The same question, wherever you turn. In a hundred accents, at the green grocer's, the dentist's, the college library, the gym. From garage to synagogue, the question doesn't change: Will we attack Iran?
Which is to ask: Will Iran then reduce Tel Aviv, and all of Israel, to ashes?
If a decision has, in fact, been taken, the dozen or so Israeli government and military officials who would know, are not telling. At the same time, it is fair to assume that those who are prepared publicly to hazard a prediction, do not, in fact, know.
This is what we do know. And if we know it, Iran does as well:
To bring an end to the existence of a Jewish state, to erase Israel from the map, this is the sum total of what Iran must do now: Nothing.
Play it out: Say the response of the United States and Western Europe to the IAEA watchdog report on Iran's nuclear program, a response mitigated by arm-twisting and interest peddling by Russia and China, stays tepid.
Say Israel decides against going it alone. Say Iran goes about its business, and remains a few years, or a few months, or one turn of a key, away from assembling its nuclear device.
Iran wins because of what many Israelis now see that Israel is turning itself into: Iran.
Not because our justice minister was widely quoted as telling a convention of rabbis and religious court judges that "step by step, we will bestow upon the citizens of Israel the laws of the Torah and we will turn Halakha (Jewish religious law) into the binding law of the nation." Minister Ne'eman later said he had been misunderstood.
And not because our prime minister, cribbing a page from the playbook of the Islamic Republic, has demanded that Israel henceforth be recognized explicitly as a Jewish state.
These were mere preludes. These were feints, deceits, the kind of smoke that Iran blows to keep scrutiny at bay. What matters is what Israel has done since. Wave upon wave of legislation, governmental fiat, and clerical fanaticism, bigotry, graft, and extortion, which are fast turning Israel into the only former democracy in the Middle East.
We are turning Iran. And every step we take toward that end, Iran wins.
Every time a bureaucrat in black - ostensibly, ostentatiously, a Rav, a rabbi, a man of greatness – can discriminate against women; every time he can deny them access to holy sites and relegate them to the backs of buses; every time he can prohibit the image of a woman's face in public advertising; every time he can decide when and where and if, as soldiers, as students, as worshippers, they may sing or dance or speak or stand or even be present in Jewish worship, Iran wins.
Every time a well-connected crackpot preacher holds up vital hospital construction, brandishing a voodoo ruling of his alone; every time he abrogates the religious rights of Reform, Conservative, Reconstructionist, Renewal and even fellow Orthodox Jews, even rabbis; every time he bars Ethiopian or Moroccan schoolgirls from studying with Ashkenazi schoolgirls, Iran wins.
Every time a self-styled pious Jew places an extremist holy man above the law and its commands; every time he desecrates a mosque, every time he destroys Palestinian-owned olive trees; every time he attacks Arabs with rocks; every time he threatens peace activists in their homes; and every time he gets away with it - which is every time - Iran wins.
Every time the cabinet and the Knesset advance anti-democratic bills meant to stifle dissent, suppress the Arabic language, demonize human rights workers, and curb freedoms of expression and the press, Iran wins.
Every time the pro-occupation minority, here and in the Diaspora, defines the illegal Migron settlement outpost as Zionism, equates Israel's vital strategic interests with the permanent, God-mandated, clergy-driven, Messiah-oriented occupation of the West Bank and East Jerusalem; and blackmails the government into shunning peace talks, Iran wins.
"If the Iranians will just be patient," veteran commentator Yaron London remarked this week, "they can spare themselves the effort involved in developing an atomic bomb."
If Israel does not change, he wrote in Yediot Ahronot, in the space of a generation it will find that those who recognize Israel within its own population will constitute a minority. By then, it will be "doubtful that Israel will be a national entity any different than the nations that surround it: a theocratic state, poor from both the material and spiritual standpoints, chokingly crowded, and very similar to the Iran which poses us such threats."
Want a prediction? Here's one: Benjamin Netanyahu will outlast Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in office. Here's one more: If things go on as they have for the past two years, Benjamin Netanyahu may outlast Israeli democracy as well.
We are turning into Iran. We have had no more success in slowing chain reactions in the Knesset, in the Rabbinate, in the cabinet, than we have shown in slowing uranium enrichment in Natanz or heavy water production in Arak. Perhaps even less.
We can't seem to stop ourselves. Even if we know that it may well be this, and not Ahmadinejad's centrifuges, which will, in the end, spell death to Israel.
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