JERUSALEM — Martin Gilbert, the eminent British historian, tells a dramatic story about Winston S. Churchill refusing to meet the then-new chancellor of Germany, Adolf Hitler, because of the Nazi leader’s rabid anti-Semitism.
In the course of a brilliant lecture at the Hebrew University here, Gilbert, who is the wartime prime minister’s official biographer, recalled the circumstances:
It was 1933, shortly after Hitler took office in the wake of a democratic election that gave his National Socialist German Workers Party the highest number of votes — about 38 percent of those cast — and thereby entitled it to form the doomed Weimar Republic’s new government.
The British embassy in Berlin thought it would be helpful if Churchill, a back-bencher in Parliament, but still a prominent figure on the British political scene, would get to know “der Fuehrer” and thereby change his negative attitude toward him.
Churchill agreed. A day before the projected rendezvous, the German press carried reports of Hitler’s latest speech in which he vilified the Jews as the source of all evil and a threat to Germany’s survival.
Unlike today’s politicians, including President Obama, Churchill took the charismatic orator at his word and promptly told the diplomatic go-betweens to cancel the appointment. To paraphrase his words of refusal, he said he had nothing to discuss with such a man.
Churchill stood by his belief that Nazi Germany had to be replaced by a normal, civilized and trustworthy regime and the sooner the better.
Five years later, Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain went to Munich, agreed to the territorial demands then on Hitler’s agenda, deluded himself that the danger of a military showdown had been averted and returned to England with the vacuous slogan, “Peace in Our Time.” Sept. 1, 1939, Nazi Germany invaded Poland and World War II began.
Today, the United States is confronted with another version of political insanity — that of the Islamic Republic of Iran and its brazen leadership — political and theological.
President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad holds to its idiotic ideology to wit that the United States is the Great Satan and Israel is the Little Satan and that hence they must be eliminated.
He dismisses the historical data regarding the Nazis’ systematic slaughter of 6 million Jews between 1939 and 1945 as a cynical invention of Zionists meant to justify their takeover of Palestine and alleged expulsion of its Arab population.
His religious mentor, the Ayatollah Ali Khamenai, who is Iran’s supreme leader, blatantly accused the United States and Israel of having perpetrated the consecutive suicide bombings in Baghdad in which 150 Muslim pilgrims and worshippers were killed saying this was the work of the CIA and the Mossad.
They do that kind of thing, he said.
All the while, Iran’s Russian-equipped nuclear facilities are suspected of developing tactical nuclear weapons that could be used to destroy Israel. Ahmadinejad has declared repeatedly that the “Zionist entity” must be wiped off the map.
These hatemongers and the government that supports them do not qualify as reliable and responsible negotiating partners to whom the United States should “reach out,” as President Obama said he intended to do during his election campaign and that his administration has been trying to do since he took office.
The founder and spiritual leader of Hamas, the late Sheikh Ahmed Yassin, told me in a one-on-one interview conducted shortly before his airborne assassination by Israel that all of Palestine is an Islamic “waqf” or legacy and therefore no part of it can be ruled by a non-Muslim entity. It does not matter what the Muslim nationality is, he went on, but it must be Muslim. So how can there be a two-state solution if part of Palestine, namely Israel, is not under Muslim sovereignty? And if Hamas is part of a coalition government with the secularist Fatah — it may be the majority after next January’s Palestinian election — can that government make peace with Israel and in so doing recognize Israel’s right to exist?
Sometimes it is necessary to accept the fact that there are intractable international disputes and that they cannot be finessed or frozen by diplomatic niceties. Nor should Israel be coerced into making concessions in the framework of the “two-state solution” as is advocated by The New York Times’ Roger Cohen, in order to bring Iran around and convince it to forego nuclear power of the military kind.
Sometimes, the best that can be done is to let the status quo freeze and hope that the people of Iran, who are groaning under the yoke of pseudo-Islamic tyranny and the people of the Gaza Strip, who are suffering from the extremism of Hamas (an Iranian protege), will overthrow their oppressors and open the way to the creation of a truly safe Middle East instead of an imaginary one. Churchill was proved right in 1939 and the free world paid a very heavy price for the defeatist policies that preceded his premiership. President Obama should take inspiration from him rather than from Neville Chamberlain.
(Jay Bushinsky, an Israel-based political columnist, can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.)