“Jarring Gong”: Benjamin Netanyahu on Winston Churchill

“Jarring Gong”: Benjamin Netanyahu on Winston Churchill

Updat­ed from “Netanyahu on Churchill,” 2014. It seems appro­pri­ate to renew this note, togeth­er with some Churchill words which thought­ful read­ers may deem appro­pri­ate to cur­rent contentions.

Nine years ago Prime Min­is­ter Ben­jamin Netanyahu paid Sir Win­ston Churchill a com­pli­ment and this writer a minor one, in his thanks for a gift of my book, Churchill by Himself.

Click to enlarge.

The first four edi­tions col­lect­ed 4000 anno­tat­ed quo­ta­tions, along pop­u­lar apho­risms WSC nev­er said (“Churchillian Drift”). A fifth expand­ed edi­tion is sched­uled for 2024. With over 5000 quo­ta­tions and half a mil­lion words, it will extend our knowl­edge of Churchill’s time­less wis­dom and devo­tion to liberty.

Mr. Netanyahu…

…was not new to Churchill back then. He is one of the few states­men who pay more than rou­tine lip-ser­vice to Sir Winston’s role in his­to­ry. Unlike many who invoke his name, Mr. Netanyahu has actu­al­ly read Churchill exten­sive­ly, and applied his thought frequently.

With thanks for those kind remarks I quote Prime Min­is­ter Netanyahu at the Unit­ed Nations on 24 Sep­tem­ber 2009. There he demon­strat­ed an abil­i­ty to draw guid­ance from Churchill’s words, while not using them to declare what WSC would do today….

A democ­ra­cy legit­i­mate­ly defend­ing itself against ter­ror is moral­ly hanged, drawn and quar­tered, and giv­en an unfair tri­al to boot. By these twist­ed stan­dards, the UN Human Rights Coun­cil would have dragged Roo­sevelt and Churchill to the dock as war criminals….

Over sev­en­ty [now over eighty] 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, unwill­ing­ness to act when action will be sim­ple and effec­tive, lack of clear think­ing, 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.

“Wise words, Sir, stand the test of time”*

*Churchill, House of Com­mons, 12 May 1901

From WSC, “Fifty Years Hence,” Strand Mag­a­zine, Decem­ber 1931, reprint­ed in Thoughts and Adven­tures (1932):

Cer­tain it is that while men are gath­er­ing knowl­edge and pow­er with ever-increas­ing and mea­sure­less speed, their virtues and their wis­dom have not shown any notable improve­ment as the cen­turies have rolled. The brain of a mod­ern man does not dif­fer in essen­tials from that of the human beings who fought and loved here mil­lions of years ago. The nature of man has remained hith­er­to prac­ti­cal­ly unchanged. Under suf­fi­cient stress—starvation, ter­ror, war­like pas­sion, or even cold intel­lec­tu­al frenzy—the mod­ern man we know so well will do the most ter­ri­ble deeds, and his mod­ern woman will back him up….

We have the spec­ta­cle of the pow­ers and weapons of man far out­strip­ping the march of his intel­li­gence; we have the march of his intel­li­gence pro­ceed­ing far more rapid­ly than the devel­op­ment of his nobil­i­ty. We may well find our­selves in the pres­ence of “the strength of civ­i­liza­tion with­out its mercy.”

Britain’s Mandate of Palestine

The Pales­tine Man­date includ­ed today’s Jor­dan as well as today’s Israel. (Wiki­me­dia Commons)

In 1947, Attlee’s Labour Gov­ern­ment scut­tled from Pales­tine in a dis­grace­ful exit, not dis­sim­i­lar from anoth­er dis­grace in 2021. In Novem­ber the Unit­ed Nations offered a Par­ti­tion Plan for the 1/7th of Pales­tine that wasn’t already 100% Arab. (6/7ths was Jor­dan.) The plan was greet­ed with rejoic­ing in Jew­ish com­mu­ni­ties and out­rage among Arabs. Civ­il dis­tur­bances began and the British refused to inter­vene. Soon there was a full-scale civ­il war. The Arabs lost, like the French lost Alsace-Lor­raine in 1870, and the Ger­mans Sile­sia in 1944. Vast shifts of pop­u­la­tion occurred in all three instances.

The world of 1948 ignored the dias­po­ras. No one much cared. Any more than any­one today cares about Armen­ian geno­cide going on at this writ­ing. “His­to­ry doesn’t repeat, but it some­times rhymes.” Evi­dent­ly there’s noth­ing in Arme­nia for pow­er-hun­gry politicians.

In Par­lia­ment on 30 July 1951, Churchill sad­ly reviewed Britain’s con­tri­bu­tion to the Pales­tine morass:

The decline of our influ­ence and pow­er through­out the Mid­dle East is due to sev­er­al caus­es. First, the loss of our Ori­en­tal Empire and of the well-placed and for­mi­da­ble resources of the Impe­r­i­al armies in India. Sec­ond, it is due to the impres­sion which has become wide­spread through­out the Mid­dle East that Great Britain has only to be pressed suf­fi­cient­ly by one method or anoth­er to aban­don her rights or inter­ests in that, or indeed any oth­er, part of the world. A third cause is the mis­takes and mis­cal­cu­la­tions in pol­i­cy which led to the wind­ing up of our affairs in Pales­tine in such a way as to earn almost in equal degree the hatred of the Arabs and the Jews.

Churchill on Terrorism

On 8 July 1920, before there even was a Pales­tine Man­date, Churchill denounced the mas­sacre of Indi­ans at Amrit­sar. Joseph Mon­tague Ken­wor­thy, 10th Baron Stra­bol­gi (1886-1953) was a Lib­er­al MP (1919–26) and Labour MP (1926–31). Echoes of Churchill’s words may be heard again today: more “rhyming” of history.

What I mean by fright­ful­ness is the inflict­ing of great slaugh­ter or mas­sacre upon a par­tic­u­lar crowd of peo­ple, with the inten­tion of ter­ror­is­ing not mere­ly the rest of the crowd, but the whole dis­trict or the whole coun­try.… Fright­ful­ness is not a rem­e­dy known to the British pharmacopoeia.…

I have heard the Hon. Mem­ber for Hull [Lieu­tenant-Com­man­der Ken­wor­thy] speak on this sub­ject. His doc­trine and his pol­i­cy is to sup­port and pal­li­ate every form of ter­ror­ism as long as it is the ter­ror­ism of rev­o­lu­tion­ar­ies against the forces of law, loy­al­ty and order. Gov­ern­ments who have seized upon pow­er by vio­lence and by usurpa­tion have often resort­ed to ter­ror­ism in their des­per­ate efforts to keep what they have stolen….

Unteachable mankind

Nei­ther his oppo­nents nor sup­port­ers would dis­pute Netanyahu’s Churchill ref­er­ence today. With absolute­ly no more cre­den­tials than the read­er, it’s pos­si­ble to guess that the lat­est war will not be just anoth­er pro­tract­ed street fight. It is very like­ly to be much worse than that, and the end of some­body, or some thing. At God knows what cost. Netanyahu was can­ny to invoke those words. Fif­teen years lat­er they are worth quot­ing in full:

When the sit­u­a­tion was man­age­able it was neglect­ed, and now that it is thor­ough­ly out of hand we apply too late the reme­dies which then might have effect­ed a cure. There is noth­ing new in the sto­ry. It is as old as the Sibylline books. It falls into that long, dis­mal cat­a­logue of the fruit­less­ness of expe­ri­ence and the con­firmed unteach­a­bil­i­ty of mankind. Want of fore­sight, unwill­ing­ness to act when action would be sim­ple and effec­tive, lack of clear think­ing, con­fu­sion of coun­sel until the emer­gency comes, until self-preser­va­tion strikes its jar­ring gong—these are the fea­tures which con­sti­tute the end­less rep­e­ti­tion of his­to­ry. —WSC, House of Com­mons, 2 May 1935

Further reading

“When Did Churchill Become a Zion­ist?,” 2022

“Churchill at the Stroke of Pen: Jor­dan and the Indi­an Army,” 2021

“Churchill and Lawrence: A Con­junc­tion of Two Bright Stars,” 2020

“How Win­ston Churchill Pre­served the Dream of Israel, July 1922,” 2018

2 thoughts on ““Jarring Gong”: Benjamin Netanyahu on Winston Churchill

  1. Lord Roberts’ book review of Bibi’s auto­bi­og­ra­phy (in the Clare­mont Review of Books) is enti­tled, very appro­pri­ate­ly, “The Churchill of the Mid­dle East!”

    That’s kind of him but I’m not sure B.N. would accept it, nor should he.

  2. Thank you for a great arti­cle, as usu­al. Coin­ci­dent­ly, last night I was perus­ing your book Churchill by Him­self (2008), the chap­ter on ‘Nations,’ and saw, sad­ly, on page 176, Churchill’s com­ment on events in Pales­tine 85 years ago, Novem­ber 24, 1938.
    Churchill said: “Do not let it be for­got­ten that peo­ple are dying there, that they are being exe­cut­ed and meet­ing gris­ly deaths from day to day and week to week, while here all that can be done is to have from time to time Debates and pay each oth­er com­pli­ments, and, above all, run no risks of tak­ing any deci­sion.” The only part that does not still ring true is the part about compliments!

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