It was one of the best movies of the year in 2010, and it was about — of all things — a speech. But not just any speech. It was about the speech George VI broadcast throughout Britain and the British Empire immediately after England’s declaration of war against Germany on September 3, 1939. The backstory was remarkable. Indeed, most of the movie was the backstory of a man driven, with the help of an able tutor, to overcome a speech impediment so he could rally his people in a time of dire need. And rally them he did. The movie ended with a remarkable performance of George VI’s entire speech by Oscar-winning actor Colin Firth.
This week’s speech by Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu had the makings of another Hollywood movie, with more backstory than any dozen screenwriters could conjure. Much was written about the reasons for the upcoming speech, and the reasons behind the reasons for the speech. There was endless banter about who did what to whom, and why. It was all intrigue and political spin — and no substance.
Then came the equally vapid epilogue after the speech, which reduced Netanyahu’s message to a mere sound bite or two, answered by longer sound bites from President Obama as he attempted to rebut the speech most viewers didn’t see. Most Americans didn’t see the speech, although it was broadcast by the major cable-news outlets, because Netanyahu delivered it to Congress during the afternoon, when most adults were busy working.
What the media mostly left out of the mix was the speech itself. It may have been one of the great speeches delivered in our nation’s capital. At a time when the nation is bereft of seriousness, Prime Minister Netanyahu gave a serious speech about serious threats facing not only Israel but the civilized world itself. It was a serious speech that was greeted with rapturous applause by the most bipartisan outpouring of support witnessed in Congress in over a decade. While 50 or so Democrats boycotted the speech, the rest of the House and Senate Democrats joined the House and Senate Republicans in a mutual show of support that the press largely ignored. When is the last time you saw 485 members of Congress agreeing on anything, let alone standing and applauding repeatedly during a 45-minute event?
It was a speech for the ages, part legal brief, part history lesson, and part call to arms.
After some short housekeeping on the historic nature of America’s relationship with Israel, Netanyahu kicked things off with a brief overview of the unique history of the Jewish people:
In our nearly 4,000 years of history, many have tried repeatedly to destroy the Jewish people. . . . Today the Jewish people face another attempt . . . to destroy us. Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei spews the oldest hatred, the oldest hatred of anti-Semitism with the newest technology.
Netanyahu connected the Iranian threat to Israel to the rest of the world:
But Iran’s regime is not merely a Jewish problem, any more than the Nazi regime was merely a Jewish problem. . . . So, too, Iran’s regime poses a grave threat, not only to Israel, but also to the peace of the entire world.
Netanyahu then did something the media and pundits rarely do: He gave a history lesson on the nature of the leadership in Iran and its most deeply held beliefs and goals. The religious zealots who seized power in 1979, he reminded us, drafted a constitution that requires them to carry out the “ideological mission of jihad.” And Ayatollah Khomeini, the new leader of Iran, “exhorted his followers to ‘export the revolution throughout the world.’”
Next, Netanyahu compared America’s founding documents to Iran’s, and he chronicled the brutal legacy of Iran’s very recent revolution throughout the Middle East, now extending its reach ever farther afield. He addressed the nature of the new leadership in Tehran, putting to rest the notion that President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s replacement, President Rouhani, is more moderate.
Netanyahu then turned to the battle in the Middle East between Iran and ISIS. And once again, the moral clarity of his argument was on display:
Iran and ISIS are competing for the crown of militant Islam. One calls itself the Islamic Republic. The other calls itself the Islamic State. Both want to impose a militant Islamic empire first on the region and then on the entire world. . . . When it comes to Iran and ISIS, the enemy of your enemy is your enemy. The difference is that ISIS is armed with butcher knives, captured weapons, and YouTube, whereas Iran could soon be armed with intercontinental ballistic missiles and nuclear bombs.
After setting the proper historical and moral context, Netanyahu addressed the two substantive problems with the deal that the White House (leaving out the Congress and the American people) is negotiating with Tehran.
This deal has two major concessions: one, leaving Iran with a vast nuclear program and, two, lifting the restrictions on that program in about a decade.
No deal, Netanyahu pointed out, was a superior alternative to a bad deal. (Ask any businessperson and he’ll agree.) He then presented his solution. It had three very straightforward points.
The world should demand that Iran do three things. First, stop its aggression against its neighbors in the Middle East. Second, stop supporting terrorism around the world. And third, stop threatening to annihilate my country, Israel, the one and only Jewish state.
Netanyahu ended things as he began them. With a look back at history, to the earliest recorded history of the Jewish people.
Facing me right up there in the gallery, overlooking all of us in this chamber, is the image of Moses. Moses led our people from slavery to the gates of the Promised Land. And before the people of Israel entered the land of Israel, Moses gave us a message that has steeled our resolve for thousands of years. I leave you with his message today [speaking in Hebrew]: “Be strong and resolute, neither fear nor dread them.” My friends, may Israel and America always stand together, strong and resolute. May we neither fear nor dread the challenges ahead. May we face the future with confidence, strength and hope.
This was the epic speech most Americans didn’t hear, the speech President Obama did not rebut in any appreciable way, the speech that most of Congress applauded. And most Americans would have applauded had they heard or read it.
It’s our job to make the prime minister’s speech as big a hit as The King’s Speech. We need not make a movie. It’s already out there. We need only send a link of the speech — in print and video form — to every breathing, sentient soul we know.
— Lee Habeeb is the vice president of content at Salem Radio Network. He lives in Oxford, Miss., with his wife, Valerie, and daughter, Reagan.