Skip to main content

Talking about Iran

This is a 30 minute video with my teachers from the Shalom Hartman Institute: Tal Becker, Yossi Klein Halevi and Yehuda Kurtzer.  Their topic is: "What We Talk About When We Talk About Iran."  Their discussion is not about the specifics of the Iranian nuclear threat.  Instead they debate the perceptions of this threat.  Yehuda represents the American Jewish perspective and Yossi the Israeli.  Their insights are worth noting.

What follows are my thoughts.

Here in the United States the debate seems to follow two lines of thinking.  Either Obama is not doing enough (because he really does not care about Israel) or Israel is being overly hysterical about the threats it faces (again).  Regarding the first point, I can't say what might be Obama's true inner motivations, although many people speak and write as if they know exactly what he thinks and believes.  I do however find him to be naive about the Middle East. Obama acts as if he can sway by reason everyone and anyone, even tyrants.  I take dictators, and antisemites, at their word.  Jewish history teaches me that reason will not convince them of their erroneous, and evil, ways.

In addition, I continue to believe that the definition of Zionism is that Israel must go it alone. The nature of having a Jewish state is that we must not depend on the world--even our greatest ally. We will write Jewish history ourselves--for better or worse. It will no longer be done to us. We will never again be victims. This is my biggest problem with the tenor of the debate among American Jews. It is all about Jewish victimhood and not what I believe Zionism is truly about, Jewish strength. It is all about America (under Obama) is victimizing the Jewish people, and selling Israel out. 

The only reason the US should help attack, or sanction, Iran is because it serves our American interests. Iran almost hates America just as much as it hates Israel. Why no one is talking about the Iranian hostage crisis that defined my high school years is curious and troubling. Imagine what the people who took Americans hostage would do with a bomb. The president of Iran was then a hostage taker!  Iran having nuclear weapons is a threat to the world. Still sanctions are at present the better approach for American interests, especially as these sanctions have been most recently configured.

The problem that we have is that American and Israeli interests don't appear in sync. Our sense of threat is different. American Jews get palpitations when this happens. We want them to be synonymous. They are not. Israel has a shorter timetable, and faces a far greater existential threat, and therein lies the conflict. Each nation must do what is best for itself and in its own interests.  American Jews will have to live with this conflict.  Make no mistake, however.  While I may not clamor for Obama to do what is in Israel's best interest, I will support Israel in every way possible.  When Israel's leaders decide to take action to protect our nation I will stand with my people.  I might cry if the president offers little support, but I won't scream.  Recall that Reagan furiously criticized Begin when that Israeli prime minister ordered the bombing of Iraq's nuclear facility.  The US then supported a UN resolution condemning Israel.  Those two leaders had a similar distaste for each other, akin to our current two leaders.  Today's tension is all too familiar.  Conflict is part of any relationship and is part of the Israeli-American dynamic.  And we must learn to live with this present conflict.

I remain bound to the Jewish people, as I am to my family.  I am confident that Israel will do what is necessary, and required, to protect itself.

Some later additional notes:
For a prior post about these issues read my thoughts about Gershom Gorenberg's article here.
For a somewhat different view of American-Israeli relations as it relates to this Iranian crisis, read Donniel Hartman's piece here.
Watch next week's webinar from the Shalom Hartman Institute here and be sure to follow the institute's new website and materials about engaging Israel.