Kick not against the pricks, lest sore pain come — Aeschylus
In a recent article, Jeffrey Goldberg writes about ‘blowback’, the idea that Israeli actions can endanger Diaspora Jews.
The impact of Israeli strategic decision-making on the physical safety of Diaspora Jewry is one of those borderline-taboo topics in American Jewish life. For obvious reasons, Israelis, and their Jewish supporters abroad, don’t want to have undermining thoughts about a theoretically negative consequence of Zionism, a movement that is meant to make Jews safer, not more threatened.
The problem is simple: Muslim extremists often conflate Israel and the Diaspora. They do this for two reasons: One, they are anti-Semites, and so tend to see all Jews, and not merely “Zionists,” as their enemies; the second is a practical one — it is easy to strike at soft Jewish targets outside of Israel, easier, certainly, than executing mass terror attacks against Israeli targets these days. And so what you have, on occasion, is an attack like the one directed against the AMIA Jewish center in Argentina in 1994, in which eighty-five people were murdered.
Get it? Zionism is a bad idea because it might piss off the antisemites. And then they would really start killing Jews, and not just the ones in Israel. So better to withdraw support from Israel, and then…what? Maybe they will leave us alone?
I can’t even state the argument without its utter absurdity becoming evident. And to be fair to Goldberg, he doesn’t exactly agree with it. He writes,
I would never argue that Israel hasn’t strengthened, in particular, the American Jewish community, giving it both backbone and meaning. And I wouldn’t argue that Israel should refrain from acting as a rescuer of persecuted Jews worldwide simply because it blurs the line between the interests of the Diaspora and the interests of the Jewish state.
But he does suggest that Israel shouldn’t bomb Iran because it will annoy Hezbollah:
…the existence of groups like Hezbollah means that Israel should weigh, among other factors, the potential impact of a strike on Iran on Diaspora Jewish institutions. Already, I’ve been told, Jewish institutions across South America are on alert for a “revenge” attack because of the assassination of Imad Mugniyeh. Jewish institutions in North America are another story. Outside of New York, in particular, most institutions are fairly oblivious to some very obvious threats, and most Jewish leaders don’t realize that Iran, or Hezbollah, or for that matter, al Qaeda, think about their institutions as legitimate targets for terrorist attack.
In the end, he pulls back from the abyss and suggests that
The only thing that can be done is for Jewish institutions to prepare themselves for attacks that would almost certainly be launched in the wake of an Israeli strike. And, as of right now, the American Jewish community is not prepared at all.
I can’t disagree with that. In particular there is even an attitude of contempt that is displayed, especially by liberal Jews, when the question of security for Jewish institutions comes up, as if to say “how dare you suggest that we aren’t totally safe here in America?” Interestingly, these are the same people who start getting nervous when anyone threatens to anger the antisemites.
In Israel (at least until recently) it was generally thought that it doesn’t pay to worry about irritating antisemites, because they either are already enraged or will find a pretext to become so. It was generally thought that preparedness and sometimes preemption is the best response to threats against security.
Israel gives more than abstract “backbone” or “meaning” to Diaspora Jewish communities. I’m convinced that the original Zionist conception of Israel as a source of physical security for world Jewry is still valid. During WWII, even when the end of the Nazi regime was only weeks away, the British and Americans could not allocate the resources to bomb the gas chambers. Before the war, Jewish refugees were turned away all around the world. What would a well-armed Jewish state have done then? What would Israel do today in similar circumstances? Antisemitism is not dead and indeed is becoming more prevalent.
One of the driving forces of the original Zionists was the realization that nobody, not the ‘enlightened’ nations of Europe and certainly not the ‘tolerant’ authorities of the Ottoman Empire, was going to lift a finger to protect Jews. And this was before the 1903 Kishniev Pogrom and long before the Holocaust. This hasn’t changed.
Antisemites, including Iranian President Ahmadinejad, insist that Israel is bad for the Jews, that in fact it will make it easier to kill them if they are all in one place. A poor argument: which is better, to be in one place and possess nuclear weapons or to be scattered among many nations and be powerless as in 1940?
I’m afraid that Goldberg and others (like the remarkably craven M. J. Rosenberg) have fallen precisely into the trap set for them by Ahmadinejad et. al. Here’s Rosenberg:
The whole question of whether Israel’s actions can jeopardize us here is fraught with troubling questions. But they have to be raised.
An Israeli attack on Iran — absent an imminent threat of attack from Iran — is a terrible idea for many reasons. It would not succeed in eliminating Iran’s nuclear program but would almost surely prompt Iran to both opt out of the international inspection regime and redouble its efforts to produce a bomb. It would unite Arabs and Muslims against the US (they know that Israel could not attack Iran without implicit or explicit US approval). It would have a disastrous effect on the American effort next door in Iraq, eliminating recently made gains and endangering 130,000 American troops (this is why Defense Secretary Robert Gates so vehemently opposes an Israeli attack). And it would end the Arab-Israeli peace process, even putting the peace agreements with Egypt and Jordan at risk. And, no small thing, an attack would lead to a deadly Hizbullah missile onslaught against Israel, joined no doubt by Hamas in the south.
Nonetheless, an attack is not out of the question because there are forces in Israel and here that believe that anything, no matter how dangerous, is better than either negotiating with Iran or relying on sanctions.
No, if it happens it will be because Israel believes that anything, no matter how dangerous, is better than a nuclear weapon in the hands of Ahmadinejad. Any Israeli leadership will be quite aware of the danger from Hezbollah, Hamas, and even Syria, and there will not be an attack unless there was no alternative.
Regarding the Arab response to such an attack: Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Jordan would absolutely love it if Israel eliminated the Iranian nuclear capability. They would denounce Israel to the skies, but they would even help Israel if they thought it could be done in absolute secrecy.
As far as the US is concerned, we need to understand that we will not get Israel to sit still while Iran builds bombs, because Israel views this as an existential issue. Indeed US policies that attempt to stop Israel by witholding equipment, etc., can not prevent an attack, they can only make it less effective — which is exactly what we do not want.
Indeed, with the apparent impossibility of applying sanctions strong enough to deter Iran, and the apparent decision here that the US will not take military action, then the only deterrent left is Iran’s fear of an Israeli attack.
Therefore, if we see an Iranian bomb as opposed to our interests — and we must — the US should do all in its power to strengthen Israel, rather than trying to keep her on a leash.