some remedial training on such subjects.
While there have been some truly good orators over the last 20 years, this was what a bona fide world leader sounds like. Prime Minister Netanyahu delivered a challenging vision and much needed inspiration with intellect, candor, and humor. Isn’t that what we look for in our leaders? He did so with a sense of fearlessness for who might be listening and what their response would be, and without any sense of political pandering. Regrettably, the American consumer has been bamboozled into thinking packaging and delivery is somehow more important than content. As long as there is eloquence then surely, there must be credibility – right?
Netanyahu had both style and substance. The only posturing and choreography came in dealing with the 29 ovations in response to hearing truth spoken to power. Somewhat ironic in that the politicians, who perceive themselves as the powerful ones (on both sides of the aisle), became the students.
It was the substance that mesmerized however. There are undeniable and disturbing truths to decades of history and the resultant daily life in Israel and Palestine. Those who simply digest media headlines and move on to the sports and crossword lack the understanding of their bigger picture. Learning and absorbing some of these truths would go a long way to understanding the untenable situation that exists in the Middle East as well as the barricades to finding a solution. Netanyahu explained:
“In recent years, Israel withdrew from south Lebanon and from Gaza. We thought we’d get peace. That’s not what we got. We got 12,000 rockets fired from those areas on our cities, on our children, by Hezbollah and Hamas. The U.N. peacekeepers in Lebanon, they failed to prevent the smuggling of this weaponry. The European observers in Gaza, they evaporated overnight. So if Israel simply walked out of the territories, the flow of weapons into a future Palestinian state would be unchecked, and missiles fired from it could reach virtually every home in Israel in less than a minute”.
“I want you to think about that, too. Imagine there’s a siren going on now and we have less than 60 seconds to find shelter from an incoming rocket. Would you live that way? Do you think anybody can live that way? Well, we’re not going to live that way either”.
The Prime Minister has been steadfast since his seminal 2009 speech at Bar-Ilan University in which he cast his 2 state vision for Israel and Palestine.
“In my vision of peace, two peoples live freely, side-by-side, in amity and mutual respect. Each will have its own flag, its own national anthem, its own government”.
This speech came just days after the much heralded 2009 Obama Cairo speech wherein Barack Obama seemed to disregard significant good faith gestures already made by Netanyahu’s Israel toward Abbas’ West Bank that had eased security issues and produced impressive economic gains for Palestinians. So significant that even NY Times commentator Thomas Friedman took note.
The problem remains however and following President Obama’s recent announcement that he believes the key to a Middle East peace begins at the 1967 border, a pall was cast on Israel’s state visit. Netanyahu’s immediate and public rebuke of this disclosure and the subsequent “teaching moment” he presented to this US Congress showed a sense of fearless leadership on the world stage that we have not seen in a long time. This chain of events has elevated his stature among all other world leaders. One might observe he has made all around him somehow look smaller.
He treads a thin line. He knows the power of the White House and it’s occupant. He understands economics and the price that comes from receiving approximately $4bn per year in US aid. But he lives and is responsible for a nation in world that you and I cannot fathom. Israel is surrounded by toxic enemies that have no interest in living in a free, economically self sustaining and democratic society if it means their nations will live side by side with Jews. Hamas, Hezbollah, and the Muslim Brotherhood make no bones about their goals with regard to Netanyahu’s Israel.
‘Israel will exist and will continue to exist until Islam will obliterate it, just as it obliterated others before it.’ …. ‘[Peace] initiatives, and so-called peaceful solutions and international conferences are in contradiction to the principles of the Islamic Resistance Movement… ‘The Day of Judgment will not come about until Moslems fight Jews and kill them”. (THE COVENANT OF THE HAMAS )
BasicMan doesn’t take any pleasure in observing that while we remain the last global superpower, there are times we appear misguided when we opt to play politically nice with the wrong people at the expense of those with whom we share more of our own ethos. Prime Minister Netanyahu’s eloquence in delivering his speech to Congress is what we will remember but it is the example he provides in terms of courage, strength, and steadfastness that compels admiration. I hope this was not lost on Barack Obama and our congressional politicians.