02 May 2008

It Won’t Happen

A.D. Freudenheim, The Editor

Yom Ha-ha-ha: A very personal response, or, Why We Will Never Obliterate Iran

Regardless of whatever Senator Hillary Clinton says, the United States will not “obliterate” Iran if it attacks Israel. There are close to 70 million people in Iran; there are about 7 million in Israel. There are, in total, about 10 million living Jews, primarily in Israel and the U.S. – versus something on the order of 1 billion Muslims, throughout the Middle East, Asia, and the U.S., too. Based on the numbers alone, it is clear that the U.S. would never nuke (or otherwise “obliterate”) Iran: the prospect of inciting that much anger and political instability on a nearly global scale, is too great. But more on all this later. First...

Thursday, May 8, 2008 is Yom Ha’atzmaut, when Jews around the world will celebrate Israel’s independence day. If it isn’t clear to my readers already, well: I have take issue with such things. Ironically, my biggest concern lately has been one of allegiances. I say “ironically” because in general I do not like jingoistic approaches to questions of citizenship and national allegiance, or the idea of reducing complicated questions of people’s cultural heritage to simplistic questions of whether they wear a flag pin on their lapel, or what passport they carry. Nor do I necessarily buy into the kind of apocalyptic scenario outlined by books like Philip Roth’s “The Plot Against America,” with its retro sensibility of a fascist and anti-Semitic America.

Nonetheless, I find the American Jewish fetishization of Israel, and its anniversary, upsetting. I take issue with the fact that American Jewish organizations send newsletters and e-mails regarding their Yom Ha’atzmaut events, but not about their July 4th celebrations. Wait; maybe that is because many of them don't have July 4th celebrations. Remind me: in which country do we live? If there is, within the American Jewish community, one issue that is perhaps more taboo than any other, this is it. Pro- and anti-Israel positions are debated, but questioning the whole premise of the Israeli enterprise and our role in sustaining it is largely off limits. This is undoubtedly a complicated subject; no one wants nuance, and I get that; nuance is complicated, and takes time. I will try anyway.

In my heart-of-hearts, I believe in the Zionist idea. But I do not believe that its implementation and maintenance can or should come at the expense of other (non-Jewish) human lives – that makes us Jews as bad as, yes, the Nazis. As the child of a Nazi refugee, that is a comparison that makes me deeply uncomfortable. Moreover, I find it sad that American Jews go to such lengths in using a kind of Talmudic logic to define and defend why ghettoizing and oppressing the Palestinian people is acceptable. Somehow, I really don’t think a nation-state that oppresses others, or is dependent on a superpower capable of threatening to “obliterate” its enemies, was really what Theodor Herzl had in mind back in 1896.

Nor do I believe that being a Zionist is, or needs to be, about changing my national allegiances. I am an American, and I say that with pride. Let the Israelis celebrate their anniversary. Just because I’m Jewish – even a Zionist Jew! -- does not mean it is “my” anniversary. It is not, any more than Hatikvah is my national anthem.


Now, back to Iran. Senator Clinton’s idiotic remark does usefully highlight a few important points. First, no matter what else she says, she can pander like the best of them – because if that remark isn’t pandering, to American Jews and to non-Jewish “friends” of Israel, I don’t know what is. The United States has rarely acted for so-called humanitarian reasons; we did not do so in World War II, we did not do so for Iraq, and we won't in the event that Israel is attacked. Second, and even more critically, the remark suggests how little Senator Clinton has learned despite five years of our failed war in Iraq: it is simply unimaginable that any clear-thinking person would propose attacking Iran after the hash we have made in next door Iraq. (Readers can drawn their own inferences from this regarding my views on Senator McCain.) Clinton voted for the war, a vote for which she has refused to apologize; and in this context, that makes more sense. Either that or, again, she is simply pandering for votes. Neither prospect makes her a better candidate for president.

Worse, though, is that it makes me truly and deeply sad to see American Jews so intellectually and emotionally misled by such statements. Saying that the U.S. is a fairweather friend to Israel is a bit of a hypothetical; we do not really know, one way or the other. In its 60 year history, the U.S. has done much to “support” Israel: by blocking votes against it at the United Nations, by giving it money to use to by American-made weapons, and notionally by keeping it under its security umbrella. It is that last bit that is truly untested, for the U.S. has never been called on to act in a protective capacity. (Actually, the one instance when it might have – during the Suez Crisis in 1956 – it declined, forcing Israel and its other allies, the British and the French, to retreat.)

This is not a cynical argument to suggest that Jews in the U.S. are not safe. Rather, it is an argument against the continued delusion and dual-allegiances of American Jews, whose “support” for Israel has long since crossed the line from deep philanthropic generosity to a perversely entangled sense of entitlement vis-a-vis the American-Israeli relationship. A delusion most recently manifested in an absurd posturing of the proposed annihilation of millions of people by a candidate for American president. As pathetic as this is for Senator Clinton, it speaks even more badly of the inadequacies and insecurities of American Jews.


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