Abandoning "Israel Firster" to Fight a Battle to Win

I have been fighting to help achieve a secure Israel, at peace with its neighbors, for more than 43 years. I continue to do that by fighting against a war that could eradicate Israel and endanger Jewish security in the United States and throughout the world.
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Writing in the Jewish Daily Forward,JJ Goldberg reminded me of words I wrote 43 years ago in the Village Voice:

I shall always choose the Jewish cause.Not blindly, not arbitrarily, but with full knowledge of who I am and where Imust be.

My views on Israel have not changed very much since then. Then,as now, I opposed Arab radicals who refused to accept Israel's right tosovereignty and security. Then, as now, I opposed Israeliradicals and their allies here who pretend that Palestinians don't exist or, ifthey do, don't have the rights granted to every other people.

One monumental thing has changed in 43 years. In 1969,neither any Arab country nor the Palestinians accepted Israel's right to exist.Since then, Israel, Jordan and Egypt have signed bilateral peace agreements, andremain committed to their terms. The PLO recognizes Israel's right to existsecurely within the '67 lines. The entire Arab League (every single Arab state)is offering Israel peace, normalization and security in exchange for ending theoccupation. As Shimon Peres says, Israel now has "partners for peace."

But then there is Iran. Watching the AIPAC conference, I washorrified to see an ostensibly pro-Israel organization promoting a war thatpresents an existential threat to Israel's survival. I vehemently oppose thevery idea of war with Iran and am appalled by the right-wing Israeligovernment but, even more, by itssupporters here at home who are trying to push the president to either bomb orsupport the bombing of Iran.

Not surprisingly, I have been underassault by various people on the right for my vigorous criticism ofAIPAC and its role in promoting confrontation with Iran. My critics areparticularly irked that I use the term "Israel Firster" to describe people who,in my opinion, put the interests of the Israeli right above everything else. Thisincludes politicians such as Newt Gingrich, who as far as I know, is notJewish. Watching the AIPAC conference convinced me that I must recommit myselfto fighting those who are working to lead this country and/or Israel to war inIran.

But I will do so without using the term "Israel Firster." The term was coined in 1960 by the late Abram LeonSachar, founding President of Brandeis University, and a renowned Jewish historian (his son Howard Morley Sachar remains the greatest historian ofcontemporary Jewry) and was first used by the elder Sachar in a speech hedelivered that year to a Zionist organization.

It has proven to be a distraction, allowing the pro-war lobbyto focus on my choice of words rather than the substance of my arguments. Iwill not be using it again, for many reasons including the fact that some goodpeople were genuinely offended by it. That was not my intention. My intentionis to focus like the proverbial laser on the threat posed by war with Iran andthe 45 year occupation.

Perhaps I feel that threat more than some. My wife was bornin a Displaced Persons camp in Germany to Polish Jews who survived theHolocaust. Many in the family didn't including my wife's uncle, for whom ouroldest son is named, who was caught by the Nazis putting up posters in Warsaw urging resistance. He was gassed in Maidanek along withhis young sister, just engaged to be married. They were both Zionists whodreamed of living in Israel. How amazed and happy they would be to know that avibrant Israel exists. How horrifiedthey would be to know that its existence is jeopardized by an unnecessary war,one that can be avoided by diplomacy.

Just yesterday on 60 Minutes Meir Dagan, the recently retired Mossad director, said that in his opinion, Iran is"rational" and not suicidal and that war would be an unendingdisaster for his country. He implies that following a retaliatoryattack by Hezbollah, which has tens of thousands of missiles on Israel'snorthern border, the Jewish state would not even survive as a functioningsociety. The blowback from an attack on Iran "will havea devastating impact on our ability to continue with our daily life."

Hereis Jeff Goldberg, The Atlantic writer, on what the ramifications would be ifIsrael or the United States begin to bomb Iran, regardless of whether theattack succeeds or "fail[s] miserably to even make a dent in Iran'snuclear program:

[The Israelis] stand a good chance ofchanging the Middle East forever; of sparking lethal reprisals, and even afull-blown regional war that could lead to the deaths of thousands of Israelisand Iranians, and possibly Arabs and Americans as well; of creating a crisisfor Barack Obama that will dwarf Afghanistan in significance and complexity; ofrupturing relations between Jerusalem and Washington, which is Israel's onlymeaningful ally; of inadvertently solidifying the somewhat tenuous rule of themullahs in Tehran; of causing the price of oil to spike to cataclysmic highs,launching the world economy into a period of turbulence not experienced sincethe autumn of 2008, or possibly since the oil shock of 1973; of placingcommunities across the Jewish diaspora in mortal danger, by making them targetsof Iranian-sponsored terror attacks, as they have been in the past, in alimited though already lethal way; and of accelerating Israel's conversion froma once-admired refuge for a persecuted people into a leper among nations.

It gets worse, at a recent meeting of the Conference ofPresidents of Major Jewish Organization, New York Republican activist, JeffWeisenfeld said he thought Israel could well be destroyed in a war. This pieceby the brilliant Larry Derfner appears in the absolute best Israeli (andJewish) internet publication +972.

Hestarts telling me that it's not enough for Israel, or America,or Israel and America to bomb Iran's nukes. "Israel can'tgo on living with 200,000 missiles pointing at it," he said -- theyhad to be destroyed, too. I saw no use inmentioning Israel's deterrent power, or questioning the moralityof war as a means of arms control, so I asked Wiesenfeld howIsrael could survive the wars that would follow its attacks onIran, and Syria, and Lebanon, and Gaza, and the other countries that havemissiles aimed our way.

"It's going to happen sooner or later," hereplied.

And when the missiles are falling onIsrael, would he come here with his family and sit it out?

"At that point," he said, "Jews will betargets all over the world. There won't be any differencebeing in Tel Aviv or Times Square."


My message is this.

Many of the same people who pushed us into Iraq are doing thesame thing with Iran. They are pressuring Congress to prevent the president ofthe United States from negotiating with the Iranian government. They arebanning diplomatic contacts. They are (as they have for a decade) hyping theIranian threat, in part because they want a war and, in part, because they wantto use President Obama's reluctance to jeopardize lives as a tool to defeat himin November. And they are demanding that should Iran develop a nuclear bomb, we mustnot contain the threat (as we did with the Soviet Union, China, North Korea,Pakistan, etc) but should immediately go to war.

I have been fighting to help achieve a secure Israel, atpeace with its neighbors, formore than 43 years. I continue to do that by fighting against awar that could eradicate Israel and endanger Jewish security in the UnitedStates and throughout the world. This war has to be prevented. The issue mustnot be what label I use to describe the war agitators. It is what the Iran war agitatorsare doing. They must be stopped.

The first step is continuing to shine a light on theiractivities. That is what I do.


Lately, I have been thinking that the struggle against U.S. support for the occupation and for Israel's ambitions vis a vis Iran are similar to the struggle against slavery. Abolitionists were hated in the south. It was against U.S. law to mail abolitionist material to southern states. In the north, which mostly opposed slavery, abolitionists were considered over the top, extreme, radical and worse.

Congress consisted of southerners who defended slavery, northerners who went along purely out of expediency, and a few brave people who spoke out.

One man who did was William Lloyd Garrison, widely considered an extremist but a man who knew he was right and would be proven right. I do not compare myself to him or to any of the heroes of the abolitionist movement.

Nonetheless, Garrison's words sum up my philosophy and why I do not intend to be silenced by those who have been silencing opposition for 50 years or more. I think Garrison would understand why I use strong language when confronting neocons who are jeopardizing the survival of Israel and the well-being of the safest and most welcoming homeland Jews have ever had, the United States of America.

"I will be as harsh as truth, and as uncompromising as justice. On this subject, I do not wish to think, or speak, or write, with moderation. No! now! Tell a man whose house is on fire, to give a moderate alarm; tell him to moderately rescue his wife from the hand of the ravisher; tell the mother to gradually extricate her babe from the fire into which it has fallen; -- but urge me not to use moderation in a cause like the present. I am in earnest -- I will not equivocate -- I will not excuse -- I will not retreat a single inch -- AND I WILL BE HEARD."

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