A cartoon by Paul Noth in the new issue of The New Yorker shows Moses leading the Israelites through the Sea of Reeds. Our illustrious ancestor has split the water; he holds a staff in his raised hand, as he leads a long column of his people fleeing Egypt. Immediately behind Moses, at the head of the column, a man comments to the person next to him: “He’s all right. I just wish he were a little more pro-Israel.”
In the tortured debates over Israeli policies among Jews in the Diaspora, a certain ideological strain has come to be labeled “pro-Israel.” Mainstream American Jewish organizations, like AIPAC and the ADL, grab the spotlight as explainers of the Israeli side — in the controversy over the peace process, Iran, etc. In recent years, there has been some diversity in the public discourse, with the emergence of J Street, a lobbying group which brands itself as “pro-Israel and pro-peace.”
It might come as a surprise to Jews in the States that Israelis are not all onboard with the American Jewish establishment’s definition of “pro-Israel.” For example, Mairav Zonszein, writing recently on 972 Magazine about the AIPAC policy conference — where both President Obama and Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu spoke — declared that for “Palestinians and Israelis alike, the fancy conference in Washington is so far removed from our daily realities. We have no say in how the lobby operates and are subject to the whims of its wealthy donors — and yet it has such an enormous impact on our lives, since AIPAC’s power in Congress translates directly into bolstering the Israeli military-industrial complex with the help of American money.”
Zonszein, who obviously does not equate being “pro-Israel” with support for the Netanyahu government’s policies, continued: “For those of us who oppose the Netanyahu government and the unsustainable, immoral and unsafe apartheid framework we continue to live in, and who will be among the first ones to bear the brunt of a war with Iran, we have absolutely no voice at such an event. Needless to say, for the millions of Palestinians living under occupation, this disconnect is even harsher, as they have no representation in any government decisions at all. Just the fact that Newt Gingrich — the man who claims Palestinians are an ‘invented people’ — is invited to speak at a conference regarding the future of Israel and its relations to America is enough to display how out of touch AIPAC and the GOP are with the reality on the ground here, where Palestinians do in fact exist.”
Regarding Zonszein’s comment on who will “bear the brunt of a war with Iran,” I assume that many AJW readers saw the segment with Meir Dagan, the former head of Mossad, Israel’s CIA, on 60 Minutes last Sunday. In an interview at his home in Tel Aviv, Dagan told Lesley Stahl that a preemptive Israeli attack on Iranian nuclear facilities would be irresponsible and potentially catastrophic for Israel, in terms of retaliation by Iran and its proxies, Hamas and Hezbollah.
“It will be a devastating impact on our ability to continue with our daily life. I think that Israel will be in a very serious situation for quite a time,” Dagan told Stahl, as they stood on the balcony of his Tel Aviv apartment, overlooking the lights of Israel’s most cosmopolitan city. “And wars, you know how they start. You never know how you are ending it.”
Dagan says that Iran must be blocked from acquiring nukes; however, in the short term, an Israeli strike on Iran is “a stupid idea,” in his words.
So, it’s easy for armchair generals living six thousand miles from the fray to urge Israelis on to battle. But many Israelis, including an impressive list of former military and security officials, are counseling against Netanyahu taking an aggressive action that would result in unknown consequences.
Writing on the Forward’s blog this week, J.J. Goldberg pointed out that Dagan’s view has been “seconded by his two immediate predecessors as Mossad chief, Efraim Halevy, appointed by Netanyahu himself in 1998, and Danny Yatom, appointed by Shimon Peres in 1996. Ditto former military chiefs of staff Shaul Mofaz (served 1998-2002) and Dan Halutz (2005-07) (both Iranian-born), as well as Amnon Lipkin Shahak (1995-98). All have stated publicly in the last few months that a nuclear Iran is not the extreme ‘existential threat’ Netanyahu and Barak claim. As for the immediate past IDF chief, Gabi Ashkenazi (2007-11), his fierce opposition to a military strike is constantly in the news though he hasn’t stated it publicly.”
Through the speeches before the AIPAC supporters, the talking heads on the news shows and politicians angling for support in this election year, the American public — and especially the Jewish community — is being subjected to a continual drumbeat for war against Iran. At times, an Israeli attack on Iran, with the acquiescence of Washington, seems to be a fait accompli.
But Israelis are not nearly unanimous about starting a war with Iran. A recent poll by the Israel Democracy Institute’s Guttman Center found that an overwhelming majority of the Israeli public — 62 percent — “opposes an Israeli attack on Iran if carried out without U.S. cooperation.”
This bolsters Goldberg’s contention that an attack on Iran is not what Israelis, especially those who have been privy to state secrets, really want: “In fact, it’s Bibi Netanyahu who’s nearly alone on this. The trouble is, Bibi’s the one who gets to make the decision. That’s why Dagan and nearly every other military or intelligence chief is speaking out against him: They’re scared of him.”
David Grossman, one of Israel’s most esteemed writers, made his first public comments about Iran last week. He told The Nation: “I don’t want Iran to have nuclear weapons, but I think that if the sanctions do not work, Israel and the whole world, painfully, will have to live with it.”
In his comments to Larry Derfner, Grossman warned that bombing Iran would set in motion “a nightmare that’s hard to describe.”
“Nonetheless, [Grossman] said he had ‘a very bad feeling’ that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Ehud Barak were going to order an attack, even against America’s wishes. ‘There is a dynamic to all these warlike declarations,’” wrote Derfner.
In his speech before the recent AIPAC policy conference, Netanyahu brought up the Holocaust, in terms of the threat Israel would face from an Iranian regime armed with nukes.
Grossman addressed this particular issue in his conversation with The Nation: “Israel is a deeply traumatized community that finds it very difficult to separate between real dangers and echoes of past traumas, and sometimes I think our prime minister fires himself up in mixing these real dangers with those echoes from the past.”
So, Grossman is fearful that Netanyahu and Barak are caught up in the momentum of their rhetoric, which they have to back up with military action. And Grossman also argues that Netanyahu has a sense of his Jewish historic responsibility to save the “people of eternity.”
“He has this idea that we are the people of eternity, am ha’netzach from the Bible, and our negotiations, as he sees it, are with eternity, with the primal currents of history and mankind, while the United States, with all due respect, is just another superpower like Rome or Athens or Babylon, and we’ve survived them all,” said Grossman. “I’m afraid that this way of thinking might encourage Netanyahu to take the step” of attacking Iran.
Clearly Israelis are nervous about initiating a war with Iran — and they justifiably fear the unforeseeable aftermath. For anyone who’s “pro-Israel,” some humility is in order, vis-Ã -vis encouraging Israel on to a new military adventure, or opposing a U.S. president who apparently sees the downside to a precipitate rush to war. This is a very dangerous moment for the people of Israel, the people of Iran, and for all of us.
— Mordecai Specktor / firstname.lastname@example.org
(American Jewish World, 3.16.12)