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A collection of current Essays, Articles, Events and Information
Impacting our community and our culture
A Publication of the Center for Sephardic Heritage
“Service is the rent we pay for living. It is the very purpose of life and not something you do in your spare time. Education is improving the lives of others and leaving your community and world better than you found it.” -Marian Wright Edelman
Contents 17 September 2008
Who is Benny Morris, and Why Should We Care About Him?
By: David Shasha
Those Obscene Holocaust Analogies
By: M.J. Rosenberg
Israel Speaks Arabic
By: Yossi Alfi
Book Review: Between Silk and Barbed Wire
By: Ronny Someck
Quandary for Hebrew: How Would Isaiah Text?
By: Isabel Kershner
Obituary: Mahmoud Darwish
By: Associated Press
They Were Not Wanted in Ramallah
By: Meron Benvenisti
Zionism’s Dying Between Hebron and Yizhar
By: Zeev Sternhell
Excuse Me, How Does it Feel to be Poor?
By: Deepak Chopra
Faith’s Real Riches
By: Michael Gerson
Important? If You Are, Torah Study Can Visit
By: Paul Vitello
By: Shmuel Herzfeld
The Internet is Ruining America’s Movies and Music
By: Elizabeth Lee Wurtzel
Who is Benny Morris, and Why Should We Care About Him?
Peace like a river ran through the city,
Long past the midnight curfew.
We sat starry-eyed,
We were satisfied.
When I remember,
Misinformation followed us like a plague.
Nobody knew from time to time,
If the plans were changed.
You can beat us with wires
You can beat us with chains
You can run out your rules
But you know you can't outrun the history train.
Paul Simon, “Peace Like a River”
All over the world, Jewish children and Arab children are indoctrinated in the Israel-Palestine conflict. Even when such indoctrination enters into the realm of the irrational and verges on brainwashing, the students are hammered with the orthodox views of their tribes.
As I myself was once indoctrinated in this manner, I can state that for me the State of Israel was something that was transcendentally metaphysical; an entity that was beyond any possible rational analysis. As students we were afforded the plentiful propaganda of the Zionist movement which, we were told, was inseparable from who we were as Jews. The “Holy Trinity” of our education – Zionism, the Holocaust and the ubiquitous Anti-Semitism – knitted together into a single whole that formed our identity.
And though I was never a Muslim student, it seems equally clear that they too found themselves in a similar situation. Schooled in the myths of an Arab civilization that was based on victimhood and defeat, these young people too were closed off from the realities of the past. All Jews were Crusader enemies bent on destroying Arabs. Islam was refigured to form an exclusive contract between Allah and the Muslim peoples; forgetting that Islam was at its most productive when non-Muslims were able to contribute to the economies and intellectual currents of its universe.
So too were Arab Jews left out of my schooling. In a mirror image of Arab pedagogy, the Ashkenazi-based school curriculum left out the contributions of Arab Jews to Jewish civilization. To this day, in the Sephardic community in which I live, Sephardic students learn nothing about who they are and where they come from.
The role that Zionism and the State of Israel play in this system is more than primary; it feeds into the very soul of the student with an almost religious zeal. Zionism is the absolute telos of Jewish history and has by and large displaced the cognitive realities of the Jewish intellectual tradition.
So much has this Zionist worldview usurped the complex richness of the Jewish past, which has been sacrificed on the altar of Jewish exclusivity, that today it is far more of an offense in Jewish circles to criticize Israel and Zionism than it is to badmouth or reject the ideas and values of our Sages and even, heaven forbid, the Bible itself.
It would be no exaggeration for me to state that each and every time I write something about Zionism, I have dug another hole for myself as a Sephardi activist. Those criminal Jews who wait out in the shadows of our community have followed each and every one of my pronouncements and have done what they could to mark me as a violator of the new Jewish religion – a religion that bears little resemblance to the realities of the past, but speaks in a language that is exclusively based on the inner workings of Zionism and of Israel as an inviolable Mother.
Leave it be that this Holy Spirit of Zionism has itself caused so much damage to our Sephardic people; the new reality has taken on a life of its own and has wreaked havoc for those of us who are still able to use our rational minds.
So back in the late 1980s, after the tragic Lebanon invasion and the carnage that it produced, the appearance of some new books on Israel’s early history – the period from 1948 to 1956 – was something that sparked a new awakening among those of us who sought to apostatize from the faith.
My own road to apostasy began when I was exposed to the teachings of Rabbi Jose Faur and the emerging vision of Ammiel Alcalay. As those who have followed the trajectory of my work know well, the changes that these scholars made for me were drastic and tumultuous.
It was at this time that I began to better understand who I was as a Sephardi and what that might mean for the indoctrination I had received as a student in the Yeshiva. All bets were off for me when I learned that Israel was an Ashkenazi protectorate where Sephardim were treated as Negroes to do the dirty work of the country and were seen as culturally inferior.
Sadly, through this I had to come to terms with the fact that the Arab civilization that was a critical part of my Sephardic heritage was vilified in a dual manner by Israel as a paradigm of Jewish identity: on the one hand, the Arabs were inveterate Jew-haters bent on killing us, and on the other hand they were stupid and corrupt human beings whose immorality came from their cultural barbarity.
Hence, I was forced to accept the difficult proposition that everything I thought to be true as a Sephardic Jew was now either completely false, or if it were true, I was a monkey.
My interest in Zionism is thus preceded by my concern for who I was – something that was denied to me in my formative years – and something that I could only find out about by going, as it were, underground; treading the perilous waters outside of a mainstream that, as I would learn, was quite vicious when it came to non-compliance.
As I began to reformulate my own self-understanding as a Sephardic Jew, it became clear to me that I would have to re-examine Israel’s claim to be a noble and pure country with a new and critical eye.
The place of Benny Morris’ book The Birth of the Palestinian Refugee Problem was central to this re-evaluation.
Morris was struck by the emergence of a Palestinian consciousness in the wake of the 1982 Lebanon War. Like many other Israelis, he was forced to come to terms with a new reality that had struck down many of the myths of the hallowed Zionist past. Was the Lebanon invasion a break from the national past, or was it a continuation of that past?
Morris’ work was nuanced and complex. It broke ranks with the whitewashed version of the Zionist myth and asserted that Israel was not some metaphysical entity or some Holy Spirit, but it was a country – gasp! – like any other, with its share of racism, violence and dysfunction. The leaders of the country, particularly David Ben-Gurion whose reputation was to take a huge hit from Morris and the others who followed in his wake, were seen in their own words and from their own documents as cruel and vicious men who were not above duplicity, lies and brutality.
The Birth of the Palestinian Refugee Problem partially re-enforced a number of the key tenets of Palestinian discourse and showed that the standard way of seeing the conflict – a beleaguered Israel with Auschwitz nightmares – was not quite the truth. In Morris’ book we saw a hopelessly inept and disorganized Arab world and a dysfunctional Palestinian leadership. It was the Zionists who were organized and prepared for what was to come. The myth of a Zionist “miracle” was shown to be just that; there were rational military reasons for the lopsided Israeli victory and it was now the Arabs who were the humble and meek – not the Jews.
Benny Morris immediately became a pariah in Israeli circles. He could not get a university job and was more or less shown the door. Israel and its hysterical supporters had no need for their myths to be put into question. The myths were part of a new religion, as I have already discussed, and the verities of Zionist history were as if the Ten Commandments, given by God on high.
As if this was not enough, The Birth of the Palestinian Refugee Problem was followed by a number of other books, each one creating more and more uncertainty about Zionism and Israel. Writers like Tom Segev, Gershon Shafir, Ilan Pappe and Avi Shlaim began to fill in other missing pieces of the Zionist narrative and undermined the religious substrate that had been generated over the course of many decades.
The names of these writers soon became anathema in the Jewish community. Anyone reading their books was marked as an APOSTATE of the first order. They were seen as the legendary books of the Apocrypha (in Hebrew, Sefarim Hisonim); those books that were eliminated from the Biblical canon and which were kept off-limits by the Sages.
I once saw Benny Morris speak at a conference at Queens College here in New York and during the break period witnessed old Jewish men and women berating him for being a self-hating Jew – nothing less than a traitor to his people. I can only imagine the psychological toll that it took on him.
This was an age prior to the commonplace and near-universal acceptance of the Two-State solution and recognition of the legitimacy of the Palestinian people and their claims. Though it might be difficult to remember, prior to the emergence of the Oslo process in the 1990s the Jewish community held the line; firmly and without mercy those who did not parrot the consensus were ostracized from “polite” Jewish society.
But it was due in large part to the various “New Historians” – many of whom disputed one another in various ways. The harsh new realities of Israeli life brought a realization of the Occupation coupled with the transparent cruelties of what happened in Lebanon. We were beginning to be exposed to a narrative that undermined what we had been taught in school. While this scholarship was beginning to seep into the Israeli consciousness, a reactionary paralysis set into the old Zionists. They were set on maintaining the old myths – at whatever cost – and conducted their battles against the writers and their books.
Benny Morris eventually got his job at Ben-Gurion University and continued to write books – he produced an excellent study of the Mossad, a study of what he called Israel’s “Border Wars” and finally produced a work of synthesis called Righteous Victims in 1999.
As he remarked at his May 2008 lecture at Congregation Beth Elohim here in Brooklyn (broadcast on C-Span’s Book TV series), 1999 was a point in time where it looked as if the conflict was over. Though it now seems like eons ago, 1999 was rife with promise that the two peoples would be able to work together and resolve their problems.
But as we now know, the increased understanding of the causes of the problems that the New Historians were able to teach us were not ultimately able to break the myths that were taught to Arab and Jewish schoolchildren.
Here I would like to point out the strange basis upon which all peace negotiations have been conducted since the breakthrough of the 1990s: The Two-State solution is predicated on something that Morris has now become identified with – a form of apartheid which would separate the two warring peoples and set them in different countries. The Two-State solution means that any attempt of bringing the peoples together is not seen as either possible or valid. Palestinians are thought to be the natural enemies of the Jews, and the Jews fear that the Palestinians would use their place in a unified “greater” Israel – or “greater” Palestine – to vote the Jews out and throw them into the sea.
At the very root of the Two-State solution is an acceptance of the racism and the hate that has underlain the conflict.
As we see Benny Morris today – the man who has progressively shifted to the Right since 2000 that brought brutal violence against Israeli citizens at a time when peace was supposedly around the corner – a very strange thing has happened. Having been thrown under the bus by those who were deeply offended by his questioning of the Zionist myths, he is a pariah in such circles and would not be expected to be invited to speak in Synagogues in Kahane-land – much of Brooklyn. But he now just as strangely finds himself deeply out of step with Left Wing Jewish groups who – and this is the irony – formed in large part on the template created by books like The Birth of the Palestinian Refugee Problem.
Benny Morris is thus not welcome in the hard Right world of Religious Zionism – the world of the Settlers – and has had his integrity questioned by his own disciples!
Watching Morris at Beth Elohim, we saw the two Benny Morrises that those who have been following his work in recent years have come to expect.
The first Benny Morris is an outright racist and Jewish ethnocentrist whose views fit perfectly into the Bernard Lewis-Daniel Pipes-Bat Ye’or school of Arab hatred and Islamophobia. As a cultural critic Morris leaves much to be desired. There seems to be no intellectual or moral correlation between doing a thorough job as an archival historian and being a lucid interpreter of that history.
Morris – as a careful reader could see in his book Righteous Victims – has never had much truck with the Arabs as a people and as a civilization. Little has been remarked in this regard because his nativist Ashkenazi Sabra racism is so endemic to the Israeli condition that it is rarely if ever discussed. We must remember that such racism is as strong on the Israeli Left as it is on the Israeli Right. Rarely if ever are we given cultural arguments against Occupation from Peace Now or Meretz. The basic premise of the Israeli discourse – even on the Left – is that Jews and Arabs are not at all alike as a people and should be kept apart.
It is for this reason that Sephardim – or as we are pejoratively called in Israel, “Mizrahim,” Orientals – are not a central part of the Peace movement. Unless Sephardim acclimate or transform themselves to the Ashkenazi hegemony and recalibrate their discourse to reflect Ashkenazi sensibilities and priorities, then those Sephardim will find themselves outside the fold.
No invitations to Peace conferences, no appointments to prestigious committees and no room in the discursive universe that is controlled exclusively by Ashkenazim. Just recently we saw this in the case of Saudi King Abdullah’s conference in Spain where Sephardi activists were not part of the agenda.
When this lamentable state of affairs is pointed out, charges of Sephardi racism and binarism are inevitably raised. The Sephardi victims of Ashkenazi racism are thus trapped in a world not of their own making that they cannot break out of – if they acclimate and adapt to the Ashkenazi model, then they have abandoned their own historical and socio-cultural tradition, but if they reject the dominant model, they are accused of exclusivity and inverse racism.
And unlike African-Americans, Sephardim have – with very few exceptions – caved into such moral and political blackmail. Sephardim today have been forced to affiliate with one or another of the Ashkenazi models as reflected in the Jewish institutional world; leaving the Sephardic community bereft of leadership and its own native institutional system.
Getting back to Benny Morris, we see that he has marked Arabs as culturally inferior and as inherently barbaric. At the very start of the lecture he characterized the conflict of 1947-1948 as a “Jihad”; a linkage that would have been natural coming out of the mouth of a Right Winger like Michael Oren. The reasons for Morris’ change of mind are not only suppressed, Morris now claims that he never held any other opinions in the first place.
Indeed, when canvassing Morris’ old writings, there does seem to be an antipathy towards the Arabs and their culture, but such an antipathy was projected in the context of a revision to Israeli and Zionist history that was formally predicated upon the widely-accepted idea of the Two-State solution.
So now Morris goes out of his way to accentuate a demonic context in which to understand and interpret the 1948 war. He remains steadfast as a historian and his commitment to the facts is admirable, given his political position in the wake of the violence of 2000. In fact, he recently revised his The Birth of the Palestinian Refugee Problem that, if anything, increases Israel’s atrocities.
It is just that Morris has now become convinced that all the atrocities can be explained away. In fact, the idea of transfer, the most controversial aspect of Morris’ work, is now seen as an inherent strength; as a positive of Zionist planning and thinking. When confronted on the place of Tochnit Dalet – Plan D (the Haganah directive permitting, among other things, the transfer of the native Arab population during the 1948 war) – which has become a super-charged issue in historical circles – he minimized the matter and said that there was no formal transfer order ever given. And to be fair to Morris – and this is what has separated his books from those of people like Ilan Pappe and Norman Finkelstein – he famously stated explicitly in the preface to the original The Birth of the Palestinian Refugee Problem that the refugee problem was born of war and not by design. We must remember that just hearing that Israel was culpable for the problem was an earth-shattering discovery to those of us who had been schooled in the Zionist religion.
In his new book called 1948, Morris continues to develop the idea that Israel was a fallible and quite mortal entity – not the Holy Spirit of the Zionist mythos, but now is more up-front with his feelings about the Arab role in the conflict. In the lecture he spent the lion’s share of his time in a hostile diatribe against the Arabs in general and the Palestinians more specifically.
Now let us give Morris his due: In Left Wing circles it is often more expedient to ignore facts that undermine our arguments. By 1947-1948 the emerging Arab states had taken on the patina of repressiveness and socio-cultural dysfunction that have become the pattern by which we know them today. The interpretive premise asserted by Rightists like Morris, that the Arabs are historically prone to despotism and barbarity is racist twaddle, but it cannot be dismissed as a fact of how things are today.
Morris gets the context wrong and does not dig deeply enough into history. When he idiotically states that Arabs did not write objective history, he raises the specter of Eurocentrism that marks Israeli Jews as “human” and the Arabs as not “civilized.”
But we should not confuse the internal Arab dysfunction for some racist construct.
As I have repeatedly stated in my presentation of “The Levantine Option,” the classical culture of the region was to be found in Cordoba, Baghdad, Cairo, Salonica, Isfahan and Damascus; it was the culture that reigned in Muslim Spain, Abbasid Iraq and the imperial seat of the Ottoman Empire. This does not mean that such a culture reigned supreme at all times and all places in the Arab-Muslim world. We could just as easily point to the evisceration of this polyglot culture of Religious Humanism in Almohad Spain which was to lose its two greatest minds, Averroes and Maimonides, in the changeover, and in the increasing role of Wahhabi Islam in the Gulf as we entered into the Modern age.
“The Levantine Option” is just that: it is a construct that is based in history, but is not trans-historical. It was formulated in the visions of Arab modernists whose voices have now been stilled and silenced.
Morris and the Right Wingers are indeed correct when they point to the fact that Israel, having adopted Western canons of conduct and politics, has democracy and civil rights. That such rights are variable – depending on your religion and ethnicity and place of inhabitance – is important but should not be misconstrued. When Morris asserts in the lecture that a comparable study of Arab history of the same period is impossible because Arab governments are dictatorships must be taken at face value and not contested. In addition, when Morris asserts that the conduct of the Arab militias in 1947-1948 did not conform to the standards of just war and that if the Zionists failed in their task that Jews would have found themselves imperiled, we must not start screaming. Though it is never easy to prove what might have happened had there been an Arab victory in 1948, we can look at the conduct of Arab armies and governments during the past 50 years and reasonably extrapolate that it would have not been a peaceful capitulation for the Jews.
We must also take into account the ways in which Arab governments and populations acted after 1948 towards their own Jewish populations. We have well-noted the actions, often despicable, of Ashkenazi Zionists in regard to the Sephardim, but the Zionists did not act in a vacuum. The Arabs had choices to make in the wake of 1948: with very few exceptions, the choices that were made – with some help from an exclusionary Zionist racist mentality – were to reconstruct post-Independence Arab societies without their Jewish minorities.
It is therefore invalid to ignore the past of the Arab Jews and argue that Cairo, Aleppo and Baghdad were akin to Warsaw, Lvov and Berlin. Such a transposition of primal Anti-Semitic values from North to South is historically and empirically untrue. But it is just as untrue to elide and reject the realities that took root in the Arab world in the 1950s and 1960s.
Sephardim in Israel should be aware that they are left in this case between the perennial Rock and Hard Place: on the one hand, they were marked as inferior by the Ashkenazi “Aryans” and on the other hand were turned into personae non-grata in the lands of their birth. One cannot have one without the other.
But in the world of Benny Morris, all we have is a rabid Palestinian citizenry that is hell-bent on killing Jews in a religious Holy War. And while there is no doubt that he has unearthed documents that speak in such a language, he ignores the realities presented by scholars like Tom Segev and Albert Hourani who show an Arab modernism that was the equal of those cosmopolitan Jews who came from Germany – though it is unclear how the Russian Bolsheviks like Ben-Gurion and his cadre fit into this cultural scheme.
We must not pretend that the world of Muhammad Abduh, Rashid Rida, George Antonius, Taha Hussein and Naguib Mahfouz was the one that took over Arab culture in the 20th century. It is the acculturation that those brilliant thinkers present to us that we must raise as a possible alternative to the realities of the despots and murderers that have sown the seeds of failure in their societies. Of this we should not be confused.
Morris continues to articulate the facts of the 1948 war in a way that speaks to his precision as a historian. But when he begins to wander away from the facts and interpret what those facts mean to us today and how those events were formulated in the whirlwind of history, he becomes just one more bully and ethnocentric chauvinist.
When listening to Benny Morris talk one hears two different people: there is the progressive historian who conforms to the rules of historical evidence and is deeply careful to preserve the facts of history to the best of his ability. Morris the historian is an important figure who can even now break the certainties of the Zionist believer. In fact, I have always felt that Benny Morris is important because he can talk directly to the believers as a fellow traveler. But on the other hand, Morris has taken his own socio-cultural prejudices and often sounds like a certified case when he is ranting against Arabs as some inhuman, alien species.
The story of Benny Morris is important because it speaks to the Left-Right divide and the acrimony that often ensues from the positions we take as participants in the discussion. There is often a complete inability for people on either side of the divide to listen to one another. The terms of the debate are not agreed-upon and this disjointed discourse leads to the worst sort of acrimony, name-calling and demonizing. People otherwise rational find themselves at the very cusp of the hysterical when discussing the issues of Israel and Palestine.
Inside Benny Morris is a person who knows where the bodies are buried, but who cannot break himself out of the vicious circle created by the toxic political climate generated by the conflict. For him Israel is a post-Holocaust “miracle” retrofitted with the metaphysical apparatus that often closes off rational discussion between normal people. As a historian he speaks in the measured tones of the academic, but as an analyst he often adopts an apocalyptic tone that cannot avoid the bluster of Jewish mythical thinking that eschews the importance of impartiality and balance.
In my own personal intellectual history, the books of Benny Morris set off an intense re-examination of Israel and Zionism and what it means for us to be Jewish. Gone for us were the impossible certainties of the past; certainties that some continue to accept as if God-given. In their place we were forced to see 1948 as a complex amalgamation of human weakness, violent cruelties, heroic endeavor, and the failure of war to achieve its ultimate aims.
And for me this is the most significant failing of Benny Morris’ way of seeing things. It has become eminently clear over the course of many decades that Israel – the back-to-the-wall version of Zionism that Morris now espouses – has achieved its military supremacy. It has won all of its military engagements with the Arabs and has humiliated the Palestinians. It has wrongly tried to manipulate Arab sentiment and its institutions of leadership and politics. It has rejected to definitively set out a solution to the conflict by refusing to clearly articulate what it wants of the defeated party; preferring instead to watch a situation that has progressively deteriorated over the many tortuous years of the conflict.
In sum, Israel has set out a primal, existential fear and hatred of the Arab peoples that we as Sephardim can understand because it has spilled over to those Jews who are Arabs.
Having said this, it is not enough to assert Zionist culpability. The Arab peoples have a will of their own and did not have to succumb to Zionist machinations. The Jews of Egypt need not have been pressured after 1956 to leave their homes. The Jews of Iraq should not have been slaughtered in the streets of Baghdad in 1941 because the British were playing their imperious political games. We must not create false models of moral equivalency where if the Zionists do it, then the Arabs should be allowed to do it.
This form of moral relativism comes into play when we realize that Benny Morris, unlike his contemporaries and peers, has stopped talking about 1967 and the occupation that was created out of Israeli intransigence coming from the popular form of messianism that gripped the country, as Tom Segev has expertly shown in his book on the subject. Morris wants Arab intransigence to justify Israeli intransigence which only leads us to a vicious circle that enforces the codes of hate and violence that we now suffer through.
Morris’ fatalism is borne out of his study of history, but it is intriguing that as a professional Jewish historian – and here we may bring to mind the ruminations of Yosef Hayyim Yerushalmi in his classic book Zakhor – he is not trying to use history as a means to positively transform the Jewish condition, but to re-establish and re-assert the old forms of Jewish fatalism. Indeed, his book The Birth of Palestinian Refugee Problem was once thought – and is still thought by some – to embody the critical values of buoyant optimism that was characteristic of the Wissenschaft scholars who wanted to present a humanistic vision of Judaism and Jewish history that could lift the spirits of an ailing people. The book taught some of us that we could accept our faults and remedy them.
Today, Benny Morris is resigned to an Israel that is in a perpetual war that it does not control. I often hear this fatalistic sense of resignation from the Zionist zealots who have abandoned Judaism for Israel. There is only Israel and there is no hope. All we have is our army and all the army can do is to keep killing Arabs – and the Arabs are all terrorists, all beasts; all animals, from time immemorial. What is ignored is the fact that Israel is the most powerful country in the region. It has nuclear weaponry and a military force that has yet to lose an extended conflict. Israeli defeatism rings hollow; a form of casuistic Pilpul that turns the facts on their head.
Where Judaism has traditionally stood for hope and redemption based on the principles of self-criticism and self-analysis, today Zionism is all hubris and irrationality. Problems are turned into mystically-charged metaphysical entities where there is no room for discussion, no room for criticism, no room for new approaches. When the old way has failed – keep using it! When the old ways of analysis have turned into self-fulfilling prophecies, do not reject them – in fact, we must hold on to those failed ways of seeing even more tightly. And when all else fails, we must silence those who might have different ways to approaching the problem.
So those who think that Benny Morris is some mutant offspring of Meir Kahane and Vladimir Jabotinsky are indeed mistaken. At times he adopts their rhetoric, but at root his failure is the failure of the Ashkenazi Zionist vision. In spite of the sacrifices made and in spite of the accomplishments, we are left with a void; a spiritual absence that leaves Israelis frightened and worn out. Morris is fitted out with his facts – and they are facts worth knowing – but he is without any sense of what it really means to be an Israeli.
How does an Israeli live, how does an Israeli believe, how does an Israeli fit into the larger world?
In order to answer these questions, the obsession with Arab despots, Jihad and dysfunction is counterproductive. It is not that we should ignore the reality of such things, but that we need to find new ways of being, new ways of approaching the problems we face as Jews, as Arabs – as members of the human family.
I often hear from those who dismiss my “Levantine Option” as some romantic raving; all I get from them is nihilism, cynicism and an almost abject disrespect for the traditions that we have inherited. I hear people saying that we must leave the Sephardic tradition and the ways of our Sages behind – Israel is more important than all that. But it is my central point that we must certainly not leave the past to wither and die, but to find in the past the seeds of regeneration.
Such regeneration is operative on the human level – it does not enter into military engagements or politics. And it is just this sense of culture and human interaction that seems to be absent from Ashkenazi Zionist thinking in all of its variants.
Once we re-assert our connections to our past, we can blaze a new road where people will be forced to account for their actions – the good, the bad and the ugly. It was Benny Morris who first illuminated the complexities of the 1948 war in spite of what he is trying to say to us at present. With the re-establishment of the richness of our multiple and interwoven histories, we can find ways of speaking and interacting and finding the road to peace and co-existence. But while there are those who would forcefully suppress articulation of these histories, we will be imprisoned in our violent present and consign ourselves to a future of hopelessness.
When those who seek to prevent what might be possible in order to aggrandize themselves – be they on the Left or the Right – do their dirty work in the institutional universe, we are all impoverished by their shortsighted selfishness.
Those Obscene Holocaust Analogies
By: M.J. Rosenberg
Is it possible to discuss Iran and Israel without invoking the specter of another Holocaust? It seems like it isn’t. Israeli officials, presidential candidates, and journalists all invoke the possibility of a second Holocaust with reckless abandon.
Reckless it is, too. Once the possibility of another Holocaust is posited, there can be no alternative but to take action, no matter how extreme, to prevent it. Israeli historian Benny Morris is so hysterical about the Iranian threat that he would use nuclear weapons to prevent it.
That’s right. On July 18, in perhaps the most ridiculous op-ed I’ve ever seen in the New York Times, Morris called for a conventional military strike to prevent Iran from developing a nuclear bomb and inflicting a holocaust on Israel. He predicted the strike would fail, and concluded that the only alternative left would be a nuclear attack against Iran.
In other words, he called for a holocaust to prevent a holocaust.
The approach taken by Morris is not only hysterical; it also negates the existence of the state of Israel. After all, if Jews today remain so vulnerable to annihilation—by a second rate power like Iran, no less—then who needs Israel? If Israel’s existence cannot protect Jews from holocaust, then why was Israel created in the first place?
A little Holocaust education is in order.
The Holocaust took place because the world’s second most powerful nation made the destruction of the Jewish people its number one priority. The “Final Solution” almost succeeded in destroying all the Jews of Europe, some six million men, women, and children.
The reason total annihilation almost succeeded was because Europe’s Jews were defenseless. They had no country of their own, no army, and—it goes without saying—no weapons. They had no ability to fight back. The Nazis were able to kill them but the Jews could do nothing or—during the course of several revolts—very little in response. The Nazis were able to destroy the Jews of Europe with near total impunity.
Imagine for a minute if the Jews of Germany, Poland, Hungary, and the rest, could have fought back. Imagine if they somehow had hugely powerful weapons that could destroy Berlin and Frankfurt and Munich. Imagine if they had an army, air force, and navy that was powerful enough to inflict on the Nazis what the Nazis were inflicting on them.
What would have happened then?
Simple. There would have been no Holocaust. If the Jews had the power to take the Nazis down with them, the “Final Solution” could not have occurred. It is only because the Jews could not fight back—because they had no army, no weapons, and, above all, no state of their own—that the Holocaust could happen.
And that, as everyone knows, is why the state of Israel was created. That is what “Never Again” means. It means that never again will a defenseless, stateless Jewish people be led to slaughter. It means that any power considering annihilation of the Jews will pay a fatal price.
That is why all this talk about another Holocaust is so insulting to Israel. There cannot be another Holocaust. A powerful nuclear-armed Israel is the ultimate deterrent.
Those who insist that another Holocaust is imminent believe that this form of deterrence—known as “mutually assured destruction”—would not work with Iranians. Unlike say the Nazis, Soviets, North Koreans, and pretty much everyone else on the planet, Iranians are said not to care if their own civilization is destroyed in the process of destroying their enemy.
Here’s Benny Morris in the New York Times: “Given the fundamentalist, self-sacrificial mindset of the mullahs who run Iran, Israel knows that deterrence may not work as well as it did with the comparatively rational men who ran the Kremlin and White House during the cold war. They are likely to use any bomb they build. . . . Thus an Israeli nuclear strike to prevent the Iranians from taking the final steps toward getting the bomb is probable. The alternative is letting Tehran have its bomb. In either case, a Middle Eastern nuclear holocaust would be in the cards.”
In other words, the only way to prevent a nuclear war is to initiate one.
Now I may be naïve but I have yet to hear of any civilization that would choose to go down in flames just to take out the enemy. The Imperial Japanese were as fanatical as any people on the planet, but once they saw the destructive power of the atomic bomb, they surrendered. The Soviets, under Stalin (“comparatively rational,” according to Morris) knew they could not defeat the United States so they decided on coexistence, preferring a cold war to a suicidal hot one. The Red Chinese, in their fanatical mode, developed nuclear weapons at a moment when they considered themselves in a life-and-death struggle with both the United States and the Soviet Union but chose not to use them. The same goes for the Indians and Pakistanis who have been engaged in a bloody struggle for fifty years. They both have nuclear weapons.
Iran is different, the hawks say. Sounding like Ahmadinejad describing the Jews, Israel’s minister of transportation and candidate for prime minister, Shaul Mofaz, says that “the Iranians are the root of all evil.”
Morris agrees. There is no one like the Iranians. Only Iranians are willing to give up their cities, their children, and their civilization to destroy the enemy. (Believing that one’s adversaries don’t love their children is nothing new. In every war it is said that the other side is willing to sacrifice its own kids which proves that they—unlike us—are essentially not human.)
I don’t buy it. I don’t believe that the Iranians would sacrifice Tehran to take out Tel Aviv. Yes, they would sacrifice soldiers at the front (look at the mass carnage of the Iran-Iraq War) but not their civilization. And certainly not their children.
Those who insist that they would are precisely the same people who told us that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction and that, in the words of Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, we must invade Iraq rather than wait for a “smoking gun” which would likely be a “mushroom cloud.”
It’s hard to believe that anyone would heed these people twice.
There can be no doubt that the Iranian threat has to be addressed. Although President Ahmadinejad has to answer to the mullahs, his obscene threats need to be taken seriously. But that means using every means at our disposal to contain the Iranian threat, starting with diplomacy without pre-conditions. The worst thing that can happen is that no agreement would be reached and other plans would have to be made. But to assume, as Benny Morris does, that we need to trigger the apocalypse in order to prevent it is nothing short of nuts.
I’m not saying Morris wants a nuclear war, only that he thinks that there are worse things—like diplomacy (an option he dismisses in his op-ed). Here is what he says about nuclear war: “It is in the interest of neither Iran nor the United States . . . that Iran be savaged by a nuclear strike, or that both Israel and Iran suffer such a fate. We know what would ensue: a traumatic destabilization of the Middle East with resounding political and military consequences around the globe, serious injury to the West’s oil supply and radioactive pollution of the earth’s atmosphere and water.”
“Traumatic destabilization.” “Serious injury to the West’s oil supply.” And “radioactive pollution of the earth’s atmosphere and water.”
That’s all! He doesn’t even mention the dead.
Imagine this is what a noted historian thinks is preferable to talking to Iran. As for Israel, the Promised Land to which Jews have dreamed of returning for 2,000 years, it supposedly would survive both nuclear devastation and the world’s awareness that it triggered nuclear war. What planet does Morris live on?
The good news is that there is a Jewish state. It is strong. It has nuclear weapons. And it isn’t going anywhere. Declaring otherwise to advance the same neoconservative agenda that has already done America, Israel, and the world so much damage is inexcusable.
And this time it’s not working.
From Israel Policy Forum, August 8, 2008
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