Throughout my youth, I retained an obsession with the history of World War II and the Holocaust. I always asked myself: “What led to the outbreak of WWII?”
Of course, we all know that the story of the British appeasement of Nazi Germany can be seen as the event that precipitated the outbreak of the war. Neville Chamberlain’s appeasement of Germany (September 30, 1938) was quickly followed by the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact (August 23, 1939), and thereafter the Nazi invasion of Poland on September 1, 1939.
In the months that followed, my father’s family in eastern Poland were caught up in the sweep of the Nazi advance and were murdered. So, I have a very personal interest, an obsession if you like, with the issue of appeasement.
Historians have written a great deal about appeasement. They’re very good at looking at appeasement in hindsight, but when it comes to predicting its consequences when it occurs, their expertise falls short.
We propose an algebraic definition of appeasement: A sacrifices B to placate C. In 1939, A was Great Britain, B was Czechoslovakia, and C was Nazi Germany.
Today, we can employ the algebraic model of appeasement to examine some of the latest events in our own area. In the last few years, the United States betrayed the Kurds in Iraq and Syria to placate Syria and Turkey.
Thereafter, in one of their most recent betrayals, the US placated the Taliban regime as they left Afghanistan and abandoned the Afghan people. In each case, the consequence is a political environment that reflects, and is born of, weakness, vacillation and lack of moral clarity. Now, naturally, what happened in Syria and Afghanistan leads us to wonder what the future holds as relates to Iran, the US and Israel.
Fortunately, Israel is a strong and independent country that takes responsibility for its security. Nevertheless, I have a very queasy feeling that America has not ruled out the possibility of sacrificing Israel to placate Iran, as part of a grand new bargain that will overshadow Chamberlain’s actions in Munich.
It is true that Israel is trying to be part of the process of negotiation, but it is clearly in the outside looking in, whether we want to admit it or not. Ultimately, how so ever much the US says it’s consulting with Israel on a deal with Iran, Israel is not at the table as the parties negotiate a deal.
Historians have pointed out that appeasement is immoral because the entire process excludes from the negotiation the party that is at the greatest risk of suffering the consequences of a negotiated deal. This is the situation that could evolve if there is a new deal, again, between the US, the P5+1 and Iran, while Israel is far from an equal partner.
Right now, Iran makes daily threats to destroy Israel, and this has been its message since the mullahs took power in 1979. They have demonstrated a tenacity of purpose, a most remarkable one indeed, due to the intergenerational nature.
Recall that the Nazi regime, from the day it came to power to its defeat in 1945, lasted a mere 12 years. The mullahs in Iran have been in power for more than 40 years already, and their message remains continued, and it is intergenerational, exhibiting a remarkable durability and strength. Iran’s statements regarding the annihilation of Israel are in direct violation of the UN Charter, which prohibits one nation from threatening to destroy another.
Iran’s export of terror and support of terror groups grows stronger by the year. What I am alarmed by is what seems to be a loss of moral clarity and a failure to recognize these stark facts.
It appears the civilized world has adjusted itself to a new norm, which accepts the rhetoric of genocidal threats, allowing the buildup of forces with the capacity to act upon these threats, or for the very least to intimidate, bully and threaten their neighbors, near and far alike.
I’m concerned that the policies of US President Joe Biden remind me all too much of Chamberlain’s policies. These are the policies of appeasement, an attempt to strike a so-called “bargain,” in which A sacrifices B to placate C. I recall the film Darkest Hour, which described the days following the events in Dunkirk, when Winston Churchill rejected proposals to strike a deal with the Nazis. The film accurately describes Lord Halifax’s role in attempting to encourage Churchill and Chamberlain to accept such a deal. I ask whether Robert Malley, the US chief negotiator with Iran, is the Lord Halifax of our time?
I ask what we in Israel can do to stop what we believe to be a slow and steady march toward appeasement with Iran, in which Israel is put at a greater risk than ever before?
We must state the case for appeasement’s fundamental immorality. We are asked to watch from the side as a deal is on the way with a nation whose current president is a known butcher of his own people, having sent thousands to the gallows in the 1980s to firm down the mullahs’ rule.
Iran remains still at the highest rate of executions per capita. We must remind ourselves and everyone what the UN charter is all about: recognizing the respect for the security and sovereignty of all nations. We must demand an end to Iranian indoctrination and incitement, which promotes terror and calls for the destruction of Israel.
I recall that back in 2007, some Christian friends of Israel successfully sponsored a congressional resolution H.Con.Res.21, which was ratified by the US House of Representatives almost unanimously. This resolution was based upon an earlier version issued by Genocide Watch in 2006, whose president is Prof. Gregory. H. Stanton, a pioneer in genocide prevention.
The resolution calls for the “United Nations Security Council to charge Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad with violating the 1948 Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide and the United Nations Charter because of his calls for the destruction of the State of Israel.”
To reach the Senate’s floor the resolution required the approval of the chairman of the US Senate Foreign Relations Committee, who at that time was senator Joseph Biden. I accompanied Richard Hellman, an American Christian Zionist, who sponsored the resolution, to that office. The staffers told us they were against the resolution. In short, I was a firsthand witness to appeasement in the making.
As we all recall, right after Munich, Chamberlain increased the military budget of weapons to prepare Britain for war. It was Chamberlain after all who declared war on Germany immediately after the invasion of Poland. We’ll never know whether a tough British posture would have prevented the outbreak of WWII, but there is no doubt that appeasement in response to Germany’s threats only invited further threats and aggression.
The fundamentally immoral algebra of appeasement has its own dynamics. It happened at Munich; it happened with president Donald Trump and the Kurds, and lately it happened with President Biden’s betrayal of the Afghans.
Apologists for appeasing Iran equate Israel’s settlement policies with Iranian terror, aggression, indoctrination and incitement. This serves as an excuse to disregard Israel’s security in efforts to sign a deal with Iran. The obvious truth must be stated: there can be no moral equivalence here. The disagreement between Israel and the Palestinians reflects a very complicated political conflict.
The negotiation process must rely on the first principles of prevention of genocide, genocidal terror and incitement to both. These first principles include respecting the UN Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide, the sovereignty of nations, and of course the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Unfortunately, the concern for these principles is pushed aside by the US and the P5+1 negotiators.
Chamberlain upon returning from Munich promised “peace with honor.” As we recall, Churchill declared that the agreement would bring neither peace nor honor. We all know how that played out in the end.
It is astonishing to realize how far the US has drifted since 2007, when a brave bipartisan message was declared by Congress in its resolution recommending the indictment of the Iranian regime for incitement of genocide, its terror and its human rights violations. The dynamic of appeasement is clear: It is a self-perpetuating cycle that can lead to disaster.
The writer is a retired head of the Unit of Occupational and Environmental Medicine at the Hebrew University School of Public Health. He is the founder of the Jerusalem Center for Genocide Prevention. His recent work focuses on the role of indoctrination and incitement.