Commentary Magazine


Churchill and Begin

To the Editor:

As I read Edward N. Luttwak’s stimulating article, “Churchill and Us” [June], I found myself drawing a series of parallels between the Churchill of the 1930′s and the Menachem Begin of the 1970′s which frightened me no less than did Mr. Luttwak’s brilliantly constructed comparison of pre-war Britain to present-day America. Churchill warned his nation that Hitler had not moderated his policies. . . . and he discounted the words of “moderation” uttered by German quasi-officials “behind closed doors” in light of the bellicose pronouncements made by Hitler before huge public audiences.

Is it difficult, then, to consider the nature of Israeli suspicion of Arab “moderation”? Have not the “moderate Palestinians” like Yasir Arafat continued to call for the dismantling of the Jewish state, refusing time and again to expunge the call for the liquidation of Israel from their national charter? Indeed, no less a “moderate” than Anwar Sadat has issued proclamations expressing his readiness to go to war if the Israelis do not agree to give up every last inch of the lands won in the 1967 war. Although Sadat may speak words of conciliation “behind closed doors,” he has done otherwise before massive Egyptian crowds, promising that “not one inch” of land would ever be conceded to the Jewish state. Similarly, George F. Will, writing in Newsweek. . . . marveled at President Carter’s attitude toward the “moderate” Syrian President Assad. Citing Assad’s contention that Israel is “a basic part of Southern Syria” and noting that his government-controlled press has asserted that Israel “shall be destroyed,” Will . . . asked: “Has Assad changed, or has the U.S.?”

The suspicions and concerns voiced by men like Begin have been subjected to the same contumely as that heaped on Churchill four decades ago. The same papers which wondered why Churchill could not allow Hitler and his “New Germany” the “benefit of the doubt” today irreverently question the “hawkish distrust” of a Begin. . . .

As Churchill was called an “alarmist” by the London Times, so has Begin faced the wrath of recognized “journals of enlightened opinion.” . . . Ultimately, the attacks against Begin resemble these words written to Churchill by R. M. Barrington-Ward of the London Times (and potently cited by Mr. Luttwak): “We should . . . be against premature abandonment of the hope, supported by many authoritative pronouncements on the German side, that Germany is prepared to reach a general understanding and settlement.”

It is to be fervently hoped that the parallel will not run the full gamut and that (to paraphrase Mr. Luttwak) Israel will be spared the unnecessary war caused by a failure to understand the firm (and politically, morally, and religiously legitimate) negotiating postures which might deter the Arabs from their aggressive designs. While Mr. Luttwak’s message was directed to the American body politic, supporters of the nation of Israel would do well to reflect upon his words as they relate to the conflict in the Middle East.

Dov Fisch
New York City

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