Benjamin Netanyahu and the Spirit of Entebbe

4 July, 1976, saw a military operation beyond compare.

102 Israeli hostages being held in the old terminal at Entebbe airport in Uganda were rescued by a crack troop of Israeli soldiers. If ever a real-life mission could be described as impossible this was it. The bravery might have spilled over into foolhardiness; but fortune favours the brave, and meticulous planning by those guys manufactured a lot of fortune. You can see a 45-minute jaw-dropping documentary here, featuring some of the men who took part.

The fortieth anniversary of the operation was marked at Entebbe airport, when President Yoweri Museveni of Uganda welcomed Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel to commemorate the event by attending a summit with many other African heads of state.  In my previous posting we watched Museveni’s speech of welcome.  Today we look at Benjamin Netanyahu’s reply.

This speech is less than six minutes long, and immensely important. I would have loved to have worked on it with him, releasing him from the tyranny of that bloody script for one thing (it caused at least two examples of word-stumbling), and for another making  everyone listen to this…

When terrorism succeeds in one place it spreads to other places; and when terrorism is defeated anywhere it’s weakened everywhere.

With those words Netanyahu has a message for the whole world, in particular to those who have turned appeasement into a lifestyle choice. It is quite difficult to find a western politician, mainstream news medium, or opinion former of any kind, who hasn’t.

Netanyahu uses this speech for two essential messages. Predictably he pays tribute to the soldiers who carried out the rescue in 1976. He has brought some of them with him on this visit – his brother, Yoni, commanded the mission and was the only fatality among the Israeli soldiers. But he concentrates less on lauding their heroism and more on the example they set to today’s battle with terrorism as a whole – hence that quote above.

The other message concerns his wish to strengthen trading relationships with African nations.

It seems to me that they should all be lining up to do business with Israel. The country may be a tiny sliver of land in the middle of a huge region of oil-rich nations who want to destroy her, but without any conspicuous natural resources she has succeeded in creating prosperity and order. She is the only working democracy in the region.

As a prospective trading partner she has a matchless reputation for scientific and technical innovation.  That is why India has forged such a strong political and commercial relationship with her.

You may have problems with some of her politics, but you are not alone. Her fiercest critics are among her own citizens. Nevertheless it is worth pointing out that she is the only country in that region that protects freedom of speech, politics, religion, and sexuality, whereas her neighbours officially practise quaint local customs like tossing offenders off high buildings.

She is not decadent – and there are few western countries of whom you can say that. Being constantly threatened on all sides has kept her lean and mean.

Most importantly she has repeatedly shown loyalty. The Entebbe rescue mission was a shining example. Compare it, for example, to the Benghazi attack on the US Embassy in September 2012, and reflect afresh on the western decadence I mentioned in the previous paragraph.

Israel’s principal failing seems to be in allowing her neighbours to persuade the western intelligentsia that for all their barbaric aggression, for all their sponsoring of worldwide terrorist atrocities, they are somehow victims. Perhaps Israel sees the dark arts of PR as just another symptom of decadence, or they recognise the current crop of intelligentsia as a pitifully dim bunch.

At any rate, if the chips were down, there is no one I’d prefer to have on my side than Israel.

Yoweri Museveni is great fun

4 July, 2016 marked the fortieth anniversary of perhaps the most audacious and brilliant military operation that I remember occurring in my lifetime. I refer to Operation Entebbe, in which a crack squad of Israeli Special Forces somehow landed at night at Entebbe Airport in Uganda, rescued 102 heavily guarded hostages (Israeli passengers from an Air France airliner hijacked by Palestinians), and spirited them away. The operation took one week to plan and 90 minutes to execute. The hijackers, 3 hostages and 45 Ugandan soldiers were killed. Five of the Israeli rescue unit were injured and one was killed.

The reason that Ugandan soldiers were involved was that Idi Amin, the brutal buffoon that was that country’s dictator, supported the Palestinian terrorist hijackers. Uganda’s current President, Yoweri Museveni, was part of the movement that overthrew Amin.

He invited Israel’s Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, to Entebbe as part of the celebrations to mark this anniversary. That was an appropriate diplomatic gesture; and it had a poignant added layer. His elder brother, Lt Col Jonathan Netanyahu, was the rescue unit’s commander and the single Israeli killed.

President Museveni made a speech.

There is a short version of edited excerpts from this speech. They are compiled from Museveni’s attempts at a précis of Jewish history, and are posted on YouTube against the adjective ‘hilarious’. In truth it is very funny and no surprise that it has been viewed nearly 180,000 times. Nevertheless, wearing my rhetor hat, I want to examine this speech as a whole, in the context in which it was delivered.

He begins with a Hierarchical Hello. On occasions such as this these are de rigeur. For many reasons they are ghastly to do, and I have witnessed too many speakers racing to get the bloody things over and done with. That is a mistake, for both protocol and practical reasons. Protocol is obvious; but practically, you merely highlight your own uneasiness with this OBN catalogue. Museveni does exactly the opposite: he sticks huge pauses in there, and I salute him for it.

He goes on to stick huge pauses everywhere, and I am on his side here too. The subliminal message that accompanies many long pauses is one of supreme confidence. Even if you proceed to commit a series of gaffes (which he does) the conveying of an air of nonchalance over that, combined with a readiness to indulge in self-deprecating laughter (which he also does) is very appealing. He is not here to help anyone with their PhD in Holy Land history, and he will laugh as loud and as long as anyone at his own remarks like –

“Herod was a bad gentleman, or something like that.”

When he gets away from that subject matter he knows better whereof he speaks, and it shows. How many politicians at a high profile event such as this would take on the knotty distinction between freedom-fighting and terrorism? All terrorists would self-identify as freedom fighters, but Museveni has a succinct way of separating them out, and makes a reasonable case.

Then he goes back into the history of Israel. Prime Minister Netanyahu enjoys it, and I venture that he is laughing with Museveni, not at him. Camera shots of other people in the audience display a certain tight-lippage, but who cares about them? Museveni doesn’t: he and his mate Benjamin are enjoying their own jokey party.

There’s a long, rambling, hugely enjoyable story about a conversation he had had with Iranian President Ahmadinejad, concerning the whereabouts these days of the ‘Medians’. After a while I worked out that he spoke of the Medes – as in Medes-and-Persians. In that part of the old testament it’s one of those indivisible pairings, like gin and tonic. Where are the ‘Medians’ now? he asked Ahmadinejad. He had no answer, so an ancient professor from the university had to be summoned. Ultimately Museveni concludes that there exists a lot of ignorance, and so the speech meanders on in largely enjoyable fashion. Most particularly it concludes very well.

Let us consider the purpose of this speech. Museveni is a host, welcoming an honoured guest to his table and putting him at his ease. As an instrument for delivering that, this speech is first class. If you don’t believe me, look at how much the honoured guest is enjoying it. Rectally challenged students of diplomacy can ‘tut’ all they like about imagined faux pas, but who cares? In its way, and for what it is setting out to do this is a triumph.

It is not an easy act to follow, and guess who is following? I intend next to look at Prime Minister Netanyahu’s reply.

Ephraim Mirvis ranks with the best.

The Oxford Union very recently played host to a talk from Ephraim Mirvis, Chief Rabbi to the Commonwealth.

I was eager to watch this, not just wearing my rhetor hat. I find it refreshing periodically to bathe my mind in the waters of matters spiritual. Though I harbour a gnawing uneasiness towards organised religions of all colours, I think it is good for us to suspect that there is some entity greater than us. To listen to a spiritual teacher whose apostolic succession covers many millennia can therefore surely not be time wasted.

 He is shooting from the hip. What did I expect?

Actually I always expect experienced speakers to shoot from the hip: it is easy, safe, and makes for an immeasurably better relationship between speaker and audience. Too often I am disappointed. In this case I would have been astounded if Mirvis had been using any sort of memory assistance. He is a Chief Rabbi who has elected to explain the five fundamentals of the Torah. What sort of Rabbi would he be if that needed prompting? Nevertheless merely a random dip into past postings on this blog would show lamentably frequent examples of speakers letting down both themselves and their audiences with use of paper.

Mirvis is good. So good, that I happily put down my notepad and just listen.

Almost immediately I learn the distinction that he makes between the words ‘God’ and ‘Lord’. So startling is this discovery that for a few seconds I am guilty of tangential thinking. [I explain to my trainees that when an audience member’s mind goes off on a tangent it often means that the speaker has triggered it by saying something special; though while he is still speaking he needs to curtail that tangential diversion and bring the straying mind back to him – there are ways!]

Beginning at around 06:55 Mirvis has a message which culminates in a story that draws from me a genuine LOL. This is rare. Having been around for a few years, circled the block often, studied for my living all descriptions of entertainment and all types of audience, I very seldom laugh out loud. I get amused easily enough, but I tend to show it quietly. Mirvis made me laugh out loud. I might on reflection take issue with the message, but I tip my hat to the skilful delivery of the story.

Mirvis speaks till 36:25, and thereafter it is questions. I am very glad I watched all of it.

Maajid Nawaz: so-o-o close!

In May 2016, at AJC Europe in Paris, Maajid Nawaz delivered a talk on the global jihadist insurgency. He is a Muslim, founder of the Quilliam Foundation, an anti-extremist think-tank. AJC is a Jewish advocacy organisation. This talk represents ecumenism at an exalted level.

This is not the first time he has appeared in this blog. He was the third speaker on the magnificent panel that I featured here. He was very good and I said so. He subsequently sent me an email of thanks. It would be idle and foolish of me to claim that that event was not dangerous and stressful – it was, very – but in terms of the actual process of delivering a piece of speaking he was surrounded by elements of comfort. For instance there were the other speakers, all with varying versions of an agreeing message, they were all sitting behind a desk (curiously comforting), and so on. Therefore when I saw that he had delivered this speech, standing alone at a lectern, I was interested to see how well he coped without those comfort factors. I so want him to be as good as he can be.

Oh no, he has a script!

I could understand if a reader of mine viewed with exasperation my always harping on this point, but it matters even though Nawaz barely looks at it. Even if he never looked at it because he’d learnt it (and I suspect this is close to the case) I would still know it existed, and it would still matter.

I would know it existed because the sentences are just a little too well parsed to be spontaneous, and that’s why it would matter. Because there is a script the passion behind what he is saying is not coming straight from him, but from the script via him. I don’t say that the passion is not genuine: indeed I know it is genuine. My problem is that not being spontaneous the passion crosses the space between him and the audience with a tiny reduction in power. If ever there was a message of such importance that even a subtle reduction in power is a hideous pity, it is this one.

The reduction is so small for several reasons. He feels the passion strongly. He has obviously practised. He is driven by a fierce desire to get his message across. It is actually a  good script, written with the intention (very nearly achieved) that it should sound spoken rather than written.

He has done almost everything right. Almost. He now has to learn how to speak without a script whether or not it is memorised, and also learn that he can. Here and now with total conviction I can tell you that he can; but till he absolutely knows it he won’t dare try.

This is a very well-conceived speech, and such an important one!

At 08:14 someone in the audience shows agreement with a little clap that we can’t hear. It generates a round of applause, and this is just what he needs. Spurred, he departs from the script with a little aside of appreciation and then returns to the fray with added impetus. Now he is speaking as if with no script (I wonder whether he has departed from it and is speaking largely spontaneously around it). Now he is fully in the driving seat, instead of perching with half a buttock on the handbrake. This is how he should have sounded from the start: this borders on excellence.

At 11:50 he reminds us that he knows so much about the Islamist methods of persuasion because he used to be one who practised them. If you want to see how plausible he was, you can get a taste of his former self here.

It is his depth of understanding of the whole problem that makes Maajid Nawaz so valuable, and why his being even a tenth of a notch below excellence such a pity.

Here’s your answer, Alice

Yesterday out of the blue I received from you a timeline message on Facebook saying that you were confused by all the conflicting messages and didn’t know how to vote in tomorrow’s EU referendum. Could I provide guidance?

Our brief public exchange quickly looked like turning into a slanging match between various factions that joined in.  I eventually pointed out to everyone that they were trespassing on a conversation I was having with my stepdaughter, and could they please calm down? You deleted your post. Today I shall spend eight hours travelling, with a two-hour meeting in the middle. What better way to spend all that time on trains, writing you a slightly fuller reply? I shall keep it as short as I reasonably can, though that may well make it a little simplistic. Bouncing around in a train isn’t the best environment for checking data details. This is broad-brush time.

I’m not surprised you are confused. The past weeks have seen a tsunami of prejudices, claiming to be facts, pouring over us from all sides: arguments over economy, sovereignty, security, immigration, free trade deals, and so on. It may surprise you to learn that I intend to address essentially none of those.

Throughout history there has been a remarkably consistent pattern to the way empires, even the biggest and strongest, eventually crumble and fall. Very ancient civilisations like the Sumerian were phenomenally rich and powerful but collapsed. Similar fates befell empires throughout history in both the west and east up to and including the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics. The mistake they all appear to have made was that their ruling elites became too detached and alienated from their societies – the people. Those elites, be they princes or politicians, lost sight of a hugely valuable truth, namely that the powerhouse of a society is in the combined ingenuity and industry of the ordinary people. As soon as the toffs forget that fact they are on a slippery slope, because that’s when they begin trying to run things through central planning; and central planning has always been disastrous.

You can be the cleverest person the world has ever seen, but just a handful of ordinary people with the right experience will wield greater wisdom than you. That is why central planning is a disaster: it always kills societies. The EU loves central planning almost as much as Stalin did.

But where is evidence of this ‘slippery slope”? All societies beginning to fail go through a similar process:

  • they start practising all manner of fiscal irresponsibilities like printing cash, introducing capital controls, borrowing far too heavily etc. Seem familiar?
  • they get more and more control of the news media, not overtly but covertly. They buy lots of advertising, they dole out honours, they cosy up to them in all sorts of ways. Seem familiar?
  • They move in on education, making sure that all the ‘right’ things are told the children. Seem familiar?
  • They invent ‘beneficial crises’, synthetic scares that cause the populace to be suddenly more inclined to do as they’re told. Seem familiar?
  • They find ways and excuses to undermine democracy, treating their electorate with barely concealed contempt. Seem familiar?
  • They hollow out, infiltrate and neutralise any and all organisations (the UK parliament for instance) that could challenge them.  Seem familiar?
  • They make sure, either by bribes or threats, that key members of society are on their side.  Seem familiar?
  • Politicians, who are elected to be representatives, start calling themselves ‘leaders’. Seem familiar?

Need I go on? Do we see a pattern emerging?

We live in interesting times. All sots of potential dark clouds are hovering over the international horizon. There is no such thing as the status quo – anywhere. When disasters threaten we will need to be nimble; we will need to be able to make key decisions quickly. Being shackled to a lumbering, crumbling hulk which is already threatening to collapse will only get in our way.

You may have noticed that there is one empire I haven’t mentioned – the British Empire. That one didn’t crumble away, but got turned into the Commonwealth. The process was admittedly resisted in some quarters but it all went off successfully, and now is a huge source of pride. There is a historic detail that might have had something to do with our rare achievement in doffing our empire relatively peacefully. We have a history of putting despots in their place. Think of Magna Carta in 1215, the English Civil War in the middle of the 17th century, the Glorious Revolution of 1688. Even the American Revolution was in a very real sense a case of Englishmen holding steadfastly to their rights – which is why Magna Carta is every bit as important to Americans as it is to the British. Think of the two world wars, when we rescued Europe from despots. Democracy has been bitterly fought for across the centuries by our forbears, and is part of our heritage. Could we really be on the verge of binning in it in one last democratic act?

Vote Remain and you vote away your vote.

As far as I am concerned there is simply no choice tomorrow. We must leave.

Pamela Geller makes a hate speech

In this blog I seem to have covered many speeches recently by ballsy American females. Can I help it if I like ballsy speakers? – and if they happen to be female so what? America seems to supply plenty. My only caveat is when they become shrill. Today’s speaker is not in the least shrill.

On 19 October, 2011, Pamela Geller spoke to the Sugar Land Tea Party in Sugar Land, Texas. The speech was intended to be at the Hyatt Place; but apparently a single email threatening to hold a protest caused the Hyatt Place to clutch its pearls, pick up its petticoats, and run screaming for cover, forcing the organisers to move to the Sugar Land Community Centre. What was so inflammatory that Geller was intending to voice?  Shall we find out?

You see why I like ballsy speaking? From the moment Geller begins you know that she means what she says: honestly and sincerely she means it. You can disagree with everything she says but you cannot accuse her of falsely representing her views. This is why I keep saying to my trainees that by learning to speak without script or notes, you elevate your credibility beyond measure. By daring to be yourself, warts and all, you are going to be believed more readily than some sort of talking-head avatar, however highly polished might be his oratory. Geller sometimes stumbles over words, sometimes scrambles her syntax in her eagerness to convey her message. So what? I bet you hardly noticed, if at all. That’s what a speaker’s transparent passion does – disguises any slips.

Even if you disagree with her you cannot deny that she shows her workings; therefore to repudiate her you are going to have to come up with some counter-evidence. I have searched a huge amount of online material condemning her, but it is nearly all ad hominem. They play the man not the ball. Why? Could it be that the ball is unplayable?

I could have looked at a later speech of Geller’s, but I chose for this posting to go back nearly five years, so that we may reflect on what has happened since and what has changed in the official line that we hear after each successive Islamist outrage. Here is a Wikipedia page that lists Jihad attacks worldwide since 1983. They make sober reading. Just the list since this speech in October 2011 is very long, and it doesn’t end with the appalling massacre in Orlando a few days ago. Today, 14 June 2016,  there was a double stabbing in France by a man who apparently swore allegiance to Isis.

If the media even bother to cover most of these obscene acts at all they do so in a way that paints the perpetrators as victims.  Who is to blame them as they take their lead from officialdom?

Is President Obama pathologically incapable of allowing the words “Jihad” or “Islamist” to pass his lips? Orlando was blamed on extremism – oh yes, and the availability of guns. Was today’s stabbing in France blamed on the availability of knives?

As Maajid Nawaz of Quilliam said in a debate I covered here some months ago, it’s like Voldemort being a name you may not mention.

We don’t stand a chance against this revolting movement till we are prepared to call a spade a spade. But certain very powerful movements in the west effectively shut down any attempt at free speech on the matter. In the light of the ongoing atrocities, we are compelled to question their motives. These powerful movements need to be held to account.

The truth is become hate speech, and it seems that Pamela Geller speaks it.

Lord Owen takes no prisoners

On 19 May 2016 Lord Owen delivered a speech on behalf of Vote Leave, indeed he delivered it in their HQ on the Albert Embankment in London. Some of us are old enough to remember when David Owen was a young, vibrant, energetic, dynamic, ridiculously young Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs in the Cabinet of Labour Prime Minister, James Callaghan.

Today, aged 77, he still looks maddeningly youthful, but that is not why I was eager to see what he had to say. I already knew which side of the debate he took: I wanted to see what fresh arguments he would deploy. I was not disappointed.

In the first few seconds Lord Owen bluntly defends the reputations of the three leaders of Vote Leave, Gisela Stuart, Michael Gove and Boris Johnson, giving the smear merchants a good kicking and setting a style that goes on to characterise this speech. He is highly disapproving of much of the way this referendum campaign is being conducted.

He is scrupulously even-handed. Repeatedly he refers to opinions that differ from his, holding them up as being perfectly respectable. What bothers him is the manner in which they are being promoted. Given that he was a Member of Parliament before the Prime Minister was potty trained, a Cabinet Minister while the Prime Minister was still in short trousers and given that his tenure in the House of Commons segued in 1992 to tenure in the House of Lords, we are here looking at one who has seen at very close range half a century of the workings of the British legislature. He knows as well as anyone that politics can be a rough game, but the elder statesman in him cleaves to codes of honour which he evidently feels have been damaged.

These codes are not merely unwritten understandings and they are not restricted to the public players of the game. Lord Owen’s toughest censure is reserved for Civil Servants. He deplores various breaches of political purdah, in particular at 17:20 when our own politicians are planning to hide behind the skirts of Christine Lagarde breaking purdah for them.

He also weighs in severely on the notorious projection from HM Treasury. Most of us simply found the analysis risible, because the assumptions were so outlandish and because HMT consistently get their forecasts wrong. Lord Owen at 18:40 addresses it from a standpoint of Downing Street having breached Whitehall protocol, concluding that the Cabinet Secretary will be held responsible. The Electoral Commission and the Cabinet Secretary are passing the buck back and forth, and the result is a disreputable shambles.

What, I wonder, is he now saying about the legality of the last-minute extension of the registration for voting, or the news that voting cards have been given to thousands of EU citizens not eligible to vote? The government of the United Kingdom seems prepared to behave like a Third World Banana Republic, and this bodes ill for the conducting of the referendum itself. I find it hard to forget the quote attributed to Joseph Stalin –

The people who cast the votes decide nothing. The people who count the votes decide everything.

At 20:42 we turn to what happens if we vote to remain. We have become accustomed to the Remain side daily peddling fear; and Lord Owen now gives it back. He makes the point very strongly that a Remain vote is not a vote for the status quo, and he shows his workings. Apart from other things a Euro collapse is firmly on the cards, and consequences for the EU as a whole, including the non-Euro countries, would be very dire. As Daniel Hannan says,

Staying in does not mean staying put.

The speech concludes at 31:40, leading into questions. Lord Owen is not pushover in the questions either.