March 12, 2010
I have just breathed a sigh of relief. Good news: the world is a less dangerous place; the Jewish people are more secure.
If I understand what happened in Jerusalem last week: the Government of Israel has just informed the world that all the reports of a nuclear Iran being an existential threat to Israel are wrong. The problem can’t be that serious and the United States is not significant to its resolution.
Follow my logic: if Iran is an existential threat to Israel and American support is needed to enable a military attack by Israel on Iran, for the United States to attack Iran itself or to effect serious, crippling sanctions on Iran, then it would stand to reason that the government of Israel would go out of its way to make sure that Vice President Joseph Biden, historically a strong supporter of Israel, would have a successful stay in Jerusalem. Biden is the highest ranking member of the Obama administration to visit the Jewish state and an influential voice in its Foreign Policy deliberations. Only a fool or someone with nothing to worry about would alienate him and the country he represents.
A minimally competent government would be reluctant to embarrass him or humiliate him – and the United States—but moments before his arrival.
Yet Israel’s Interior Minister authorized a major building project in East Jerusalem just before the Vice President arrived. I know all the arguments. East Jerusalem is part of Jerusalem, the eternal indivisible capital of the Jewish state. I know the buildings have been long in planning and will not soon be built anyhow. The action was routine and expected.
We can talk ourselves blue in the face explaining to the world how unimportant a decision this was on the eve of the Vice President’s visit and just as Israel-Palestinian talks were about to resume. But who is kidding whom?
If Iran is an existential threat to Israel then a competent, responsible government would trouble itself to see that Biden’s trip was productive.
If Iran is an existential threat, any Prime Minister of Israel would have disciplined any Cabinet Minister foolish enough to make such a stupid decision no matter what its political cost, and he would be respected for it.
After all, existential threats should unify a country or at least unite a government that is responsible for the safety and security of its citizens so it speaks with one voice and acts in consort.
If Iran is not an existential threat, then let the games continue.
And if the government of Israel doesn’t perceive Iran to be an existential threat, then how can we expect the rest of the world to see it as such? And if the government of Israel does perceive Iran as an existential threat, then it should have behaved differently. Serious times require serious leadership.
No amount of hasbara is going to explain this away. We have met the enemy and it is us.
If Iran is really an existential threat, then the enemies of Israel must be celebrating the skill of its government.
I know the right wing of the American Jewish community is berating the administration for overreacting. Republicans are using it as an opportunity to attack the President once again. AIPAC gearing up for its conference will pull out all the stops to back the administration down. The Ambassador of Israel to the United States Michael Oren, a distinguished historian himself, has called this the worst crisis since 1975 and the Ford Administrations reappraisal, curiously forgetting the Bush Shamir confrontation and James Baker reminding Israel of the White House phone number.
The crisis will pass. Surely by this weekend when AIPAC comes to Washington and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton addresses the crowd, and Netanyahu visits Vice President Biden again. But real friends of Israel should be telling the Prime Minister that serious times require disciplined leadership.
Many years ago, a political commentator, whose name sadly I cannot recall said in jest what may be the most painful truth of all: “Only a confirmed antisemite could believe that the people of Israel have the leadership they deserve.