When I grew up, got to meet and even strike up a friendship with my childhood idol Dosh (the late Kariel Gardosh), I asked him which, to his mind, was his most enduring political caricature. For that, he replied, we need to return to December 1956, approximately a month after the Sinai Campaign and the Soviet invasion of Hungary. Dosh noticed that while the international community was seething about Israel's feisty self-defense, it wasn't overly perturbed about the human rights and self-determination brazenly crushed beneath heavy military armor right in Central Europe.
The hypocrisy, Dosh recalled, was hardly surprising but nevertheless galling, particularly the shamelessness of it. So he compressed it all into one frame. In the background a house labeled Hungary is going up in flames. In the foreground UN secretary-general Dag Hammarskjold, in firefighter gear, wields a hose labeled UN. But he's not dousing the blaze. He's drenching little Israel - Dosh's iconic sandal-clad Srulik - who stands soaked, angry and perplexed as he's subjected to more wet punishment.
Dosh produced way more dramatic and memorable cartoons, but he estimated that the situation portrayed in this one would always stay topical. He predicted that Israel would always be the world's whipping boy, thrashed for the misdeeds of others and used for diversionary tactics. Instead of dealing with urgent crises and genuinely alarming dangers, the powers-that-be will rage at Israel to draw attention away from their own dereliction and cowardice.
"The old czars," Dosh noted, "used to say, 'Beat the Jews and save Russia.' Today it's 'beat the Jews and save the world.'" He reckoned "this would stay true even when nobody remembers Hammarskjold."
IF DOSH only knew how right he was. Today he'd probably have produced a very similar pen-and-ink commentary, but with Iran burning and Barack Obama extinguishing - Israel. The more things change, the more they stay the same.
As pro-democracy demonstrators are killed in Teheran and as its ayatollahs further their designs to arm themselves with nukes, the leader of the free world harps on Israeli settlements. You can almost understand where he's coming from. Iran is a tough customer, and crazy too. It's tempting not to rile it and to deflect criticism by focusing on some lonely remote outposts in the middle of Judea and Samaria's barren moonscape.
Not only isn't Israel scary like Iran, it'll broadmindedly collaborate in an effort to appease its detractors. How facile it therefore is to claim that peace and bliss on earth hinge on tearing down a few Jewish tents, rickety lean-tos, ramshackle sheds and decrepit trailers. It's true heroism to take them on in the guise of securing global propriety. It's plain to see that no greater peril plagues humanity - if we only avert our gaze from Iran, that is.
Accordingly, to stress the need to downplay the Iranian fuss, Obama gave his people a lesson in moral relativism: "It's important to understand that, although there is amazing ferment taking place in Iran, the difference between Ahmadinejad and Mousavi in terms of their actual policies may not be as great as has been advertised." Not unexpectedly, Obama informed the unenlightened masses that he won't take sides:" I take a wait-and-see approach... It is not productive, given the history of US-Iranian relations, to be seen as meddling in Iranian elections."
Of course it's one thing to entertain such notions, but quite another to broadcast them out loud. All sorts of perceptions may prevail in the Oval Office and shape policy, so long as they're not ballyhooed. Blabbermouth statecraft, however, is a bad idea. Noisy hype doesn't go unnoticed, especially not in the nuance-sensitive Mideast. Obama may arrogantly consider himself superclever, but his overtly declared nonintervention is equivalent to intervention. His error is eerily reminiscent of the series of egregious errors toward Teheran during the term of Jimmy Carter, the past-president most like Obama, though hardly as radical.
IN HIS MEMOIRS, Ayatollah Khomeini's first foreign minister Ebrahim Yazdi writes that "the shah was doomed the minute Carter entered the White House." The novice president indiscreetly sent all the wrong signals, beginning with an exceedingly public cold-shoulder to the shah. The mullahs were heartened and exuded confidence. Increasingly shaken, Muhammad Reza Pahlavi sought to ingratiate himself to Carter by relaxing restrictions on opposition agitators. That further emboldened the religious fanatics and spawned unrest. Carter admonished the shah against quelling the disturbances by force.
Willy-nilly, Carter's bungling was instrumental in installing a reactionary, repressive theocracy in Teheran. Under the banner of freedom, Carter helped the forces of medieval darkness. The shah was a goner and the ayatollahs repaid Carter by holding 52 American embassy staffers hostage for 444 days until he was replaced by Ronald Reagan.
Carter's indisputable legacy was the bloodshed of the Iran-Iraq War, the carnage at the Buenos Aires Jewish Community Center and Israeli Embassy, the burgeoning of Hizbullah and Hamas, the co-option of Syria/Lebanon and Gaza into Iran's evil sphere, massive worldwide terror-mongering and lately nuclear ambitions and rhetoric about wiping Israel off the map.
During the entire embassy standoff fiasco, strikingly ineffectual Carter dithered piteously. Yet he compensated for inaction on one front by hyperactivity on another. As per the Dosh depiction, he turned the water-jets on Israel.
CARTER'S ENTIRE diplomatic energy reserves were misspent on pressuring Menachem Begin at Camp David, and quite ruthlessly. His latent anti-Semitism would finally manifest itself with the publication of his Palestine: Peace not Apartheid. His misguided liberalism in international affairs led Carter to bolster the worst despots in our time while lashing out at one of the most intrinsically democratic of societies anywhere - Israel.
Unrepentant, same said Carter hobnobbed with Gaza's terror-kingpins last week and spuriously censured Israel for treating Gazans "more like animals than human beings... Never before in history has a large community been savaged by bombs and missiles and then deprived of the means to repair itself... This abuse must cease. The crimes must be investigated. The wall must be brought down, and the basic right of freedom must come to you," he told Hamastan's ayatollah-proxies, without a word about Israel's pullback from Gaza, the uprooting of 21 settlements and the atrocities that Gaza subsequently unleashed on Israel.
Carter is Obama's mentor and Obama is the new Carter. Their motto is: In democracy's name be kind to democracy's most rabid enemies and be nasty to embattled democrats. Hence, while it's "not productive" for Obama to meddle in Iran, it's imperative he meddle in Israel. Deja vu. As in Carter's administration, a lopsided artificial balance must be struck in pseudo-sophisticated statesmanship.
In other words, no matter where fires flare uncontrollably, the fire hoses will be aimed at Israel. This is why Dosh's nearly 53-year-old caricature remains ever-relevant - just as he predicted.