The writer Jeffrey Goldberg is a very smart guy. And unlike many who write about Israel, he knows something about it, having lived there and served in the IDF. He has interviewed many of the major players, and he is not a polemicist of the Left or the Right. His insights are often fresh and, er, insightful.
So I am always surprised when Goldberg misses the mark. And the way he missed it in an article published this Monday is illustrative of a misconception he shares with many American Jews.
Discussing the influence of Benzion Netanyahu on his son the Prime Minister, Goldberg remarks that the PM’s historian father was convinced of the “eternal nature of anti-Semitism.” He explains,
Benzion Netanyahu was a foremost scholar of the Spanish Inquisition, and he revolutionized his field by arguing convincingly that the Spanish weren’t motivated by religious feeling, but by racial hatred. In other words, conversion wasn’t enough to save the Jews: The Spanish hated the idea of Jewish blood mixing with their own. The Inquisition, then, presaged the Holocaust. He believed that physical acts of anti-Semitism are always preceded by years of hate-filled rhetoric meant to desensitize the world to the coming slaughter.
He was not the only scholar of extreme expressions of antisemitism, like the Inquisition or the Holocaust, to come to the same conclusions about the importance of radical antisemitic ideologies in shaping events. For example, Lucy Dawidowicz, in her well-known book The War Against the Jews, makes the case that Hitler’s obsession with ‘the Jewish Question’ interfered with his prosecution of the war (often to the great irritation of his generals).
Goldberg tells us that Benzion Netanyahu’s response to the threats faced by Israel today reflected this point of view:
Thus Netanyahu, like his son, saw it as a foregone conclusion that Iran seeks to build a nuclear weapon with genocide in mind. But unlike his son, Netanyahu thought that Iran should have been attacked long ago. “From the Iranian side, we hear pledges that soon — in a matter of days, even — the Zionist movement will be put to an end and there will be no more Zionists in the world,” he said at a party marking his 100th birthday. “The Jewish people are making their position clear and putting faith in their military power…”
The elder Netanyahu was similarly militant on questions of compromise with the Palestinians. Just as he saw the Iranians bent on committing genocide, he saw the Palestinians and their Arab allies singularly focused on the destruction of Israel…
Indeed, there are many parallels between the behavior of the both the Iranian regime and the PLO and Hamas — including massive incitement to hatred (see, for example, here), and the irrational subordination of other goals to opposition to Jews and ‘Zionists’ — and earlier manifestations of genocidal antisemitism.
So far, so good. But then Goldberg continues:
But there is an opportunity: Benjamin Netanyahu, precisely because he is the son of a man like Benzion, is the only Israeli politician today who could deliver the majority of Israel’s Jewish population to a painful compromise with the Palestinians. He is also one of the few whose endorsement of a deal between Tehran and Washington over the Iranian nuclear program — a deal that would allow the Iranians to have a supervised civilian program, for instance — would allay the concerns of even more hawkish Israelis. The average Israeli trusts that Netanyahu would not sell out their interests for a Nobel Peace Prize.
An opportunity? To repudiate the message of history by placing the state of Israel into the hands of the true heirs of the Nazis, the PLO? To commit national suicide by empowering the Iranian regime, which makes absolutely no secret of its intentions?
Israelis are not just paranoid. Their fears are not irrational. Someone really is after them.
There is a reason that “the average Israeli” voted for the son of Benzion Netanyahu, a man who shares his father’s values — because they too share his view of history. This is precisely why they believe that he would not sell out their interests.
The idea is not to “deliver” the Jewish population or to “allay the fears” of the ‘hawks’, as Goldberg suggests. It is not to force Israelis to buy the wishful (or cynical) thinking pushed by the Obama administration, despite their well-grounded misgivings. Rather, it is to actually ensure the survival of the state and the Jewish people.
Most American Jews, apparently including Goldberg, living in a place and time — unprecedented in history, by the way — where antisemitism is not a fact of daily life, have more or less forgotten the evil certain individuals and groups intend them. This isn’t the case in Israel, where they are reminded daily by Arab terrorism and Iranian threats.
And where they elected Bibi Netanyahu.