This is part of Marc H. Ellis’s “Exile and the Prophetic” feature for Mondoweiss. To read the entire series visit the archive page.
The President of Iran left the United States yesterday after a telephone conversation with President Obama. The good news is that some kind of nuclear agreement may be forthcoming.
Good news for the world may be bad news for Israel. Unless Israel is posturing. It could be that Israel is condemning Iran’s initiative in public while breathing a sigh of relief behind closed doors.
The world waits with bated breath to see if Prime Minister Netanyahu will once again bring his (literal) cartoon rendering of the world to the United Nations on Monday. With or without cartoons, he won’t be forthcoming about justice for Palestinians.
Netanyahu’s soliloquies are tiresome, shameful and playing to an increasingly limited audience. If anyone is listening outside a regressive Jewish minority, hawkish Tea Party members, Christian evangelicals and the peculiar alliance of right wing Republicans and liberal political elite bought by AIPAC, contact your nearest Israeli Consulate. You will be showered with affection. Political donations will be forthcoming.
So it is. The Iranian leader is painted by the Jewish establishments in America and Israel as a wolf in sheep’s clothing. Internationally, Netanyahu is seen as a wolf in wolf’s clothing.
No one should think Iran – or President Rouhani – is innocent. Iran has national interests in the Middle East and pursues them. If a few eggs have to be broken in the process, Iran does it without a second thought. Israel is no different than Iran. Both Netanyahu and Rouhani speak as if their nations are innocent. They aren’t.
What should be said about the political rendering of the Holocaust as Rouhani leaves and Netanyahu arrives? Time is on Rouhani’s side. His evocation of the Holocaust as condemnable, reprehensible and a crime against humanity when the victims were Jews and when the victims were non-Jews should be applauded.
Rouhani’s parsing of the Holocaust and the dislocation and suffering of Palestinians is correct. This is how the international community understands it. This is how Jews should understand it. Jews of Conscience are already there.
Does this mean that the Holocaust for Jewish life is less important because Rouhani correctly points out that the Nazi conflagration engulfed millions of non-Jews as well? No. It means that the memory of the Holocaust has to be demilitarized. Using the Holocaust as a weapon against others – against Palestinians, against Iran, against Jewish dissidents, against Christians who break their silence on Israel’s abuse of Palestinians, against supporters of BDS – is wrong.
In the end, Holocaust warriors will lose their battle. They already have.
Rouhani’s representation of the Holocaust means that using Israel as wedge of Jewish defense against another Holocaust, if it was ever more than rhetoric, is time-bound. Its shelf life has expired. Israel is not a shield against another Holocaust.
Likewise, denying the Holocaust for political reasons or simply turning back the question of whether the Holocaust occurred by invoking Palestinian suffering, Rouhani’s predecessor’s way of hitting at Jews, Zionists, Israel and their fellow travelers, may be over, too. Good riddance.
However the Holocaust has been misused by the Jewish community in America and Israel, however expansive the suffering was in the Nazi era, playing around with the Holocaust for political reasons demeans everyone involved. No matter how the politician or individual argues the case – separating individual Jews from the historical event of the Holocaust or, in another situation, distinguishing Judaism and Zionism as an absolute division – usually it’s about Jews and the claims Jews make about their importance in the world. The politics of resentment is dead end stuff.
With that proviso, it remains true that Israel has made it more dangerous to be a Jew. As Netanyahu speaks at the United Nations – without or without cartoon renderings – it should be remembered that rather than a protector, Netanyahu’s rhetoric and policies place Jews in danger.
Does Israel always have to be a dangerous place for Jews? No. That would ascribe fate to a political process that could change the Jewish, Israeli, Palestinian and Middle Eastern equation.
What are the odds that Netanyahu will take up Rouhani’s offer to really change the face of the Middle East? It would require an about-face for Netanyahu, Israel and the mainstream of Jewish life.
This is precisely what Jews desperately need.