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.

Mordechai Kedar tries to explain.

Unspeakable acts are daily reported being perpetrated, in the name of Islam, upon Christians in the middle east and north Africa. We read of kidnap, mass rape, beheadings and burnings. The word that constantly assails me is, “Why?”

In my perpetual search for speeches of interest I recently found two by Mordechai Kedar, and I want to examine both. Today’s was delivered in November 2012 in the B’nai B’rith World Center in Jerusalem to a symposium called The Present and Future of Christians in the Middle East. Dr Kedar is a noted scholar and lecturer in this very subject, so as well as scrutinizing his speaking skill I am eager to learn what he has to teach.

This speech is more than two years old, yet begins with a heart-stopping episode which is brutally topical this week. Kedar shows a video clip of a Muslim preparing to behead a Christian. He mercifully stops the video before the actual act, but informs us that the video itself does not. He summarizes this opening with the words, “Welcome to the Arab Spring”.

So begins a history lesson. I thought I knew a little about all of this, but I knew nothing. I now know a little. I invite you to watch the video and join me in knowing a little.

He has notes, but he barely looks at them. His focus and attention is exactly where it should be, on his audience and how well it is absorbing his message. He is shooting from the hip. His audience engagement is almost total.

Almost? Yes, because there remains one small item that turns out to be separating him from totality of engagement. He tells us more than once that he is going to address the question of why all this is happening, and starts by teaching us the origin of the Coptic Christian church of Egypt and the intriguing and plausible theory of the etymology of the word Copt. And then, at 6:20, something small but significant happens. He removes his spectacles. That is the symbolic moment that his audience engagement becomes total. That is the moment he really gets in the driving seat.

That is also the moment that I begin not to care about the quality of his speaking and simply want to listen.

At the beginning of this post I mentioned that there are two speeches by Dr Kedar that I want to examine. I was torn over which to look at first, and decided on this chiefly because it was delivered first – around six months before the other. The other nevertheless is much clearer on the history. I will return with the other one in a day or two.