Victor Davis Hanson, naturally

On 10 November, 2019, the Jewish Leadership Conference was addressed by Victor Davis Hanson. His talk was entitled Israel and the Muscular Spirit of the West.

I’m interested to hear him speak. I have dipped into his blog Private Papers, and also enjoy his podcast The Classicist, and found him supremely articulate; but that doesn’t mean that his effectiveness in front of an audience can be taken for granted.

The introduction is read by Jonathan Silver and I have a suspicion that these are not his own words. I advise my trainees that, if they are due to speak at a conference and the organisers request biographical information in order to assist them in preparing an introduction, they should instead actually write and send the whole introduction themselves. There are advantages for everyone here: the introducer is saved a difficult task and the speaker has – as it were – set his own starting blocks. I would not be surprised if Hanson wrote this: the relevance to the talk is spookily insightful.

Hanson’s Hump betrays its existence in the way he fiddles unnecessarily with the mic, but he very quickly settles down.

In the first minute he attributes his youthful interest in the classics to autodidactic reading. I immediately wonder if his auto didacticism spilled over into teaching himself to speak in public. He shoots this entire speech from the hip, thus persuading me that this is probably what he always does. Could it be that he discovered for himself how easy that is? If so, that might explain something else.

As a speaker he gives every impression of being a Natural and, as I have previously mentioned on this blog, that is a two-edged sword. I teach ordinary mortals to be able to speak without notes by disciplining them to structure their material in easily remembered ways. Naturals don’t need that: they know that they can simply stand there and speak. The trouble is that without that disciplined structure some of the coherence can be lost from the message. It is at least as important for the audience that the material be easily remembered.

About two thirds of the way through this speech it rambles a little, and makes me wish he had divided it into clearer chapters in order to keep himself in check. I’m ok: I can watch it again (and have and shall yet again) but the audience in the hall can’t. The material is fantastically interesting, and otherwise so well argued, that it is tragic if any goes AWOL through his losing even a few seconds of his audience’s attention.

This is one of those occasions that the high quality of a speaker makes me get super-picky. He has so much of value to impart, that being damn good is not enough. He owes it to his own scholarship to match its excellence.

Richard Kemp: exponent of anaphora.

On 18 March, just over two weeks ago, there was a session of the United Nations Human Rights Council whereat the commission sought once again to censure Israel for alleged atrocities.

On these occasions at the UNHRC the only dissenting voice tends to come from UN Watch which, in its own words, “exists to monitor the performance of the United Nations by the yardstick of its own Charter”. All the other voices seem to come from Israel’s Moslem neighbours, countries which have openly asked for Israel’s complete destruction. Membership of the UNHRC consists of countries with the most benign attitude to Human Rights, like Saudi Arabia, Sudan, Egypt, Tunisia, and recently Iran. This last was admitted just days after sentencing Iranian lawyer Nasrin Sotoudeh to a high number of years in prison, and an even higher number of lashes, for defending Iranian women accused of protesting against mandatory headscarves. This gives a flavour of the UNHRC.

The dissenting voice from UN Watch on this occasion came from a retired British soldier, Col. Richard Kemp.

For just over a minute we watch a stream of clips of condemnations of Israel, before Col. Kemp begins at 01:08.

At 01:56 he launches into anaphora (“I accuse this commission…”) lasting till 2:47 and containing five elements of repetition. It is a copybook example of the power of this sort of rhetorical figure of speech.

Notwithstanding the above, you may not consider a pronouncement lasting just a few seconds more than two minutes, read from a script and delivered seated, as being a proper speech. I might agree, which is why I also give you another speech made by Col. Kemp to a crowd just outside the same building.

Hillel Neuer: Face and epistrophe.

As recently as July we looked at a speech from ten years ago in which Hillel Neuer, Executive Director of United Nations Watch, delivered a “stunning rebuke” to the United Nations Human Rights Council.

UN Watch has a clear mission “to monitor the performance of the United Nations by the yardstick of its own Charter”.

In March 2017 Neuer was at it again, and this time his short speech was made memorable by the use of two rhetorical devices, and devastatingly powerful with a third.

You may like to open my Glossary page now – and keep it open.

The speech has a Face

Where are your Jews?

He uses that Face as the repeated element in an epistrophe.

The entire speech – Face, epistrophe, and all – amounts to a rhetorical question. He throws over the whole place an impenetrable blanket of silence.

I tell my trainees that disciplined passion is worth buckets of technique. Here we have both of those deployed to astonishing effect. It’s a brilliant piece of speaking.

Ruth Deech: an expressive reader

My previous post was of a speech made at the UN Watch Gala Dinner 2018. I later explored further into such speeches, and found Baroness Deech speaking at the Gala Dinner in May of 2017.

I am a quiet admirer of hers, and the causes she espouses. I also like that she is content to be described as a politician while sitting as a Cross-bench peer. When people idly imply that if it isn’t partisan it isn’t politics I want to bang heads. On the contrary, if all parties agree on a viewpoint it usually warrants more careful scrutiny.

In her opening acknowledgements Deech mentions “Hillel”. He is the Executive Director of UN Watch, Hillel Neuer, and you may confidently expect him to appear in this blog before long.

This is an excellent and valuable speech, but she is reading it. She is being a talking head.

Many defenders of that practice, including (so help me!) some public speaking trainers, argue that without a script speakers will not find the best words to utter. I have spent the past quarter of a century proving that to be nonsense. I have videoed trainees reading their sample speech, then tinkered both with the structure of the speech and with the speaker’s mindset, and then videoed the speech delivered again shooting entirely from the hip. The result is more fluent, more animated, more engaging, and it employs phrasing, vocabulary and figures of speech at least as good as the script it replaces.

Yes there can be stumbles just as in ordinary conversation, but stumbles from a speaker shooting from the hip are intrinsically more audience-friendly than stumbles from someone mis-reading. Do you want an example of the latter? It’s a tiny one, but you don’t get this particular type of stumble from someone shooting from the hip. Listen to Deech slightly tripping over the word “in”. It occurs at 0:58.

The presence of that script throws up a screen between speaker and audience. In this case it’s a very thin screen, because Deech is a much better and more expressive reader than most, but still her delivery would soar if she knew how to dispense with that script, and had been shown that she could trust herself to speak spontaneously.

Another argument that is put up in favour of scripts concerns security of timing. Again it’s nonsense. Suppose on an impulse you throw in a digression – which, being spontaneous and shot from the hip, will probably be the best bit of the speech – then suddenly you are destined to over-run. Being shackled to a script you are running on rails so skipping a section is very problematic, so you start speaking faster, which is disastrous. Speaking fast makes you less intelligible and is futile: the time it saves is negligible. If you are shooting the whole speech from the hip you can skip a section easily.

In today’s world where formal oratory is virtually extinct and the ubiquitous fashion is for ‘conversational sincerity’, scripts are the speaker’s enemy.

Back to the subject of timing, any long-term regular reader of this blog will know that I castigate conference organisers who do not provide a clock for speakers to check their timing. At 05:23 we see a shot that shows, placed on the floor in front of the lectern, a large digital clock counting down. A bouquet for UN Watch!

 

Denis Prager: Israel and Hamas

When President Trump this month stepped up and declared that the USA would move its Israel embassy to Jerusalem, he honoured a campaign promise that was likewise made by Presidents Clinton, G. W. Bush, and Obama (though in all their cases they dishonoured it). Logic therefore has it that he should have been praised. Instead there was histrionic clutching of pearls not so much by that trinity but by too many of the world’s current senior politicians and mainstream media, all of whom should be ashamed of themselves. The BBC, with characteristic disingenuousness, said that Trump had overturned “decades of official US policy“, carefully overlooking that US Congress passed the Jerusalem Embassy Act in 1995 and has had it on the books with bipartisan support ever since.

I was immediately put in mind of this speech from Mordechai Kedar in which he explained how though Jerusalem was historically Israel’s capital it has never been the capital of any muslim potentate. I also recalled seeing a speech which was made in a debate in 2015 at the Oxford Union by Denis Prager. I nearly covered it then, but for some reason didn’t. Perhaps this timing is better.

The debate’s motion was This House Believes that Hamas is a Greater Obstacle to Peace Than Israel. In passing, I think this Learned Institution actually meant “…greater obstacle than Israel to peace” though their wording is unintentionally just as true.

Regular readers will know that I love it when speakers speak their minds, whether or not I agree with them. There is no mealy-mouthed fannying-about here: Prager goes straight for the jugular.

This speech is so important for what he says that, rather than criticise how he says it, I shall merely point out a few things. For instance…

Prager describes how President Reagan was greeted by howls of anguish and condemnation when he called the Soviet Union an evil empire. In retrospect no one can respectably deny that Reagan was right, of course. The body count alone is witness.

He discusses how that highlights the extraordinary way that academics, for whom unfashionable opinions are worse than wrong ones, still pay lip service to the bizarre notion that no culture may be deemed superior to any other even though the societies they create are manifestly so. (Bureaucrats, prelates, and other classes of self-regarding citizenry tend to be just as bad.)

We get a little comic relief in the shape of some female on the opposing side who is desperate to interject and displays body language like a spoilt primary school pupil. Eventually he allows her to liberate her ‘killer point’ and proceeds ruthlessly to crush it.

One reason this speech is so relevant today two years after being delivered is that President Trump’s declaration caused Hamas to claim that he had “opened the gates of hell”. If that meant they would lob missiles into Israel, then what’s new? Trump evidently doesn’t give a rat’s corbyn what Hamas says, and already the carefully choreographed flag burnings, lovingly broadcast on TV, have largely fizzled out. Claims that this would impede the peace process are risible: it hasn’t been going anywhere for years. There are plausible reasons to suppose it will accelerate it.  Back to Prager …

He opened with cries of incredulity that this motion was even up for debate. It’s difficult to disagree, though for those of us passionately devoted to freedom of speech it’s encouraging to watch as a preposterous notion is destroyed, not by diktat but by reasoned argument.

Narendra Modi and Benjamin Netanyahu

The fourth of July is a somewhat significant date in the American calendar, and this year it may also have made itself significant to India and Israel. That was the day that Prime Minister Modi of India arrived in Israel on a state visit.

I was born in India though, having made the decision to leave eighteen months later, I know far less about its politics than I would like. Concerning Modi, report speaks goldenly of his profit; but then the same could be said of a few recent political scoundrels who had good PR arrangements. Anyway I had gathered that India and Israel were developing a good relationship and that a state visit was planned. On 4 July it eventually happened.

For the purposes of this blog I was delighted. I had long wanted to learn more about Modi from his public speaking, but every example I found on line was in Hindi. Though I have a large number of followers in India who would understand that, I was not capable of delivering any sort of meaningful critique. Now, here would be a Modi speech in English!

The speeches start at 3:00, with the welcome from Benjamin Netanyahu, having been preceded by the usual ceremonial inspection of the guard and the two prime ministers winding up seated and shaking hands. They do this very warmly indeed, and if you think this is positive body language you ain’t seen nothin’. You haven’t yet witnessed their mutual greeting at the foot of the aeroplane’s steps, but you will – repeatedly through the video. They engage in a wholehearted embrace. These two really like each other.

Unless I am mistaken Netanyahu’s opening is in three languages, Hebrew, English, and Hindi, but he quickly switches to English.

This, being a welcome, is ostensibly directed at Modi; and speeches like this, by their inevitable nature, put me in mind of speeches near the beginning of plays, wherein one character tells another what the other obviously already knows, but needs to be told here so that the audience can catch up on the back story. That said, the heartfelt nature of it, and the transparent genuineness of Modi’s smile when the camera cuts to him, augur well for the future relationship between the countries.

I²T²

That is the Face of Netanyahu’s welcome speech. He explains that the formula represents the marriage of India’s industry with Israel’s technology. Seems a pretty powerful combination to me. It’s an excellent little speech.

Modi begins his reply at 8:30. He starts with an opening pause, as incidentally did Netanyahu. These guys know their stuff!

I am beginning to understand why, given the choice, Modi makes speeches only in Hindi. For one thing, he should: it’s his language. For another, though he speaks English well, he fights a little with pronunciation. I find him understandable, but suspect that before he appears again on this blog I shall have to learn Hindi.

4 July features again as Modi reminds us that it was this date on which in 1976 Israel pulled off that astonishing rescue in Entebbe. The operation was led by Netanyahu’s brother who lost his life in the process. He talks of the inspiration of heroes. He also, like Netanyahu, refers to the symbiotic potential of an alliance between their two nations.

Another excellent speech, and it ends at 14:13.

You could leave it there, with another six minutes on the video, but I decided to watch a little longer as Modi made his way down the receiving line of dignitaries. We’ve all seen these as the visiting VIP nods his way along, stopping periodically for a few token sentences with random people in the line. Not Modi! Every single person in that line receives a warm handshake and a brief conversation.

There are women in the line. They are bare-headed and wearing makeup. Why did I bother to mention that? Because Israel, the victim of boycotts from the contemptible PC imbeciles in the west, is the only country for hundreds of miles where you would see that happening, along with democracy, freedom of worship, freedom of association, freedom of sexual orientation and so much else.

Israel aligned with India. I find it heartwarming and mouthwatering.

 

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.