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Winston Churchill’s Hanukkah Speech to Britain

Jan. 26 2018

On May 19, 1940—as depicted in the recent film Darkest Hour—a newly elected Winston Churchill addressed Britons by radio about the dire situation facing Europe and their own country, and the need to fight the Nazis. He concluded his remarks thus:

Centuries ago words were written to be a call and a spur to the faithful servants of Truth and Justice: “Arm yourselves, and be ye men of valor, and be in readiness for the conflict; for it is better for us to perish in battle than to look upon the outrage of our nation and our altar. As the will of God is in Heaven, even so let it be.”

As Meir Soloveichik notes, the quotation was taken from the first book of Maccabees, which appears in the Apocrypha section of the King James Bible but in Hebrew scripture not at all. Soloveichik comments:

[Although] a rare rhetorical choice for [Churchill], the scriptural conclusion was a stunning success, stiffening the British spine and capturing the English imagination. . . . Why would Churchill select this verse with which to conclude his first address as prime minister? Like traditional Judaism, Churchill’s own Anglican church did not include the book of Maccabees in its canon, although there are any number of biblical instances, from Moses to Joshua to David, of eloquent exhortations in war.

The answer possibly lies in the fact that the Hanukkah story, [which is told in the book of Maccabees], is one of the few instances of a biblical battle waged against overwhelming odds. It is a tale, as the Jewish liturgy puts it, . . . of “the many falling into the hands of the few.” As the film depicts, Churchill’s own cabinet contained those who, like Lord Halifax, were so frightened by the British plight as to urge negotiation and capitulation. Churchill’s choice of quotation from Maccabees is thus understood in the context of the verses earlier in the same chapter, where Judah Maccabee’s own compatriots confess themselves daunted by their situation. . . .

It is a fascinating footnote in the life of a man who had written these words in 1920: “Some people like Jews and some do not, but no thoughtful man can doubt the fact that they are beyond all question the most formidable and the most remarkable race which has ever appeared in the world.”

Read more at Commentary

More about: Bible, History & Ideas, Maccabees, Winston Churchill

Israel Agreed Not to Retaliate During the Persian Gulf War—and Paid a Price for It

Feb. 19 2018

During the Persian Gulf War of 1991, Saddam Hussein fired 39 Scud missiles at Israel, killing one person and causing extensive property damage. Under intense pressure from the first Bush administration to sit still—ostensibly because Israeli involvement in the war could lead Arab states to abandon the White House’s anti-Iraq coalition—Jerusalem refrained from retaliating. Moshe Arens, who was the Israeli defense minister at the time, comments on the decision in light of information recently made public:

[W]hat was George H.W. Bush thinking [in urging Israel not to respond]? His secretary of state, James Baker, had accompanied the U.S. ambassador to Saudi Arabia, Charles (Chas) Freeman, on a visit to King Fahd in Riyadh on November 2, 1990, two-and-a-half months before the beginning of the war, to obtain the king’s approval for additional deployment of U.S. troops in his kingdom in preparation for the attack on Iraq.

He was told by the king that although they would not welcome Israeli participation in the war, he understood that Israel could not stand idly by if it were attacked by Iraq. If Israel were to defend itself, the Saudi armed forces would still fight on America’s side, the king told Baker. So much for the danger to the coalition if Israel were to respond to the Scud attacks. Israel was not informed of this Saudi position.

So why was President Bush so intent on keeping Israel out of the war? It seems that he took the position, so dominant in the American foreign-policy establishment, that America’s primary interest in the Middle East was the maintenance of good relations with the Arab world, and that the Arab world attached great importance to the Palestinian problem, and that as long as that problem was not resolved Israel remained an encumbrance to the U.S.-Arab relationship. If Israel were to appear as an ally of the U.S. in the war against Iraq, that was likely to damage the image the U.S. was trying to project to the Arabs.

In fact, immediately upon the conclusion of the war against Saddam Hussein, Baker launched a diplomatic effort that culminated in the Madrid Conference in the hope that it would lead to a resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. It didn’t. . . .

Read more at Jerusalem Post

More about: George H. W. Bush, Israel & Zionism, Israeli history, Peace Process, Persian Gulf War, US-Israel relations