Tuesday night, PBS broadcast a “Frontline” documentary on Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s career, entitled “Netanyahu at War.” Writing in Forward, J. J. Goldberg described the film as featuring “the fairly transparent liberal leanings of the filmmakers and most of their on-screen interviewees,” where “any doubts about where the filmmakers are coming from are dispelled within the first half-minute,” as a solemn voice narrates “over a grim-faced close-up of Netanyahu.” Coming from Goldberg -- a liberal writing in a liberal journal -– it is a fairly damning description.
Goldberg nevertheless describes the film as “balanced,” because it was “hard to say who comes off worse from the telling –- Netanyahu with his stubborn pessimism or Obama and his sometimes shocking naivete.” The difference is that the film stacks the deck against Netanyahu, while Obama -- even with a sympathetic dealer often palming him a few cards -- loses the game. Obama will leave office having lost the confidence not only of Israel but the Palestinians, and all of America’s Arab allies as well. Netanyahu's pessimism about both the Palestinians and the Iran deal has been born out over time.
The final segment of the film is devoted to Netanyahu’s March 2015 address to Congress, which Goldberg describes as “an almost Shakespearean tragedy.” The conventional wisdom is that Netanyahu crossed a line in giving the speech -– a reaction that was overblown at the time and that in retrospect is even less valid. It is worth re-reading the speech one year later, in light of what has happened over the past year. The speech was even more Churchillian than Congress realized at the time, as Belladonna Rogers described in her erudite article, “Echoes of Churchill Pervade Netanyahu Speech”:
If Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu sounded Churchillian in his speech to the Congress on Tuesday, one reason is that he echoed several of the most memorable phrases in Winston Churchill’s 1941 address to the Canadian House of Commons, a speech still celebrated by Canadians as rallying their nation at a crucial moment in World War II.
Those phrases deserve attention because of the message they convey to the United States in 2015. Alas, most members of Congress are insufficiently aware of one of the greatest speeches of the 20th century to have taken notice. A line that should have had them on their feet left them in their seats. …
Churchill only had to rally his listeners; Netanyahu had to educate his. The address to the Canadian Parliament was one of the greatest in the history of western civilization, and one of the most consequential in World War II. … In his subtle but unmistakable reference to Churchill’s “Chicken Speech,” the Israeli prime minister sought to persuade the United States to stand with its allies in the Middle East … Churchill’s address to the Canadian Parliament was a crucial part of the message he so urgently conveyed.