A Tale of Two Claims: Ahmadinejad and the Jews
Yakov M. Rabkin
A recent article on Iran (“What Iran Jews Say” The New York Times, February 22, 2009) brought a badly needed note of rationality in the media coverage of Iran. Roger Cohen reports his conversations with local Jews, their criticism of Israel and their disapproval of double standards that continue to characterize American attitudes to Iran. While the Obama administration is moving towards diplomacy with Iran, the Netanyahu government is bent, at the time of this writing, on attacking it.
The images of Iran as a new Nazi Germany and of its president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad as a new Adolf Hitler have been firmly implanted in the Western public opinion. Not so long ago, the U.S. Representative at the United Nations would walk out of the General Assembly invoking two reasons for his refusal to hear the Iranian president speak: Mahmoud Ahmadinejad denies the Holocaust and wants to wipe Israel off the map. These two claims are meant to lead to a new war. But who introduced these images that have impeded rational debate about Iran, and why?
The BBC quoted Ahmadinejad saying, “If European countries claim that they have killed Jews in World War II ... why don’t they provide the Zionist regime with a piece of Europe.” While the “if” is obviously provocative, neither this nor numerous other quotes suggest that his goal is to deny this genocide. Rather, he uses the memory of the mass murder of Jews in Europe to emphasize the plight of the Palestinians and to test the limits of the freedom of speech obtaining in the West. He wonders why, in the name of the freedom of expression, cartoons of Mohammed can be published, while it is against the law in several European countries to question or make fun of the Nazi genocide. The competition of Holocaust cartoons organized in Iran attracted some plainly anti-Semitic works, complete with imagery borrowed from the rich arsenal of European anti-Semitic iconography. Some could be considered as revision and even denial of the mass murder of civilians committed in Europe in the early 1940s. This competition caused a furor in many Western countries, which was precisely the point the Iranian president had wanted to make. But he did not deny the Nazi genocide.
He also objected to the price the establishment of the state of Israel has exacted from the Palestinians (Muslims, Christians as well as quite a few non-Zionist Jews) for the crime committed by Europeans in Europe. Whatever his objection is worth, and however impractical his suggestion to create a Jewish state in Central Europe may sound, it is not a denial of the Holocaust. Even though Western media did report some of his quotes, and even though his speeches are available in translation online (http://www.youtube.com/results?search_query=ahmadinejad+on+holocaust&search=Search), the image of the Iranian president as a Holocaust denier has been successfully implanted in Western media.
While opposed to Zionism, Ahmadinejad has emphasized that he is not anti-Jewish. The appearance of six bearded, black-clad rabbis at the conference “Review of the Holocaust: Global Vision” held in Tehran in December 2006, gave the Iranian president an opportunity to reiterate that he is not anti-Jewish. According to the American Rabbi Yisroel Dovid Weiss, Ahmadinejad “is not an enemy of the Jews. He never was. He is a God-fearing man, as far as we saw. He respects the Jewish people and he protects them in Iran. But if the Zionists keep painting Ahmadinejad as an enemy, he warned, eventually, God forbid, he could become an enemy.”
Jews of Iran
Indeed, according to the official Iranian news agency IRNA, Ahmadinejad said, “vigilant and just human beings will not blame the Jews for the crimes committed by the fake Zionist regime and its supporters in the occupied territories.” The Jews of Iran continue to practice Judaism without much interference from the Iranian authorities and remain committed to staying put in the country they have inhabited for thousands of years. Had he been anti-Jewish, Ahmadinejad would have harassed the helpless local Jews rather than challenge a nuclear-armed regional superpower.
The Tehran conference had an obvious political agenda. By refusing visas to many delegations of Jewish survivors of the Nazi genocide who applied to attend, and to researchers who wanted to talk about their scholarly findings, Ahmadinejad has shown that the focus of the meeting was not scholarly. Iran also refused to grant a visa to Khaled Mahamed, an Arab-Israeli who founded the first Arab Holocaust museum. At the same time, he invited several unsavory figures from around the world accused of either denying or belittling the established accounts of the Nazi genocide.
But in using the memory of the Holocaust for his own political purposes, the Iranian president is hardly alone. According to Moshe Zimmermann, professor of German history and public intellectual in Israel, “the Shoah [Holocaust] is an oft-used instrument. Speaking cynically, it can be said that the Shoah is among the most useful objects for manipulating the public, and particularly the Jewish people, in and outside of Israel. In Israeli politics, the Shoah is held to demonstrate that an unarmed Jew is as good as a dead Jew”.
One tends to consider the accusation to be a Holocaust denier exceptionally harsh. A denier of the Kishinev pogrom of 1903, of the massacre of hundreds of thousands of Jews in Ukraine in the 17th century or of the expulsion of Jews from Spain in the 15th would attract no more attention than a member of the Flat Earth Society. It may be not only the immediacy and the magnitude of the tragedy, but the political uses of its memory, decried by Zimmermann and many other Jews, that make it unique.
Israel’s Raison d’etre
Israel’s former minister of education affirmed that “the Holocaust is not a national insanity that happened once and passed, but an ideology that has not passed from the world and even today the world may condone crimes against us.” In addition to providing Israel with a highly persuasive raison d’être, the Holocaust has proved a powerful means of leveraging aid. An Israeli parliamentarian put it bluntly:
“Even the best friends of the Jewish people refrained from offering significant saving help of any kind to European Jewry and turned their back on the chimneys of the death camps ... therefore all the free world, especially in these days, is required to show its repentance ... by providing diplomatic-defensive-economic aid to Israel.”
Norman Finkelstein’s Holocaust Industry amply documents how the memory of the Nazi genocide has been harnessed for political purposes. For decades, references to the Nazi genocide in Europe have functioned as an instrument of persuasion in the hands of Israeli foreign policy to mute criticism and to generate sympathy for the state, which styles itself as the collective heir of the six million victims. This was the case in 1948 and, particularly, in 1967 when the government of Israel warned of an impending second Holocaust while, as is now quite clear, the Israeli military leaders had never doubted their own victory. But this resort to the memory of the Jewish tragedy in Europe was not futile. Israel used it to justify a formidable pre-emptive strike against the neighbouring Arab countries in June 1967. It also brought many more Jews to embrace Zionism and to support Israel.
The Nazi genocide has been invoked to present Israel as the ultimate saviour not only of Israeli Jews but as the potential redeemer of Jews around the world. It was of the highest symbolic value that the first Israeli astronaut, himself a descendant of Holocaust survivors, carried with him aboard the American space shuttle, a souvenir of that era: a lunar landscape drawn by an adolescent in the Theresienstadt concentration camp. The message was to be one of rebirth, of pride in belonging to Israel, and against the indignity of dying in Europe. It is this link between the state of Israel and the Holocaust, not the fact of the Nazi genocide, that Ahmadinejad considers “a myth.” It is no more a denial of the Holocaust than the book The Founding Myths of Zionism by the respected Israeli historian Zeev Sternhell is “a denial of Zionism.”
Wipe Israel Off the Map
In his speech, when the Iranian president reportedly first made the remark, the word “map” does not even appear. In fact, he was rehashing one of Ayatollah Khomeini’s decades-old anti-Zionist diatribes: Esrâ’il bâyad az sahneyeh roozégâr mahv shavad, which means “Israel must vanish from the page of time.” After the canard about “wiping Israel off the map” circled the world and entered the public mind, some Israeli instigators of the anti-Iran campaign quietly dropped it from further use. A recent report about Iran published by the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs (JCPA), a Zionist think tank particularly active in stirring the anti-Iran campaign, attributes the offensive quote to Khomeini and translates it correctly, insisting, however, that the quote is “genocidal.” The latter term has become a favourite in recent Zionist publications: the same report also refers to “the failed genocidal 1948 war of several Arab states and Palestinians against Israel.”
These accusations are being spread in spite of the fact that, according to the official Iranian news agency IRNA, Ahmadinejad “called for a need to solve the problems facing the world, including the Palestinian issue, through dialogue.” He went on to propose “a free referendum to establish a government based on the will of the Palestinian nation in which all Palestinians, including Jews, Christians and Muslims will be given the chance to vote.” None of this seems to imply military action and cannot be interpreted as a threat. This may explain why none of this catches the attention of Western media. While Ahmadinejad’s statements make headlines, little attention is paid to Ayatollah Khamenei, who actually is in charge of Iran’s foreign relations, when he says that Iran calls for normalisation of relations with Israel if it accepts the Arab League proposal for a two-state settlement.
According to the Associated Press, the Iranian president also said that “the Zionist regime will be wiped out soon, the same way the Soviet Union was, and humanity will achieve freedom.” Just as the Soviet Union collapsed peacefully, he expects Israel to fall apart peacefully under the weight of its internal contradictions. Just as the Soviet Union was not wiped out in a hail of nuclear weapons, the Iranian president does not suggest using force to bring about the demise of Israel. (Nor would this be even remotely serious since Israel enjoys an overwhelming military superiority in the region.) He believes that just as communism lost its legitimacy and unfolded, so will Zionism vanish one day. In the same speech, he mentions the collapse of the Shah regime, which also used to look invincible. And, just as the end of Soviet communism and the Islamic revolution in Iran never meant wiping out Russia or Iran from the face of the earth, neither does the call for an end to Zionism mean the destruction of the country and its population. Jonathan Steel of The Guardian, commenting on his speech, concluded that the Iranian president was expressing no more than “a vague wish for the future.”
Aggressive Stances in Jewish Liturgy
Indeed, his wish resembles the prayer “for the peaceful dismantlement of the Zionist state” uttered regularly by members of the Jewish anti-Zionist group Neturei Karta who embraced the Iranian president in Tehran. In fact, Jewish liturgy itself abounds in rather aggressive stances against those who do not recognize God or commit evil acts. For example, in the High Holiday services, we have the phrase u’malkhut ha’rishaa kula ke’ashan tikhleh (And the kingdom of evil should disappear like smoke). Again, although this may be understood literally as a call to annihilate a whole country, what really is meant is that the “regime of evil” — any acts of evil done in any place — will be wiped out. Not any person in particular, certainly not thousands of innocent people.
Even though millions of Jews recite this every year, they don’t mean to start nuking out other countries. But if one wanted to demonize Jews, especially Orthodox Jews, one could take this statement and turn it into a baseless accusation that Jews wish to wipe out entire countries. Some Israeli secularists have in fact seen in this prayer a call to destroy the secular majority of Israel’s Jewish population. This is why Jewish tradition abhors literal readings of sacred texts and relies on their rabbinical interpretations however far-fetched these may sometimes appear. For example, the rabbis unanimously interpret the biblical principle of “an eye for an eye” as an obligation to pay monetary compensation, not to get the culprit’s eye knocked out.
The above piece of Jewish liturgy is a case of religious rhetoric relying on strong metaphors while expressing a desire to see a world without evil. And this is precisely what can also be said of Ahmadinejad’s statement. The religiously inspired Iranian president predicts the end of the Zionist regime, but he does not threaten to massacre the inhabitants of Israel.
The last time Iran attacked another country was over three centuries ago, a record neither the United States nor Israel can match even in their respective much shorter histories. Moreover, the Iranian president is not an absolute ruler: he must contend with checks and balances of theocratic and democratic nature. The fact that he is not in charge of Iran’s foreign policy may also explain some of his flights of rhetoric, which, incidentally, have been decried by intellectuals in Iran. It was reported that students protested against holding the Holocaust conference and burned the president’s effigy in Tehran.
The role of the Israel Lobby has been seminal in stirring the anti-Iran hysteria. The AIPAC meeting in Spring 2006 made Iran its special target and reportedly featured giant screens alternating clips of Adolf Hitler denouncing the Jews and Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad whose words were interpreted as a threat “to wipe Israel off the map.” The show ended with a fade-out to the post-Holocaust vow “Never Again.” Within months, these images have become commonplace.
The Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs (JCPA) has also actively promoted the anti-Iran campaign from both Israel and the United States. In December 2006 it organized a press conference proposing to indict President Ahmadinejad for threatening to commit mass murder. Two prominent lawyers, the American Alan Dershowitz and the Canadian Irwin Cotler, known for their staunch support of Israel’s right wing circles, were there to support the move. Cotler later made the proposed indictment “operational” through Bnai Brith Canada which called on Canadian and other governments to prosecute Iran for an alleged violation of the U.N. Genocide Convention. The JCPA initiative is at the root of similar public anti-Iran activities in Australia and other countries. In December 2008, a few weeks before Israel’s attack on Gaza, Irwin Cotler issued a 79-page petition that set out in detail alleged breaches by Iran of the Genocide Convention sufficient to warrant legal actions. This petition was severely criticized by the intrepid Norman Finkelstein, albeit only on his own blog: critique of the Zionists’ effects on other countries’ foreign policies is scarce in mainstream media.
The most impressive contribution to stirring the anti-Iran sentiment was made by the Israel Project, a Washington-based constituent of the Israel Lobby. In March 2007 it distributed an “Iran Press Kit” to over 17,000 media professionals and 40,000 pro-Israel activists in the United States. The Jerusalem office of the Israel Project distributed the kit to more than 400 foreign journalists accredited in Israel. The Iran Press Kit claims that the Iranian president “denies the Holocaust and says he wants to wipe Israel off the map,” It also adds that Iranian leaders supported attacks that killed thousands of Americans. Since many Americans believe that Saddam Hussein was behind September 11, it would not be difficult to make this new accusation stick. The Israel Project also plays on the fear of a nuclear attack: one of the documents in the press kit warns that “The Nuclear Clock is TICKING ... and time is running out.” The documents distributed by the Israel Project may be the most effective and concentrated effort to promote the image of Iran as a threat to American security. They dovetail with other materials prepared by Zionist organizations that appear considerably more overt than the more concealed support for attacking Iraq four years ago.
Actively Inciting Against Iran
Appropriation of the Iran issue by ostensibly religious Jewish organizations is widespread. Not only the officially Zionist bodies, such as the World Zionist Organization or the Jewish Agency for Israel, but also some religious organizations, such as Aish Ha-Torah, have published online petitions accusing the Iranian president of incitement to genocide. Zionist synagogues organize propaganda events against Iran while rabbis warn the congregants against the “genocidal” Iranian president. One rabbi is even rallying tens of thousands of Jewish children to this cause.
For years, ostensibly Jewish organizations actively incited against Iran. They were directly endangering the largest Jewish community in the Muslim world. Some of them attempt to destabilize Jewish life in Iran by offering Iranian Jews money to move to Israel. The Zionist desideratum — uproot Jews from their countries in order to gather them in Israel — takes precedence over the human welfare and the very survival of the Jews. They found eager allies among the millions of Christian Zionists in the United States. This demonstrates how un-Jewish many institutions that call themselves Jewish have become.
Anti-Iran fear mongering has shaped a new Zionist consensus. The right-wing politician Nathan Sharansky and the otherwise liberal scholar Shlomo Avineri, in spite of their political differences, call on the Jews of the world to rally against Iran. They repeat the assertion that Iran is determined “to wipe Israel off the map.” Sharansky sees in opposition to Iran an opportunity “to save the world.” The Israeli historian Benny Morris fears another Holocaust. The hysteria is quite palpable.
Precarious Place for Jews
The dread of Iran reflects the constant security concern, a trademark of the Israeli psyche. Both radical critics of Israel and the staunchest Zionists point out the paradox that has seen Israel, often presented as an ultimate haven, become one of the most precarious places of all for Jews.
Several Jewish thinkers had warned of this predicament. One of them prophesied during the War of Independence in 1948:
And even if the Jews were to win the war, […] the “victorious” Jews would live surrounded by an entirely hostile Arab population, secluded inside ever-threatened borders, absorbed with physical self--defence. [...] And all this would be the fate of a nation that — no matter how many immigrants it could still absorb and how far it extended its boundaries — would still remain a very small people greatly outnumbered by hostile neighbours.
This warning came from the Jewish political scientist Hannah Arendt who understood the perils of establishing a state against the will of local inhabitants and all the surrounding nations. Secular and religious Jewish thinkers alike had feared that Ben Gurion’s version of Zionism would endanger both physical and spiritual survival of the Jews.
Nowadays, when no Arab state poses a military threat to Israel it is Iran that many Israelis fear. Just next to Iran, which is as yet far from acquiring a nuclear potential, lies Pakistan, an unstable regime with a strong Islamist movement and a real, not imaginary, nuclear arsenal. As Arendt prophesied, there may be no end to existential threats if Israel stays her course and continues to defy the people of the entire region.
Schism Among Jews
The intensive anti-Iran campaign brings to light a profound schism between Jews who unconditionally support Israel and those Jews who reject or question Zionism and actions taken by the state of Israel. Public debate about Israel’s place in Jewish continuity has become open and candid, not only in Israel but elsewhere. This coincides with serious concerns expressed across the country’s political and religious spectrum about the future of the state of Israel that has condemned generations of its citizens to incessant warfare.
While there are relatively few Jews who publicly wonder whether the chronically besieged ethnic nation state in the Middle East is “good for the Jews,” many more Jews deplore that militant Zionism destroys Jewish moral values and endangers Jews both in Israel and elsewhere. For example, the film Munich by Steven Spielberg sharply focuses on the moral cost of Israel’s chronic reliance on force. During one scene, as a member of the Israeli hit squad hunting Diaspora Palestinian activists quits in disgust, he proclaims “we’re Jews. Jews don’t do wrong because our enemies do wrong ... we’re supposed to be righteous. That’s a beautiful thing. That’s Jewish ...” While Schindler’s List explores threats to the physical survival of the Jews, Munich exposes threats to their spiritual survival. The Israel Lobby, aligned with the nationalist right in Israel, energetically attacked the Jewish director and his film even before it was released. It also lashed out at several recent books (Prophets Outcast, Wrestling with Zion, Myths of Zionism, The Question of Zion) that are concerned with the same essential conflict between Zionism and Jewish values. This conflict is clearly noticeable in the current campaign against the Iranian president.
Attempts to Stifle Debate
These sharp divisions are not new: they have characterized Jewish life for centuries. However, the Israel Lobby (through its constituent American Jewish Committee) alleges that Jews who dare criticize Israel endanger its “right to exist” and foment anti-Semitism. This attempt to stifle open debate has provoked a number of prominent Jews in Britain, Canada and the United States to speak out, which moves candid debate about Israel into mainstream, even conservative publications. Even the eminently pro-establishment Economist in a survey of “the state of the Jews” and in an editorial called on rank-and-file Diaspora Jews to move away from the “my country right or wrong” attitude adopted by many Jewish organizations. The same Economist, among other mainstream printed and electronic media, provided detailed coverage of the anti-Zionist rabbis’ visit to Iran. The rabbis’ opposition to Zionism and to the very existence of Israel as a Zionist state (they refuse to call it “the Jewish state”) further eroded the misleading and dangerous image of the Jews as a group united around the Israeli flag.
Many Jews and Israelis believe that the Israel Lobby, a collective effort of right-wing Christians, Jews, Muslims and atheists, is a major threat to the security of the Israelis since it invariably supports Israel’s hawks and undermines those who work for reconciliation in the region. They also claim that the Israel Lobby is a potent source of anti-Semitism since it is often seen as “Jewish,” which creates the erroneous impression that the Jews dictate American foreign policy by pushing it to war. In fact, over three quarters of American Jews — just as three quarters of American Muslims — voted against Bush in the 2004 presidential election. It would be definitely wrong to conclude that Jews incite the world against Iran. In fact, several peace organizations in Israel and in various Jewish Diasporas issued statements condemning the current anti-Iran campaign. The recently formed J-Street is yet to join in this condemnation.
Jews Are Polarized
Relationship with the state of Israel and with Zionism has polarized the Jews. The axis of this polarization does not correspond to any of the habitual divisions: Ashkenazi-Sephardic, traditional-non-traditional, orthodox-non-orthodox. In each of these categories are to be found Jews for whom national pride, even arrogance (chutzpah), is a positive value, and who give their enthusiastic support to the state that incarnates what they identify as a life force, as a triumph of the will, and a guarantee of Jewish survival. But each of these categories also includes Jews who believe that the very idea of a Jewish state, and the human and moral price that it demands, undermines all that Judaism teaches, particularly the core values of humility, compassion and charity.
The question of Israel and Zionism may divide Jews as irremediably as did the advent of Christianity two millennia ago. Christianity, which embodies a Greek reading of the Torah, eventually broke away from Judaism. Like Christianity before it, Zionism, reflecting a nationalist, romantic reading of the Torah and Jewish history, has come to fascinate many Jews. It remains to be seen whether the fracture between those who hold fast to Jewish moral tradition and the devotees of Jewish nationalism may one day be mended. In the meantime, the nationalists appear to grow in determination to silence any opposition from within the Jewish ranks.
This is how attempts to counter the anti-Iran campaign are deemed as acts of treason. This can be seen in the way the anti-Zionist rabbis were treated after they returned home from the Holocaust conference last December where they publicly embraced the Iranian president. At the Tehran conference they declared repeatedly that the Nazi genocide of Jews is an undisputable historical fact. Rabbi Weiss said his grandparents had been killed by the Nazis, and he was in Tehran to affirm this; he went there to draw a distinction between Zionists and Jews.
Yet, prominent rabbis and public figures in Israel and the United States accused them of promoting Holocaust denial, without bothering to read the speeches or to talk with those concerned. Protests were held in front of the anti-Zionists’ homes. Children of one of the rabbis were thrown out of a Jewish school. Another rabbi was thrown out of ... a cemetery: his purchase of a burial plot in the local Jewish cemetery was annulled. This campaign of incitement resulted in violence: a group of Israelis physically assaulted one of the six anti-Zionist rabbis a few weeks after his visit to Iran. The assailants were widely praised for the attack.
Touched a Raw Nerve
One cannot imagine another act, certainly not any transgression of a Torah commandment, which would provoke such violent indignation. Its exceptional strength can only suggest that the anti-Zionist activists had touched a raw nerve. They had exposed something that has become the holy of holies for many Jews: the belief that Israel constitutes a repair for the mass murder of Jews in Nazi-occupied Europe, and an antidote against any future one. They exposed the uncomfortable truth that support for a political state has replaced commitment to Judaism and Jewish values.
This trend has been decried as dangerous and myopic. The Israeli historian of Zionism, Boaz Efron reminds us of the temporary, transitory nature of all political organizations:
The state of Israel, and all the states of the world, appear and disappear. The state of Israel, clearly, will disappear in one hundred, three hundred, five hundred years. But I suppose that the Jewish people will exist as long as the Jewish religion will exist, perhaps for thousands more years. The existence of this state is of no importance for that of the Jewish people... Jews throughout the world can live quite well without it.
This reminder is quite timely for many Jews who try to come to terms with the contradictions between the Judaism they profess to adhere to and the Zionist ideology that has in fact taken hold of them. The anti-Iran campaign fuelled by the current Israeli government and its foreign supporters sharpen political and moral divisions among Jews, many of whom have denounced it as cynical fear-mongering based on lies.
In Praise of Precision
The two emotionally charged accusations hurled at the Iranian president — Holocaust denial and intention to wipe Israel off the map — have dominated Western media. (Another accusation, that his government had allegedly passed a law requiring Jews to wear a yellow insignia, launched by Toronto’s National Post, also contributed to the image of Ahmadinejad as a new Hitler. While it was retracted the following day, more people remember the damning news than the subsequent retraction from the daily whose owners are active in Canada’s own Israel Lobby.) This disinformation certainly helps prepare the public opinion for a military strike against the oil-rich Iran, a disquieting remake of the scare of Iraq’s illusory weapons of mass destruction.
Once again, the spectre of a nuclear Holocaust is invoked, even though it is Israel that reportedly possesses hundreds of nuclear weapons while Iran, unlike Israel, is a signatory to the Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty and has never declared an intention to produce nuclear weapons. According to reputable Israeli experts, Iran cannot acquire a military nuclear capability for five to ten years, and if and when it does acquire it, they expect Iran to use it to restrain Israel’s foreign incursions rather than attack it. The “slip of the tongue” of the former President Jacques Chirac of France, who saw no problem in Iran acquiring a few nuclear weapons, only confirms this assessment. This also fits the perception, which, according to a recent BBC survey, is shared around the world that Israel constitutes a greater danger to world peace than Iran.
Against this background, the image of the Iranian president as a Holocaust denier bent on wiping Israel off the map in an act of genocide becomes indispensable. While certainly not an angel, he has been demonized by means of quotes that have been misinterpreted, mistranslated and even falsified. Ahmadinejad continues to be falsely portrayed as a demented extremist and a dictator with unlimited powers who can be expected to act irrationally. He appears to be the only world leader that media characterize as “genocidal.” Even at the height of the Cold War, when tens of thousands of Soviet nuclear warheads were aimed at the United States, no Kremlin leader deserved the appellation “genocidal.”
Conflation Between Israel and Jews
It follows that Ahmadinejad must be stopped at any cost. This becomes a mantra not only of the Israeli right wing politicians, such as the eloquent Benjamin Netanyahu, who overtly calls for an attack on Iran, but for quite a few American politicians, even though the United States is certainly in no danger of an attack from Iran. This deliberate conflation between Israel and the Jews dangerously muddles political debate about the Middle East, mixing in emotional and even theological arguments.
Intellectuals appreciate precision. Policy-makers need it no less. They should not mistake opposition to Zionist uses of the Holocaust for attempts to deny this historical event; they should not mistake a wish to see the Zionist state collapse for a threat to massacre millions of Israeli Jews. It is important to control knee-jerk reactions to skillful politicians who know how to push our sensitive buttons. Governments must act prudently and rationally, particularly in the face of leaders they accuse of irrational recklessness. It appears that this is finally happening in the United States, reluctant to trigger another war based on lies. It remains to be seen whether Obama will dare restrain Netanyahu, whether this time the tail will no longer wag the dog.
The author is Professor of History and associate of CERIUM, Centre for International Studies at the University of Montreal; his recent book is A Threat from Within: A Century of Jewish Opposition to Zionism (Palgrave Macmillan/Zed Books). A French version of this article appeared in La revue internationale et stratégique, Paris, N°70, 2008.