Exploiting Jewish Fear on Iran

AIPAC and Kristol Group Shamelessly Race to the Bottom

Have No Fear: Some leaders are exploiting Jewish fears of Iranian strongman Mahmoud Ahmadinejad for their own political or financial benefit.
getty images
Have No Fear: Some leaders are exploiting Jewish fears of Iranian strongman Mahmoud Ahmadinejad for their own political or financial benefit.

By Leonard Fein

Published June 24, 2012, issue of June 29, 2012.
  • Print
  • Share Share

Rabbi Nachman of Bratslav famously said that the main thing is never to be at all afraid. The revered rabbi was wrong. It is madness never to be afraid at all. We need to know whether to hide from the wolves, to slay them, or in some other way defend against them.

That said, it is — or should be — forbidden to exploit people’s fears, to use panic as a political tool, to raise funds or political support by bathing people in a cesspool of unrelieved (and exaggerated) fear.

The occasion for these comments is the coincidental arrival this past week of two documents that violate that prohibition.

The first is a fund-raising letter from AIPAC. It begins with a modest misrepresentation, recalling a march on Washington on October 6, 1943. The march involved some 400 rabbis who showed up at the gates of the White House, AIPAC informs us, “to present to the President irrefutable proof that the Nazis were conducting a wholesale annihilation of European Jews.”

Never mind that such proof had by then been available for many months. Never mind that showing up at the White House gates is not usually the best way to secure a meeting with the President. All that is beside the AIPAC point, which is that this gathering was “the last chance to stop the Holocaust.”

And the reason AIPAC begins its letter by invoking the Holocaust is that it wants us to believe that now, six decades later, with the world in crisis, one crucial thing has changed: AIPAC exists, and because it does, pro-Israel Americans are not turned away at the White House.

It is as simple as that, as simplistic as that. The unstated premise of the argument is that but for AIPAC, Obama would be no less indifferent than Roosevelt was. But that is a blatant mistruth. Israel’s leaders don’t believe it, nor, in fact, does AIPAC; all agree that the Obama administration and Obama himself have been more forthcoming on Israel’s security than any of its predecessors — and that includes, quite specifically, American policy vis a vis Iran.

Yes, Iran is a very serious problem. So is the global financial melt-down; so is global climate change. Dangling the Holocaust in front of us in order to rivet our attention, asserting that “no threat is more critical to Israel, America and the world than the rapidly increasing threat of a nuclear-capable Iran,” is an abuse of history and a misrepresentation of the current danger. It impedes serious discussion and debate.

Believe that AIPAC’s letter is a sober analysis and not an instance of panic-mongering, and it’s only a baby step to the second of this week’s arrivals. It, too, is about Iran. It comes to us from the “Emergency Committee for Israel” in the form of a 30- second video on Youtube. Its key sentence, which precedes a visual of a nuclear explosion, is “Talking isn’t working. It’s time to act before it’s too late.”

The ECI, apparently the brainchild of its chairman, William Kristol, the arch- and unrepentant neo-conservative, is noisy about President Obama’s alleged betrayal of Israel, stands firmly for an undivided Jerusalem (thus against a two-state solution) and, more generally, makes AIPAC look moderate. But even AIPAC, at least formally, accepts (for now) that talking is appropriate, that sanctions may work, that a frontal assault on Iran, whether by Israel or the United States, is not yet required. Not so ECI: Talking is a failure. Ergo, don’t waste your time. Act. Or, more bluntly: Bomb.

Playing with Jewish fears is a pernicious habit. Alas, hope, the obvious antidote to fear, is in short supply these days. Here and there, a tentative trickle, as in Myanmar/Burma, but not more than that. Hope is mostly an act of will, a sign of determination, not an appraisal of our circumstance.

Just last week, Rabbi Rick Jacobs, in his installation sermon as the new president of the Union for Reform Judaism, quoted the wise Dr. Jerry Groopman, who wrote that “Hope is the elevating feeling we experience when we see — in the mind’s eye — a path to a better future.” Ouch: Where is the path, and who are the pathfinders? Shall the path be cleared with hoes or with dynamite? (Diagnosis is so much easier than prescription.)

Still, we are taught by the prophet Zecharia that we are assirei tikvah, prisoners of hope. This week brought not only AIPAC’s exploitive letter and Kristol’s warmongering video, but also the moving words of Aung San Suu Kyi as she accepted, 21 years later, the Nobel Peace Prize awarded her in 1991. Beyond the words, is her life story not evidence for the reasonableness of hope? Long may we remain its prisoners.

Soberly then, hope and fear in proper proportions, inappropriate analogies and language discarded, we return to Iran, to the urgent task of ensuring that it will not acquire nuclear weapons.

Contact Leonard Fein at feedback@forward.com

The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.

Find us on Facebook!
  • Not a gazillionaire? Take the "poor door."
  • "We will do what we must to protect our people. We have that right. We are not less deserving of life and quiet than anyone else. No more apologies."
  • "Woody Allen should have quit while he was ahead." Ezra Glinter's review of "Magic in the Moonlight": http://jd.fo/f4Q1Q
  • Jon Stewart responds to his critics: “Look, obviously there are many strong opinions on this. But just merely mentioning Israel or questioning in any way the effectiveness or humanity of Israel’s policies is not the same thing as being pro-Hamas.”
  • "My bat mitzvah party took place in our living room. There were only a few Jewish kids there, and only one from my Sunday school class. She sat in the corner, wearing the right clothes, asking her mom when they could go." The latest in our Promised Lands series — what state should we visit next?
  • Former Israeli National Security Advisor Yaakov Amidror: “A cease-fire will mean that anytime Hamas wants to fight it can. Occupation of Gaza will bring longer-term quiet, but the price will be very high.” What do you think?
  • Should couples sign a pre-pregnancy contract, outlining how caring for the infant will be equally divided between the two parties involved? Just think of it as a ketubah for expectant parents:
  • Many #Israelis can't make it to bomb shelters in time. One of them is Amos Oz.
  • According to Israeli professor Mordechai Kedar, “the only thing that can deter terrorists, like those who kidnapped the children and killed them, is the knowledge that their sister or their mother will be raped."
  • Why does ultra-Orthodox group Agudath Israel of America receive its largest donation from the majority owners of Walmart? Find out here: http://jd.fo/q4XfI
  • Woody Allen on the situation in #Gaza: It's “a terrible, tragic thing. Innocent lives are lost left and right, and it’s a horrible situation that eventually has to right itself.”
  • "Mark your calendars: It was on Sunday, July 20, that the momentum turned against Israel." J.J. Goldberg's latest analysis on Israel's ground operation in Gaza:
  • What do you think?
  • "To everyone who is reading this article and saying, “Yes, but… Hamas,” I would ask you to just stop with the “buts.” Take a single moment and allow yourself to feel this tremendous loss. Lay down your arms and grieve for the children of Gaza."
  • Professor Dan Markel, 41 years old, was found shot and killed in his Tallahassee home on Friday. Jay Michaelson can't explain the death, just grieve for it.
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?

We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.