“In the courtyard behind the Masjed-e Shah Mosque [Isfahan] I encountered two clerics. They were 30-something, spoke fluent English, and sat in the cloister on the maidan…” Laura Shapiro Kramer recently wrote in the Jewish Daily Forward. “I told them I was a Jewish American. They began challenging me about the “Zionist media,” my “proof” of the prophets Moses and Daniel, and the Holocaust. I pushed back. My Muslim guide, Malileh … remained quiet but squirmed when they said that women in Iran were free to choose whether they wanted to wear the veil. As I was about to leave, one cleric asked me if I knew anyone who could help with visas. They had been on a wait list for four years to come to study at Fordham University in the Bronx.”
Nebuchadnezzar II destroyed Jerusalem’s First Temple and brought Jews into Babylon (Persia) as slaves. Cyrus the Great liberated the Jews: many returned to Jerusalem, many went to Egypt, Iraq, Bahrain, Lebanon, India, Afghanistan and other places — many stayed in Persia.
Today, while Iranian Jews don’t live without scrutiny, they’re certainly not persecuted to the extent one would expect from a regime described by Benjamin Netanyahu in 2007 as a ” messianic apocalyptic cult” — and today it’s estimated there are between 20,000 and 25,000 Iranian Jews and I don’t believe that Benjamin Netanyahu speaks for them all.
John Boehner and the Republican majority Congress invited Israel’s Prime Minister to directly challenge President Obama’s foreign policy — and Netanyahu accepted.
The presumption to come into our house and suggest our President was suffering from a serious case of naïveté, and lecture us, was offensive and unprecedented.
Netanyahu, whose country is assisted in part by American foreign aid, whose illegal colonies are sustained in part by tax-deductible donations by American citizens, had the temerity to come into our house to tell us that he knows better than we what our security interests are.
Yet, sadly, Netanyahu’s intransigent, condescending and often inaccurate rhetoric found a welcome audience. It was disconcerting to watch Americans rapturously cheer, bobbing up and down, as a foreign leader trashed their president — and then I got it: Revenge!
Bibi was exploiting the dark atavistic need of many Americans to get revenge — payback — for what they believe are unresolved foreign policy issues.
Some can’t see beyond their anger at the 1979 hostage crisis or 9/11.
They’re incapable of processing all America’s done to destabilize Iran and the Middle East — especially from the 1953 overthrow of Iran’s democratically elected PM Mohammad Mossadegh to our invasion of Iraq in 2003. Today, witnessing the evil of Al-Qaeda and Daesh, a combination of fear and rage makes them unable to move beyond a need to strike out at the peoples they believe are challenging the world order.
Their judgment, clouded by bias, renders them susceptible to the fulminations of a polished orator; How, they ask themselves — from a privileged Judeo-Christianist exceptionalist viewpoint — can the people who did these things be trusted — especially when they haven’t been fully paid back for depredations visited upon us.
That, I realized, was the true message woven into Bibi’s speech.
Bibi’s nationalistic hook: to reaffirm to many members of the Senate and House, and their followers, that Israel and America are the two essential pillars of the free world necessary to resist evil — not to negotiate with them but to put them in their place, humble, humiliate them, make sure they know their place. And contemporaneously preserve Israel’s conventional and nuclear military hegemony over the Middle East — a hegemony that would be challenged by a politically ascendant Iran.
On Tuesday, Netanyahu re-articulated an image of Iran he first invoked in 2007 at the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs: “The Iranian regime is basically a messianic apocalyptic cult. There is a pathological stream to militant Islam that has suicidal elements, the cult of blood, the cult of death, and the cultivation of fantasy. An ideology based on fantasy is what makes militant Islam very different from any other ideology…”
He didn’t mention that since negotiations started Iran has significantly reduced its enriched uranium stockpile and that Iran will accept limits on its nuclear work far beyond those required by the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) inspections and would be the most intrusive a NPT member has ever been subjected to — and that even after 10 years Iran will still be subject to additional protocols.
Iranian President Hassan Rouhani has said, “If the basis of these negotiations is for increased transparency, we will accept greater transparency … But if the negotiations are trying to prevent the people of Iran from (enjoying) their inalienable right, in other words advancement in science and technology, it is very natural that Iran will not accept such an understanding or agreement.”
Netanyahu’s response is classic Orientalism: “Now, if Iran threatens to walk away from the table — and this often happens in a Persian bazaar — call their bluff,” he said. “They’ll be back, because they need the deal a lot more than you do.”
Actually, Iran doesn’t. Iran’s not going to be humiliated by haggling over the price of a nuclear carpet and if an equitable deal is structured and the US walks away there is virtually no chance that our P5+1 partners will continue the sanctions.
Failure may be costly: Iran has supported America against Al-Qaeda in Afghanistan, it’s the major authority in Iraq, it’s our partner against ISIS in Iraq, and it is both a supporter and constraint against Hamas and Hezbollah on Israel’s flanks and it controls the Straits of Hormuz.
Iran, which hasn’t invaded another country for 250 years, which endured our overthrowing its democratically elected government, and which fought an 8-year war against America-supported Iraq, is a rational actor. In spite of its own excessive, over-the-top rhetoric — designed primarily for home consumption to keep the fanatical Revolutionary Guard at bay — it knows that even if it had nukes it would assure its own annihilation by attacking Israel.
President Obama believes that a negotiated deal with Iran, controlling its nuclear program while helping open up the country — a country with 11 operating synagogues and two kosher restaurants — where young clerics speak of Islam with Jewish tourists all the while applying to Fordham University, is the path forward for Israel, Iran and the United States.
This column appeared originally in the Portsmouth Herald.