Monday, December 9, 2013

The Geneva Deal, History and Fear

Years ago, when studying in Jerusalem, my friends and I hailed a cab and jumped in.  One of my companions is blind and was accompanied by his seeing eye dog, a trusted and caring German Shepherd.  The driver became agitated.  He refused to allow the dog in the car.  We grew defensive of our friend.  Our indignation soared, "How dare you discriminate!"  But our friend understood.  The driver was a Holocaust survivor and in his mind, and heart, such dogs were trained for another purpose. He grew increasingly terrified.  It took a great deal of coaxing but eventually my ever calm and wise friend persevered.  Although blind he sees and understands far more than most.  He immediately saw and understood the fear.  Perhaps that was all the driver needed: understanding and acknowledgment of his fear, a recognition that despite the fact that it was now over sixty years later, his fears are still real.

I thought of this experience as I begin to analyze the recent agreement brokered with Iran over its nuclear ambitions.  President Obama does not appear to understand Israeli (and for that matter, Jewish) fears.

Yossi Klein Halevi remarked in an article, "Israel's Freakout, Explained":
During the first Obama administration, the urgent Israeli question was: Is he is a friend of the Jewish state? That question was largely resolved for many Israelis during the President’s visit to Israel last March, when he won over much of the public by affirming the Jewish roots in the land of Israel and the indigenousness of Israel in the Middle East, as well as Israel’s past efforts to make peace.
Now, though, Israelis are asking this: After eight years of President Obama, will the Middle East be a safer or more dangerous region for Israel?
For most Israelis the answer is self-evident. The turning point came this summer, when Obama hesitated to enforce his own red line over Syria. That was the moment that he lost the trust of the Israeli public on Iran.
Israel lives, and thrives, in a terrifying neighborhood.  It must remain forever vigilant.  It must be strong and resolute.  I have never known its fears.  Yet they are part of my people's history.

Still I wonder about Prime Minister Netanyahu's insistence that any deal with Iran is akin to Chamberlain's accord with Nazi Germany.  If we insist on this comparison there can only be one resolution to today's conflict.  History can, and should, be a teacher.  But today is not 1938.  The past is but one lens. The future cannot necessarily be seen more clearly through the past.  History is an imperfect prism.

Also writing in The New Republic, Ben Birnbaum, offers a different perspective, "The Iran Deal is Better Than Nothing--Even for Israel":
Another top Israeli security figure recently noted to me that if the deal taking shape in Geneva were to forestall a nuclear-armed Iran for a couple of years, it would be almost as effective as an Israeli military strike—with none of the consequences, of course. Compared to the current situation, the Geneva deal does not clear that bar. But compared to where the Iranian program would be six months from now without a deal, it could come close.
Make no mistake.  Iran continues to agitate for Israel's destruction.  Fear grows in my heart.  We must remain wary of Iranian promises and even suspect of their intentions.  Does that mean though that every effort to reach an accord is doomed?  Can a compromise with our enemies buy us a measure of security?

I want to remain hopeful.  Yet I remain afraid.  I take counsel from the prophet Isaiah, "Say to the anxious of heart, 'Be strong, fear not...' (Isaiah 35)

I reread his words. "Then the eyes of the blind shall be opened, And the ears of the deaf shall be unstopped...."

History is an imperfect lens.  Yet I draw faith from its waters.
And the ransomed of the Lord shall return,
And come with shouting to Zion,
Crowned with joy everlasting.
They shall attain joy and gladness,
While sorrow and sighing flee.
Sorrow and sighing flee.  Fear and trembling banished from our hearts.   And the land might rest secure.

1 comment:

Rabbi Cy Stanway said...

Since you are using a Biblical phrase to support wishful thinking, I will offer one of my own:

“It is a sign and a portent for Egypt and Nubia. Just as My servant Isaiah has gone naked and barefoot for three years, so shall the king of Assyria drive off the captives of Egypt and the exiles of Nubia, young and old, naked and barefoot and with bared buttocks—to the shame of Egypt! And they shall be dismayed and chagrined because of Nubia their hope and Egypt their boast. In that day, the dwellers of this coastland shall say, ‘If this could happen to those we looked to, to whom we fled for help and rescue from the king of Assyria, how an we ourselves escape?’” (Isaiah 20:3-6)

In this paragraph, Isaiah is warning about relying on nations that can't be trusted. Ultimately, that is exactly what happened and the Jews are standing there saying 'huh?' and feeling totally snickered.

Yes, that is exactly what will happen vis-a-vis Iran. And no amount of wishful thinking will change it one iota. We will be standing around going 'huh?' after they detonate an A-bomb and then all wonder how come they betrayed our confidence.