Interesting Times: What the Jews can do about Iran

Can we really assume that Ahmadinejad's genocidal fantasies are just overheated rhetoric?

saul singer 88 (photo credit: )
saul singer 88
(photo credit: )
A week ago we published one of the most powerful and disturbing essays I have ever read. Called "This Holocaust will be different", by Benny Morris, it compares the Holocaust that was with the one coming by way of Iranian nuclear missiles aimed at Israel. A well-known author and Ben-Gurion University professor, Morris systematically hacks away at the wall of denial that allows most of us, even those who are very concerned, to live with the Iranian threat. He argues that Iran's leaders are "obsessed" with Israel's destruction, believe that Allah will protect them from pointless retaliation, and are willing to risk grievous harm to their own people. Any preemptive military attack Israel could mount, Morris asserts, would be insufficient and would, at best, set Iran's program back by a few years. He quotes a general who points out that our alleged nuclear arsenal "can only be used too early or too late," in that a preemptive nuclear strike is unthinkable, while a second strike will not restore Israel's existence. "One bright morning, in five or 10 years, perhaps during a regional crisis, perhaps out of the blue, a day or a year or five years after Iran acquires the bomb, the mullahs ... will convene a secret session, under a portrait of the steely-eyed Ayatollah Khomeini, and give President Ahmadinejad, by then in his second or third term, the go-ahead," Morris writes. "Some of the Shihabs will be nuclear tipped, perhaps even with multiple warheads. Others will be dupes, packed merely with biological or chemical agents, or old newspapers, to draw off Israel's anti-missile batteries... four or five hits will suffice: No more Israel." Finally, Morris notes that the Nazis were generally in "eye and ear contact, sometimes in tactile contact, with their victims," while the second holocaust will be an "impersonal" one, in which no Iranian will see or touch an Israeli. REACTIONS TO Morris's piece tend to bifurcate into despair at being forced to face an inescapable truth, or dismissal as baseless warmongering. Neither reaction is warranted and both lead to the wrong result: doing nothing. First, it must be stated that Morris has faithfully described a plausible scenario if present trends continue. Israel is demoralized by a crisis of confidence in its political and military leadership not seen since the 1973 war. The US is stumbling into an Iraq-driven isolationism not seen since the Vietnam war. Europe, absent American leadership, will not risk confronting Iran, and will attempt to adjust to living under a new nuclear threat. And once nothing is stopping Iran, and in the face of the global silence that has met Iran's open calls for Israel's destruction, we cannot expect that the mullahs will act "rationally" according to Western lights rather than their own. After the Holocaust, and after 9/11, can we really assume that genocidal fantasies are just overheated rhetoric rather than preparations for action? We cannot, so there is no room to simply dismiss Morris's doomsday scenario. On the contrary, we must cut through the natural human tendency to deny the worst, and let ourselves be empowered by our sense of alarm to tip history in a different direction. Though it may seem like the Jewish world is sufficiently mobilized on this issue, we are not. We are still holding back, both in Israel and the Diaspora. In governmental circles in Jerusalem, there is concern that if Israel leads the way it will transform the issue from a global threat to "Israel's problem." We do not openly berate Russia and China for brazenly protecting Iran in the UN Security Council and, in Russia's case, even providing Iran with defenses for its nuclear sites. We do not condemn Europe for acquiescing to the gutting of the recent sanctions resolution. We do not openly demand that President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad be indicted for incitement to genocide under the Genocide Convention, even though that treaty explicitly requires all nations to prevent genocide and establishes incitement as a punishable crime. THIS MUST change. We need to raise two flags simultaneously. The nations of the world have an obligation to defend themselves against the Iran threat, but not only that. We have a right to demand that other nations join in our self-defense, even if we were the only threatened nation in the world. Similarly, American Jewry may be more powerful than ever, but it is also wary, distracted and even demoralized. The Walt/Mearsheimer and Carter broadsides, the Baker-Hamilton "pressure Israel first" report, and the anti-war mood that prevails, if anything, more strongly among Jews than Americans generally, have led to paralysis on the Iranian issue. This too must change. We all know that Israel now ranks somewhere below domestic issues in the priorities of many, perhaps most, American Jews. But have American Jews really internalized that they need to work to prevent a second holocaust? Democratic presidential candidate John Edwards told the Herzliya Conference: "Under no circumstances can Iran be allowed to have nuclear weapons." But he also said, "We need to support direct engagement with the Iranians... it is a mistake strategically to avoid engagement with Iran." Will the Democrats hear from American Jews, who spurned one of the most pro-Israel presidents ever to support them, that they want to see real bipartisan urgency on Iran? Democrats like Edwards talk tough on Iran to an Israeli or Jewish audience. Will they say the same thing in Iowa? Will they extend their hand to President George Bush and ask how they can together confront Iran, and together convince Europe to join in? Bush's efforts on Iran would be greatly strengthened if they enjoyed full Democratic support. The Jewish community is the only constituency within the Democratic party that might press for the formation of a bipartisan front on Iran. If the pledge "Never Again" is to have any meaning, it must be exercised now.