The Address to Congress

Netanyahu has warned America’s leadership about a looming threat to America and Israel; but will they heed his warning? What if such an address could have been made in the past? What if America’s leaders then had heeded an earlier warning?

It was a hot muggy day in June of 1938. Members of Congress fanned their hands at their sweaty faces as they walked in the summer heat of Washington DC to the Capitol building. The session was wrapping up but they had just one more important agenda item. Ascending the capitol steps was the well respected Zionist leader Ze’ev Jabotinsky. President Roosevelt had expressed his reservations at the event, his administration had not been consulted and felt the speech was something of a snub. Several members of Congress refused to attend. Nevertheless, the members of Congress felt it important to hear what Jabotinsky had to say.

Zeev Jabotinsky, an Israeli founding father
Zeev Jabotinsky, an Israeli founding father

He rose to the podium, to address the waiting members. He began by thanking them for the opportunity and expressing the love and warmth of the Zionist/American friendship, a friendship that had benefited both peoples and would for the foreseeable future. Jabotinsky noted the treaty the US had signed with Great Britain over a decade earlier to ensure the creation of a Jewish state between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean. He thanked the American people for their support of the Zionist cause and shared his affection for the world’s great bastion of liberty and free enterprise. The American people could always count on their Zionist friends in the British Mandate.

Then he turned to serious matters: a great threat to world peace and stability was growing across the sea in Europe. A malignancy that the United States could ill afford to ignore, lest it should have to rally millions of its bravest men to arms and send them far afield to make war on a terrible foe; hundreds of thousands never to return. This foe was a special threat to the Jewish people, this much was certainly true, but equally a danger to America and its interests abroad. He warned of great horrors to come if immediate action was not taken. Eager not to offend the President, he referred to him respectfully and tactfully asked him to stand firm in international affairs. At the conclusion many members stood and applauded.

Under pressure from Congress, President Roosevelt agreed to send Secretary of State Cordell Hull to the Munich Conference for the purpose of preventing at all costs, Nazi Germany from gaining territory at the expense of any sovereign nation. Hull stood by French Prime Minister Léon Blum, himself a Jew, who shared America’s position. British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain was more pragmatic. He urged his counterparts to consider the Fuhrer, Adolf Hitler’s, promise that upon seizing the fortress-like heights of the Sudetenland, after all populated mostly by German speaking people, he would cease his expansionist policy and content himself with the ethnically German state he had built. But prudence prevailed and America and France stood firm, Chamberlain and Great Britain threw in with their allies.

The Infamous Munich Conference
The Infamous Munich Conference

Hitler was furious, with impassioned speech he argued that Germany should be whole again, that he only sought to establish a truly pan-Germanic state. Having annexed Austria, he needed only consolidate the Sudetenland to accomplish this lofty goal. But the allies were unmoved. After some hours of talks, Secretary Hull turned to the Fuhrer and asked him about the treatment of Jews in Germany. Certainly, Hitler had argued that a pan-Germanic state was his only goal, but would there be room for Jews in that state? Hitler’s eyes widened for a very brief moment of shock before his countenance returned to the practiced and artful expression of a master of political theatre. The Jews of Germany were happy and well treated, he assured Hull, and would continue to be. His country was merely concerned about its security from certain plotting bankers. His people had overreacted with riots and anti-Semitic violence. Soon calm would prevail and life would return to normal. Unreassured, Hull pressed still harder the position of the United States and its allies that they would apply sanctions and, if necessary, the ravages of war before they would see the Sudetenland fall into German hands. Hitler left the conference in frustration. Ultimately, the conference ended in failure with only the promise that another conference would be arranged the following year.

Mere months later, Hitler began to muster his troops along the border with Czechoslovakia. Terrified at the prospect of a war for which Germany was unprepared, and which would certainly cost the lives of so many brave German soldiers, General Hans Oster and his allies in the military sent their best troops to storm the Reich Chancellery. In the ensuing running firefight, Hitler was killed. The coup drove the Nazi’s from power. Elections held later that year brought a government led by opposition leader Kurt Shumaker that sought to heal the nation from the extremism that had recently plagued its streets. Cowed by the allies stern response to German imperial ambitions, Mussolini and Stalin charted more cautious and reserved courses for Italian and Soviet foreign policies. The Japanese Empire, too, took notice and curtailed its aggressive actions in Asia, the Navy and civilian authorities having cause to restrain the power of the Army. A new age of peace and prosperity reigned over the world in the decade that followed…

It is a wonderful story, but alas, it is mere fiction and speculation. The United States did not officially participate at the Munich Conference, and Chamberlain’s appeasement policy won out. Czechoslovakia fell to the Nazi’s and, eleven months later, Germany would invade Poland and set Europe ablaze with war, a war that eventually came very near to the shores of America itself. For years Jews smuggled stories out of Nazi occupied Europe of horrific atrocities, but these were largely ignored. In 1945 the truth proved even more unimaginably gruesome. The Jewish people gained a new motto from the great catastrophe of the Holocaust: Never Again.


Prime Minister Benjamin "Bibi" Netanyahu addresses the US Congress.
Prime Minister Benjamin “Bibi” Netanyahu addresses the US Congress.

So our story unfolds once more, not mere fiction or speculation now, but reality. The times are different, the names have changed, but the political theatre is as lively as ever. The leader of the State of Israel, among America’s closest allies, addressed the United States Congress. He warned them of the consequences of appeasement, of the very real threat, not only to Jews, but to American interests abroad and to America itself. The question is, will his words fall on deaf ears? Or will America this time chart the more enlightened course of preventing the war before it is forced upon us?

About the Author
Isaac Kight earned his MBA at Bar-Ilan University in 2010. He served as a volunteer for the Knesset State Control Committee from 2009 to 2010. Isaac has a broad experience of Jewish community and religion in the US and Israel.