January 13, 2012
Opinion: Is Israel suicidal?
A man wrote me the other day to complain about something I had written regarding my belief that Israel has every right to exist in peace and security. He responded that Israel should not exist, asserting that Israel is simply a Western colony implanted in the Middle East that is as “authentic as white Rhodesia” was.
He argued that every Israeli is from somewhere else and that what we call an “Israeli culture” is really just European culture with influences from Sephardic Israelis, “who are really Arabs,” as well as from the indigenous Palestinians.
As anti-Israel polemicists often do, he invoked the crusader colony that occupied Palestine for 200 years and then vanished. One way or another, he said, Israel too will disappear, rejected by the region the way a human body rejects an incompatible implant.
To me, the whole argument (and the impulse behind it) is laughable and could only be made by someone who has very little knowledge about Israel.
Like it or not, Israel is no more a European colony than the United States. While once the various people that compose Israel were simply settlers, being Israeli today is as distinct a nationality as any in the world.
Although Jews visiting Israel from the United States or Europe often say, “I feel so at home here,” that is only an illusion. Without speaking the Hebrew language and knowing the unique local culture, no one can be at home there.
Visitors to Israel often say that it is impossible to tell Israelis from Palestinians. And, with the exception of the ultra-traditional among both peoples, that is true. But no one ever says that about the American, French or Russian Jews until they have been there 20 years or more.
An Israeli is an Israeli. It is amazing, but a distinct new nationality was created over the past century. Seven million people speak Hebrew as their day-to-day language; before 1887 not a single person did.
The creation of this nation and nationality is a remarkable achievement. Despite all Israel’s faults, it is hard to imagine a Jew from previous eras who would not be struck with pride and wonder by the accomplishment. It does seem like a miracle, although it really is the result of hard work by remarkable men and women and a series of historical accidents, some horrendous beyond belief.
But now, Israel’s current leadership is jeopardizing the whole enterprise.
In short, they are behaving in as suicidal a manner as Binyamin Netanyahu claims the Iranian regime behaves.
How else to characterize a series of attacks in Iran, coupled with the “crippling sanctions” inflicted on the people of Iran by the United States, under intense and single-minded pressure of AIPAC, the Netanyahu government’s lobby? How else to characterize the absolute refusal by the United States, under pressure from the lobby, to engage Iran diplomatically with the goal not merely of preventing an Iranian bomb but of fully normalizing relations (as Iran proposed in 2003)?
Any doubt that Netanyahu and the lobby want war can be eliminated not just by this week’s assassination of an Iranian scientist in the streets of Tehran, the fifth such killing, but also by an AIPAC-drafted resolution that tells the president that the only way he can deal with a nuclear Iran is through war, not diplomacy.
Introduced by Sens. Joseph Lieberman (I-CT) and Lindsey Graham (R-SC), the resolution states that should Iran develop nuclear weapons, the U.S. response must be a military attack, even nuclear war. Read how Sen. Graham explains it:
Some have suggested that — should economic and diplomatic pressure fail to force Iran to abandon its pursuit of acquiring nuclear weapons — the next best option is for the United States to accept and then contain a nuclear-armed Iran. That would be a catastrophic mistake.
The resolution we intend to introduce will put the Senate on record as opposing containment in the strongest and clearest terms, detailing why the consequences of a nuclear-armed Iran cannot be ‘contained’ like the threat of the Soviet Union.
When it comes to addressing the threat of a nuclear-armed Iran, all options must be on the table — except for one, and that is containment. ... Containment is failure, and failure cannot be an option.
Imagine. The option the lobby-initiated Senate resolution rejects is the very policy that prevented the world from being destroyed during the Cold War. It is also the option the United States applies in the case of every other nation with nuclear weapons, including North Korea.
Of course, if the Lieberman-Graham recommendation had the force of law, it would be unconstitutional. Congress cannot prevent the president from engaging in diplomacy. It certainly cannot force the commander in chief to engage in a war that would likely be nuclear.
Imagine if Congress could have forced President Kennedy to go to war with the Soviet Union during the Cuban Missile Crisis rather than resolve the crisis through diplomacy. If it had, it is quite possible that none of us would be here.
Nonetheless, this is what the so-called “pro-Israel” lobby is promoting: ruling out diplomacy in favor of war.
It is insane.
Surely the Israeli government (if not the lobby) understands that a military attack on Iran would lead to strikes on Israel engineered by Iran, its allies, and its regional proxies.
Hezbollah alone has thousands of missiles on Israel’s northern border that can reach every inch of Israel. Egypt’s peace treaty with Israel, which is hanging by a thread anyway, would be unlikely to withstand popular support for some kind of military response. Hamas, on Israel’s southern border, would attack. As for Syria, Bashir Assad might attack Israel just to divert attention from the revolution that seems on the verge of sweeping away his regime.
Additionally, the nearly dead peace process would be buried. Israel might survive the war and its aftermath, but it would never achieve peace or security with a Muslim world that would never forgive a “preemptive” attack on a fellow Muslim state.
In short, those who are advocating an attack on Iran by either Israel or the United States are cavalierly trifling with the survival of Israel, a nation that was built by dreamers and pioneers who wanted nothing more than a secure spot on earth where Jews would control their own destiny.
That vision was achieved, but now it is being jeopardized by those who have a different dream: not the security of a Jewish state but its right to regional hegemony.
As Gen. Ephraim Sneh, one of Israel’s leading Iran hawks, admits, the rush to war is not about Israel’s survival but about its ability to do whatever it wants to do whenever it wants to do it. In Sneh’s words, “We cannot afford a nuclear bomb in the hands of our enemies, period. They don’t have to use it; the fact that they have it is enough.”
Enough to risk the annihilation of Israel?
Fortunately, America’s leaders don’t think that way. We have lived under a nuclear threat since Stalin’s Soviet Union developed atomic weapons in the late 1940s. In 1965, we had to accept the idea that our worst and most irrational enemy, the nation we then called Red China, had the bomb. And now there are North Korea, the craziest nation on earth, and Pakistan, which openly and defiantly colludes with the world’s most anti-American terrorists.
We live with that.
We choose containment over national suicide. I have no doubt that virtually all Israelis (and Iranians, too) share our penchant for survival. Something is wrong with the Netanyahu government and its cutouts here. They have forgotten the number one injunction of the Torah: “Therefore, choose life.”
In other words, choose diplomacy, not war.