I can well understand people who dismiss comparisons between Adolf Hitler and Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, 1939 Germany and 2012 Iran or the modern and well-armed state of Israel and defenseless Holocaust-era European Jewry. The differences are so vast that there is no wonder that many people find them ludicrous.
I can also empathize with those who suspect that supporters of an attack on Iran are cynically conjuring images of the Holocaust in order to advance their cause. In recent years, any tin pot dictator who threatens Israel is Hitler’s successor, any critic of Israeli policies is a latter-day Goebbels and every call to negotiate on the basis of the 1967 borders is but a station on the road to the Final Solution.
And when zealot settlers call IDF soldiers Nazis and their commanders Eichmanns, when left-wing radicals describe the Israeli army as SS stormtroopers and Gaza as Dachau, when one of the most popular characters on Seinfeld is a Soup Nazi and when Adolf Hitler himself becomes the darling of YouTube spoofs from the movie Downfall - one can hardly blame people for refusing to take Holocaust analogies seriously.
But even if the legacy of the Holocaust has been crassly trivialized and cynically exploited by politicians in Israel and in America, it is still a towering presence in the lives of most Israelis and Jews, individually, and of Israel and the Diaspora, collectively. It is not some distant memory, it is not a historical tragedy, it is not something that happened to our forefathers once upon a time in a strange and distant land, it is not a ruse, not a cover, not a pretext and not an excuse. Even as the last of the survivors are rapidly disappearing from our lives and even if their children and grandchildren are living secure and comfortable lives and even if Israel has the most powerful army in the Middle East and a reported nuclear arsenal that can destroy any combination of its enemies seven times over, memories of the Holocaust are omnipresent. And 70 years after the fact, it is the main prism through which I and most other Jews view the specter of a nuclear-armed Iran and the echo chamber where the arguments for and against a military attack are heard.
My mother, of blessed memory, never forgave her parents for refusing to leave Prague after the Nazi occupation in 1939, even though they stood a good chance of securing an exit visa. And she never forgave herself for not insisting.
It’s only bluster, they told her, a political posture He wouldn’t dare. The world won’t allow it. The Germans would never agree. The proud and lofty civilization of Goethe, Schiller and Beethoven cannot harbor such evil. Herr Hitler might be a ruthless and cunning and Jew-hating politician, but he’s not crazy. He knows his limitations. He isn’t suicidal. He wouldn’t push his country over the edge. All we need do is wait and this too shall pass. You go ahead, they told her, but we will stay here. Everything will be all right.
My grandfather died of typhus in October 1943 in the Terezin concentration camp in Czechoslovakia and my grandmother was gassed to death in Auschwitz in late 1944, when the Germans had already lost the war but were insanely insisting on using their last remaining resources to murder as many Jews as they possibly could. And when the Allies were asked to bomb the camps or the rail lines feeding them, but they couldn't be bothered
. They were otherwise engaged.
So after listening carefully to the logical analyses of experts about the internal rivalries between the Ayatollahs, the limitations of the Iranian regime, its need to divert attention away from the deteriorating economy, the growing internal opposition, the prospects for regime change, the 3000-year-old civilization that would never be risked, the hidden rationality of the irrational bluster, the fact that the Iranian leadership is not suicidal and would not endanger its own existence and the deterrent power of Israel’s powerful army and nuclear arsenal – after all this, I still believe, as do many Jews and Israelis, that a nuclear Iran is the worst possible option and that anything and everything that can be done should be done to prevent it.
And though I freely admit that this attitude is heavily influenced by the trauma and the legacy of the Holocaust, I reject the notion that this is irrational. In fact, the opposite is true: it is the expectation that when they come to make a decision about Iran, Israelis should ignore their experience, disregard their memories and forget the lessons that they learned from the destruction of European Jewry that is itself irrational. Jews know better than most that the unthinkable should never be dismissed, that the monstrous is often a viable option and that inside any supposedly cool and calculating anti-Semite there may lurk a murderous barbarian just waiting for an opportunity.
After all, what differentiated Hitler from all the others was neither his motivation nor his intention to exterminate the Jews, but the fact that he had the means and the opportunity to do so. When Iran has a bomb and a missile to carry it, it too will have the instrument of Israel’s destruction at its disposal. No rational leader of modern-day Israel - which, despite the cliché, rose out of the ashes of the Holocaust - can ever allow such a thing to happen.
Other than “Israel-lasters” – that is people who have Israel’s worst interests at heart and who view American foreign policy through the narrow prism of weakening Israel as much as possible - most opponents of a military confrontation with Iran, either American or Israeli, are genuinely convinced that it would do more harm than good, would damage rather than enhance America’s interests in the Middle East and would entail horrific consequences for Israel and the region as a whole. And who are convinced that Iran will never attack Israel with a nuclear weapon because the regime, after all, is completely rational and intent on surviving.
On my side of the argument, I admit, there are some gung-ho Republican presidential candidates who sometimes seem absolutely gleeful in promoting an attack on Iran – remember John McCain’s 2008 rendition of “bomb, bomb, Iran” to the tune of the Beach Boys’ Barbara Ann? – as well as run-of-the-mill rabid right wingers who disdain diplomacy, don’t believe in sanctions, think that liberals and Europeans are weak-kneed appeasers, view all Muslims – including Hussein Obama, of course – as collaborating with Iran against Western civilization and would like nothing better than to see clouds of smoke, preferably mushroom-shaped, rising over Tehran.
But most Israelis, from both sides of the political spectrum, would rather have Iran cave in to sanctions or be defeated in the clandestine war that is being waged against it. They are perplexed by the opposition of some Israeli security chiefs to an attack and absolutely terrified of its aftermath and its fallout and the danger that these may prove no less destructive than if Iran had built the bomb.
Nonetheless, when push comes to shove, when all the other options have been exhausted, when there is no other avenue left, when it’s yes or no, do or die, kill or be killed – then I think that most Israelis and Jews, including myself, will support a military attack. And the only way to prevent such a risky and dangerous development is to stop the Iranian nuclear problem dead in its tracks, and to stop it now.
Otherwise, in all likelihood, with grave doubts and terrible misgivings, the planes, will be dispatched, the missiles will be launched, the troops will be landed and the bombs will then explode. Because the phrase “Never Again”, however grossly misused and cynically manipulated throughout the years, was actually meant for this very moment.
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