On 3 March 2015 Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu came before the U.S. Congress and once again painted a false picture of Iran and its ambitions. His vision was both apocalyptic and simplistic: the state of Iran is evil and the source of most of the aggression and terrorism in the Middle East; it is eternally hostile to the West and it aims at the destruction of Israel; the West, with the United States leading the way, must stop this evil regime before it gains the capacity to use nuclear weapons.
He has been saying this for at least twenty five years, and like the false prophecies predicting the end of the world, the alleged catastrophe never seems to occur. Iran never seems to come up with a nuclear bomb. However, Netanyahu never stops predicting it.
The truth is that the actions and motives Netanyahu assigns to the Islamic Republic are factually wrong. Iran is not seeking nuclear weapons, has not carried on weapons research of this nature in over a decade, and is willing to commit itself to an inspections regime that will keep track of its good intentions in this regard. This stance is attested to by nearly every Western intelligence agency, and the Israeli intelligence organizations as well.
Indeed, Iran is much less aggressive than is Israel. Iran has not launched an offensive war in 240 years! However, Israel is in a state of constant aggressive expansion. So which one is the greater danger for the Middle East and the world? Apart from leveling a small number of oral threats leveled against the Zionist state, the Iranian leaders have made no aggressive moves toward Israel. On the other hand, Israel appears to be actively working for the destruction of the Islamic Republic of Iran.
Therefore, the prime minister’s assertions tell us more about the worldview of Netanyahu and his allies than it does about Iran. It tells us that the facts make no difference. Netanyahu and his allies just know, “existentially,” that Iran is after nuclear weapons and plotting the destruction of Israel.
Given this disconnect from reality, one can only assume that the prime minister of Israel and his associates are delusional – that is they cannot tell fact from fiction, or alternatively, that they are simply a liars. My feeling is that while the latter is certainly possible, I would not dismiss the former. Why so?
Netanyahu, and indeed all Zionists of his sort, are committed ideologues. In other words, they do not start with objectively investigated facts as the basis of their worldview. Rather they start with an ideology (Zionism) with which all interpretations of the outside world must be made to conform. Zionism insists on the absolute right to a Jewish state in all of Palestine. For the true believer, anything that might stand in the way of this right must be fought without compromise. That is why there can be no compromise peace with the Palestinians. Their willingness to accept compromise must be ignored or denied. And that is why Iran, whose leaders have publicly, and accurately, called Zionism a dangerous ideology, must be denied any nuclear capacity at all. The fact that Iran’s activities in this regard are legal and peaceful must also be ignored, denied or distorted into something evil. That is the only way they will fit the strictures of ideology.
People who are ideologically fixated can be like this – delusional and obsessive. In the ordinary workaday world they may or may not be annoying. However, if you give them power, their potential goes far beyond annoying to the point of being downright dangerous. That is where we are at with Benjamin Netanyahu.
What sort of history underlies Netanyahu’s obsessive delusions? It is the history of European Jewry, which, for him, is overwhelmingly the history of anti-Semitism culminating in the Holocaust. For Netanyahu that history is ongoing. It can never really stop. Because this is so, he and others holding this view have expanded the threat of anti-Semitism beyond Europe into the Middle East. The Muslims of that region are the new Nazis and their leadership comes from Iran (which is really impossible due to the Shiite-Sunni divide – but no matter, facts don’t count). Finally, Israel stands in for all of Jewry and, of course, is in everlasting mortal danger.
In the past month Prime Minister Netanyahu has repeatedly claimed that anti-Semitism is growing worldwide and presents a threat not just to Israel, but to all the world’s Jews. Take for instance his mid-February declaration that sporadic terrorist episodes in Europe are a sign of rising, revitalized anti-Semitism. As he put it “Jews have been murdered again on European soil only because they are Jews” and the ultimate key to their safety is immigration to Israel – the same Israel he claims to be threatened with nuclear destruction. Both the president of France and the prime minister of Denmark, who do not share Netanyahu’s view of the world, scolded the Israeli leader for implying that native Jews were not integral members of their national communities and would not be protected.
What is Left Out
It is typical of minds shaped by ideology that their worldview leaves out important aspects of any given situation. And so it is with Netanyahu. One important thing left out is Israel’s role in creating what danger does exist for Jews worldwide.
This fact was noted by the Israeli peace movement leader Uri Avnery who asserted in a column posted on 21 February 2015 that attacks on Jews in France and Denmark “had nothing to do with anti-Semitism.” They were caused in good part by “the ongoing Arab-Zionist conflict. … Practically every Arab in the world, and most Muslims are emotionally involved in the conflict.” The fact that Israel refuses to come to a fair and just agreement with the Palestinians, and continues to illegally expand into Palestinian land, seriously exacerbates the situation.
And, as Avnery puts it “When Binyamin Netanyahu does not miss an opportunity to declare that he represents all the Jews of the world, he makes all the world’s Jews responsible for Israeli policies and actions.”In other words, Netanyahu and the Israeli government are inciting violence against all Jews by making them appear complicit in Israeli crimes against Palestinians and other Arabs, such as those in southern Lebanon.
Zionist attitudes have always helped promote a kind of self-fulfilling prophecy when it comes to anti-Semitism. It has always been in Israel’s interest that it should thrive. And, lo and behold, Netanyahu’s policies and actions (and those of other Israeli governments) have made what was indeed a declining phenomenon into a growing one. That being the case, Netanyahu reminds the world’s Jews that Israel is “their home” and, for their own safety, its time that they all return. Yet, as the Israeli philosopher Yeshayahu Leibowitz once remarked, Israel is the only place in the world where Jewish lives are in constant danger.”
Just What Does Israel Have to Offer?
If Israel cannot offer a safer place for the world’s Jews, what else does it have to offer? Zionists other than the prime minister, sensing the weakness of the safety argument, offer other rationales. Unfortunately, these rationales also turn out to be distorted by Zionist ideology. Take, for instance, Avinoam Bar-Yosef, president of the Jewish People Policy Institute, a Jerusalem-based research center. He asserts that “the raison d’être of Israel is to create place where Jews can have a better quality of Jewish life.”
Let’s think about this claim. What does “better quality of Jewish life” actually mean? If Mr. Bar-Yosef is referring to a Jewish religious life, then Israel offers a powerful orthodox (that is, fundamentalist) religious environment that most Western Jews would find unacceptable. Perhaps he means a Jewish social or cultural life? If so, Israel offers a version that is laced with racism and militarism. Bar-Yosef might find this scenario congenial, but how many other Jews would? And indeed, a very recent poll has suggested that close to an unprecedented 40% of Israeli Jews would move out of Israel if the opportunity to do so presented itself.
Then there is the Israeli professor Shlomo Avineri’s, declaration that “the legitimacy of Israel does not hinge on anti-Semitism. It hinges on the right of the Jewish people to self-determination in a Jewish state.” One might agree that self-determination is a good thing overall, except where it leads to the creation of an apartheid-style racist environment. No one has a right to that sort of state.
Prime Minister Netanyahu is the most publicly unpleasant Israeli leader since Menachem Begin and Yitzhak Shamir, both of whom were unrepentant terrorists. Netanyahu’s repeated war mongering against Iran is a real embarrassment for anyone who is familiar with the facts. And then to see congresspeople and senators collectively jumping up and applauding the man’s distortions is downright frightening.
It would appear that while Netanyahu certainly does not speak for all the Jews or even all Israeli Jews, he might, perversely, speak for most of the U.S. Congress. There are now bills in Congress demanding more sanctions against Iran and a congressional veto over any negotiated deal with that country. These bills represent the spread of Benjamin Netanyahu’s obsessive delusions through the medium of the Zionist lobby’s corruption of electoral politics.
Think of the Israeli prime minister as a Pied Piper, playing the hypnotic tunes of anti-Semitism, Islamophobia and clash of civilizations down a dark and dismal road to war. He has most of Congress dancing behind him. Do the rest of us really want to follow?
Lawrence Davidson is professor of history at West Chester University in West Chester, PA.