Bibi’s Finest Hour
This article is from the archive of The New York Sun before the launch of its new website in 2022. The Sun has neither altered nor updated such articles but will seek to correct any errors, mis-categorizations or other problems introduced during transfer.
Prime Minister Netanyahu’s speech this morning will go down as one of the most memorable ever delivered to a Joint Meeting. No doubt the Israeli leader has President Obama to thank for a portion of that, given the degree of global attention the president placed on the speech merely by dint of objecting to it. He also has the Speaker to thank for it; Mr. Boehner showed admirable grit in asserting Congress’ inherent foreign policy powers to invite the premier and in sticking with it in the face of a boycott by the Democratic Party’s left wing. But Mr. Netanyahu deserves kudos for making the most of the moment.
He became this morning only the second person in history to have addressed a Joint Meeting three times. The other person was Britain’s wartime (and then again, post-war) prime minister, Winston Churchill, and we like to think that it is no coincidence that both of them were Zionists. This is a point that is not always remembered about Churchill. On his third address to Congress, which took place at 1952, he startled many toward the end of his speech by dilating on his support for the Jewish state in the land of Israel, which turns out to have been long and ardent.
“From the days of the Balfour Declaration I have desired that the Jews should have a national home, and I have worked for that end,” Churchill said to the Joint Meeting. “I rejoice to pay my tribute here to the achievements of those who have founded the Israelite State, who have defended themselves with tenacity, and who offer asylum to great numbers of Jewish refugees.” He expressed the hope that Israel would “convert deserts into gardens” and reach an agreement with the Arabs to secure our peace and prosperity. How the Congress thrilled to Churchill’s refrain. How Churchill would have thrilled to Mr. Netanyahu.
There are those who feel that Mr. Netanyahu was too kind to President Obama, whom the Israeli leader extolled even in the face of Mr. Obama’s jibes and sneers in the weeks leading up to the speech. We thought Mr. Netanyahu was right to be as generous as he was; the security support that Mr. Obama has given Israel and the diplomatic cover at the United Nations, these are no small things. The fact is that it is Mr. Obama who has been acting off-kilter here, not the Israeli leader; he was generous, straight to the point, and wise. He is in a position to be generous.
What we particularly liked about the speech, though, was the ending, when Mr. Netanyahu made his salute to Elie Wiesel, who was watching from a seat next to Mrs. Netanyahu, and then reached down deep and spoke about the logic and meaning of Zionism. He did not suggest — it would have been inaccurate — that Zionism was a response to the Holocaust. But one of the results of Zionism is that Mr. Netanyahu was able to say, “I can guarantee you this — the days when the Jewish people remained passive in the face of genocidal enemies, those days are over.”
The Congress erupted here in applause. “We are no longer scattered among the nations, powerless to defend ourselves,” Mr. Netanyahu said. “We restored our sovereignty in our ancient home. And the soldiers who defend our home have boundless courage. For the first time in 100 generations, we, the Jewish people, can defend ourselves.” Then he gestured across the greatest legislature in the world and fixed upon the basrelief of Moses, who, he noted, “led our people from slavery to the gates of the Promised Land.” He quoted the lawgiver of Sinai as saying, “Be strong and resolute, neither fear nor dread them.”