Because Jewish lives matter, too

shutterstock_165651794Let me tell you where I was when I learned about the Iran deal.

I was leaving Treblinka.

My wife and I have just returned from a journey to Poland for parents of United Synagogue Youth members, under the direction of the master guide and veteran youth educator, Jules Gutin.

We visited Warsaw, Krakow, Lodz, and Lublin -- with pilgrimages to Auschwitz-Birkenau, Maidanek, forests where Jews were killed, and Treblinka. We immersed ourselves in the nuances and the "fifty shades of grey" of the Polish-Jewish relationship. We visited the POLIN Museum of the History of Polish Jews -- perhaps the greatest Jewish museum in the world. We witnessed the rebirth of Polish Jewry, which gave me a powerful lesson in the meaning of the Jewish prayer that thanks God for the resurrection of the dead.

What does it mean to hear about the Iran deal on the way out of Treblinka?

In the words of my friend, journalist Yossi Klein-Halevi: when someone says that they want to destroy you, believe it.

Because that is precisely what the leaders of Iran have been saying, all along, about Israel.

Mohammad Reza Naqdi, the commander of the Basij militia of Iran’s Revolutionary Guards, has said that “erasing Israel off the map” is “nonnegotiable."

Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has repeated called for the destruction of Israel, stating that the “barbaric” Jewish state “has no cure but to be annihilated.” One of his officials has said that his government has a "godly ordained right" to annihilate Israel.

Iran's anti-Semitic, anti-Israel obsession is  common knowledge. That is why we have every reason to be wary of a deal with Iran that allows that regime access to nuclear arms in fifteen or twenty years. Because the genocidal fantasies of Iran have no expiration date. Their time table is not our time table. They are on the apocalyptic clock. They can wait fifteen, twenty, whatever years.

Make no mistake -- each Iranian nuclear weapon will be a Treblinka on wings.

But, in recent days, the general, non-Jewish press has been silent about this aspect of the Iran issue. I did a google search for "New York Times Khamenei Israel destroyed," and found very little of recent vintage.

As if we would rather not remember.

Some will say that this is just Jewish paranoia. The words of the Iranian leaders are simply hyperbole, intended to arouse the Iranian masses.

Really? Isn't it Western intellectual arrogance to imagine that when a Third World leader says something -- that he doesn't really believe it? After all, if right wing, bigoted American politicians say something untoward about various minority groups, don't we take them at their word?

In 1974, after the Yom Kippur War, Cynthia Ozick wrote an article for Esquire magazine, famously titled “The Whole World Wants The Jews Dead.” Her critics attacked her for being overwrought (it is possible that Ms. Ozick did not choose the title).

The 2015 version would be: "While the whole world certainly does not want the world dead, many want the Jewish state to disappear. And others, who truly don't want the Jewish state to disappear, believe that the Jews should just shut up about their obsession."

But, why should the Jews, of all minority groups in our culture, be begrudged the emotional space in the public arena to speak of their legitimate fears?

Just as Western ears and eyes could not cope with the unfolding horror of the Shoah, many today refuse to grasp the immensity of radical evil. The late singer, Richie Havens, sang: "I don't want to know about evil; I only want to know about love."

Excuse me: we are not in Woodstock anymore, and we have not gotten back to the garden. And last time I looked, Iran is not Denmark.

In the next sixty days, we are going to be spending a lot of time thinking about, and arguing about, and yelling about the following question: Is this a good deal, a bad deal, a "best we could hope for without war" deal?

As for me, I have no privileged information, nor diplomatic expertise, nor ideological axes to grind.

All I have is this: the recent memory, scraped into my soul, of standing at the steps that led to the gas chambers at Auschwitz-Birkenau. I have the historical memory of the one who threatened to destroy the Jewish people, and came very close to doing so.

I was discussing the Iran deal with a good friend of mine, who is a Christian pastor. He believes in it. He thinks it's a good deal.

This is what I said to him: "If you need to defend this deal to your parishioners, all I ask is this: can you also remind them that the Supreme Leader of Iran wants the Jewish state dead?"

There was a brief silence on the other end of the phone. And then, he said: "Fair enough."

Please don't ask us to be good sports about this, and brush those concerns aside as if they don't matter.

Jewish lives matter, too.


  1. Rabbi, the problem is exactly the opposite:

    Not enough Jews, especially those with most influence over President Obama (Democratic Party fundraising leaders, etc), are standing up against this deal.

    Did you read the Reform Jewish statement, included in a post on this very web site, on the deal? Not a word of criticism about it from the largest Jewish religious body in the nation. In fact, it took the exact same stance as the Jewish Democratic Council statement…..They punted.

    And what about influential Jewish Democrats in Congress, like Senator Schumer? The silence is deafening.

    So….if Jews won’t stand up, why in the world would you expect the rest of humanity to stand up?

    If the Iran deal goes through, which it will unless American Jews in a position to influence the President get serious about opposing it, don’t look at others…..Look in the mirror.

  2. Iran is bluffing. Even Israel knows this. If any country knows how to keep a nuclear program entirely secret from the world its them. The only reason the world knows about Israel’s nukes is because they told them.

    Yet despite the fact that the skills in hiding nuclear weapons production is well worn after half a century, somehow Iran manages to get public attention at its most critical stage in development (uranium enrichment/plutonium production). A stage which could have easily buried deep enough to evade detection .

    This never happened with any other nation besides North Korea. North Korea’s program was far more advanced (having uranium deposits of their own) but also largely a scam to extort money from the US, South Korea and Japan. Once their big test fizzled, the bluff was called.

    If Iran was actually serious about developing nukes, we would not be having this discussion. Iran would have kept mum and we would be shocked at their surprise test.

  3. “many today refuse to grasp the immensity of radical evil,”. Rabbi Salkin is absolutely correct. The world wants to forget about the Shoah–we can’t let that happen. The world would be even worse than it already is without the Jews.
    Protect Israel and all the Jews!

  4. Sister, we can and should do everything to “protect Israel and the Jews.”

    But when America’s Christians appear more pro-Israel than America’s Jews, we are in a very strange and odd moment in time.

  5. You are assuming that government officials on all sides are far more clever and competent than they actually are. This is wishful thinking on your part…..creative, yes, but wishful in the end.

  6. Not at all. I am assuming that nuclear powers have experts on nuclear weapons production. You are just trying to hand-wave away something which does not conform with your notions of the situation. You are out of your depth here.

    I am just applying lessons learned from the past and an understanding of what is being done here without resorting to what appears to be cheap calculated panic.

    Pakistan, which lacks the immense oil wealth of Iran, has been politically unstable for the last generation and has sections of its nation which are literally lawless, produced nuclear weapons without a single other nation knowing about it until their big test.

    Why is it so difficult for Iran to do the same with much more resources available? It wouldn’t be, if they were seriously developing nukes.

    Iran is taking their cue from North Korea. Using the development of nuclear weapons as a blackmail tool, way to intentionally ramp up tension within the nation.

  7. America’s Christians only seem to be concerned with Israel’s right wing and seldom bother to educate themselves about the nation or its people beyond that. Their view towards Jews in general, borders on the bipolar.

    I would have no problem with going to war to prevent an Iranian nuke, if I thought it was actually in the cards. But the situation doesn’t really appear to be that. Its pretty clear that Iran is playing diplomatic games with the West. It is perfect fodder for critics and chickenhawks alike. A war scare that all parties are pretty clear is never going to materialize.

  8. Wishful thinking is what it is, Larry. And in your case, you’ve added grandiosity to the mix, as you apparently think you know more than the Prime Minister of Israel, Israel’s ambassador to the United States, and probably most of the US military brass.

    Maybe you should email your thoughts to these people and tell them not to worry, since you have it all figured out.

  9. No, the difference is that America’s Jews are conflicted and most of America’s Christians are not. That is, American Jews have a very strong natural loyalty to Barack Obama for his being the first black president and for his being the leader of the Democratic party to which they’re mostly committed domestically. Also, style as well as substance matters greatly. Jews are pro-Israel, but they have an instinctual aversion to the appearance of unrestrained or buoyant cheerleading or jingoism.

    Christians have no equivalent sentimental pulls or natural aversions in any particular direction pertaining to this issue, and so there’s really nothing that impedes their full-throated support for Israel.

    Nonetheless, it does remain a strange paradox.

  10. No Jack, you don’t understand the actual facts here and are relying on calculated political hysteria. Everyone already knows Iran is bluffing. They are making political hay of the situation. This is why there is no military movement with regards to the issue.

    Why does the public know about Iran’s uranium enrichment program? If they were serious about it, nobody would know about it. The process has always been easy to hide that process. If Pakistan could, why can’t Iran?

    You might want to read more about atomic weapons development and proliferation. Then look at North Korea’s efforts closely.

  11. Those Christians who don’t think Jews are going to hell for rejecting Jesus that is. Christian Zionists are not friends of the entire Jewish people. Just its conservative/right wing members. When the Israeli government goes through its inevitable leftward shift, watch how fast they will run from supporting them.

  12. What rabbi Salkin fails to grasp is that Iran at this point is already practically capable of making a nuclear weapons arsenal.

    It has 19,000 centrifuges and 15 tons of low-enriched uranium. At this point: it could build a nuclear war head in 1,6 months.

    Under the US-Iran deal, Iran wil destroy the majority of it’s nuclear centrifuges (only 6,304) remain, and get rid of 98% of it’s stockpile of low-enriched uranium. All of this will be checked and vetted (what, you think the people in the White House are stupid?)

    And in return: economic sanctions get lifted, which apparently weren’t working in the first place.

    One would think any true friend of Israel would be pleased. The danger of Iran obtaining a nuclear bomb is greatly reduced, Iran gets a massive incentive not to pursue the bomb, international experts get to check if Iran holds it’s end of the bargain.

    But no, people just blather on about Hitler and Evil without bothering to inform themselves on what the deal…

  13. No, Larry, actually I don’t know anyone who believes Iran is “bluffing” and I know people from Massachusetts and NY to LA and DC who have been immersed in the Middle East, including the Iran problem, for decades. I don’t deny that yours is a creative theory, but I don’t see evidence anywhere that anyone is resting on it. If you are correct, you should be running policy in DC. and telling Jerusalem and Amman and Riyadh and Cairo to just kick back their shoes and breathe easily.

  14. “We would be shocked at their surprise test.”

    Wrong, Larry. Corrected version:

    “We WILL be shocked at their surprise test.”

    Soon, in fact. But first Iran wants all that fresh $$$$$$$ jackpot that Obama has foolishly promised them. THEN they’ll quietly give us their “surprise test” — and probably in a populated area !!!


    Meanwhile, congrats to Rabbi Salkin on a great essay. But does he REALLY think that Barack H. Obama and his libbie Democrats give the slightest hoot about Israel’s survival? Seriously? At all?

  15. And by the way, does that Barack H. Obama REALLY think that the God of Israel won’t notice him and his little Democrat pals happily throwing Israel under a dollared-up Iranian terrorist bus? Hmm?

  16. So people I do not know, who are willing to associate with you in person say so. OK.

    Seriously, use your head for a moment. If Israel faced a real existential threat with Iranian nukes, do you think they would have been waiting for the US to deal with a diplomatic solution?

    So why is Iran’s uranium enrichment process such public knowledge? What you fail to understand is that such efforts are fairly easy to hide from the world but also hideously expensive for a nation. People who know about nuclear weapons production and its proliferation are scratching their head at what Iran is doing.

    Btw, its not that creative an idea. Others have figured out the same thing.

    We saw this same game in North Korea, and Iraq as well. With any luck this ends up more like the former than the latter.

  17. Doc, where was all the buildup and tension when India and Pakistan developed their nuclear weapons? Pakistan is far less stable than Iran and has a longer history of shooting wars with its neighbors.There wasn’t any because the world didn’t know what was going on until their big test.

    The same went for Israel. For a nation which constantly is dealing with hostile neighbors and being watched from all sides, they managed to develop nuclear weapons without anyone knowing.

    It is just that easy to hide nuclear weapons development.

    So why is Iran so obvious about their efforts? They want to create a conflict. The threat of developing nukes is far more important than actually delivering them.

  18. Larry, I wish you were correct but why would Israel oppose the deal so vehemently in public, in a way that clearly makes Obama — the leader of the nation that matters most to Israel — look bad and lose face, if everyone, from Obama to Netanyahu, were play-acting? The idea that Netanyahu or anyone else is play-acting doesn’t pass muster.

    Bibi isn’t hard to read, nor is Obama. Netanyahu is

  19. “Larry, I wish you were correct but why would Israel oppose the deal so vehemently in public, in a way that clearly makes Obama — the leader of the nation that matters most to Israel — look bad and lose face, if everyone, from Obama to Netanyahu, were play-acting? ”

    Does Netanyahu get along with Obama? Not in the least. Bibi’s American support is largely comprised of Obama’s critics.

    A hawkish tone with Iran allows him to build political support while ignoring a few issues which are more local in nature such as Israel’s indifference to refugees of the Syrian Civil War and any attempt to deal with the West Bank diplomatically.

    Israel had their own bluff called when they threatened to bomb Iranian nuclear facilities 2 years ago unilaterally. We balked at the suggestion. Nothing came of it.

    Iran’s ability to develop is greatly exaggerated for political effect by all sides. Everyone involved has a reason to keep this going. They are further behind than North Korea was.

  20. Silly Conservo-American-Christians, they still labor under the delusion that America matters in the world. After the debacle that was/is Iraq, we have lost all credibility and moral authority before the world. This treaty is not between US and Iran – regardless of what your cynical, anti-American attitudes (or is that talking points from Fox?) tell you. It’s a treaty between six Western countries and Iran – all would have to agree to “tighten” it and then get Iran to agree again. That’s not likely to happen. So the alternative: either war (yeah, that worked so well last time and against a weaker opponent) or an unengaged nation building a nuclear weapon in total secret. Hmm, as a Bible-believing Christian, I tend toward diplomatic means being exhausted before war. But Conservos are more concerned about appearances than effectiveness – hence an embargo of Cuba that little to no effect on its Communist regime. Empty-headed leaders got us into this mess.

  21. Motivations in an Iranian nuclear bluff:

    Iran-Same as North Korea and Saddam Hussein, create international tension and put the country in a crisis mode in order to justify further repression. Or when in doubt blackmail for $$

    Israel-Shore up support for hawkish policies with a potentially powerful enemy (as opposed to Palestinians) and criticize American liberals as being feckless.

    US-Obama gets to play diplomatic hero in his final days (Something Clinton had screwed up royally in his last days with the Oslo Accords). Obama’s critics get to attack his foreign policy as “appeasement”.

    A nation which tries enriching uranium in secret can do so very easily without attracting world attention. The fact that the international press is talking about Iran’s efforts at it (even down to details such as % enrichment) is a sign things are out of the ordinary.

  22. That begs the question: Why don’t Bibi and Obama get along? Why, a couple of years ago, did Bibi feel compelled to lecture Obama publicly, in the Oval Office, about Israel’s security needs?

    They don’t get along because they have completely opposite world views that spill over into views on the Middle East, Israel, and Iran. Each has treated the other publicly in a way that is unprecedented for both countries. No Israeli PM, and no US president, has ever acted toward each other in such a viscerally antagonistic way, with no attempts to hide it. While there have been plenty of times where relations between US presidents and Israeli PMs have hit the skids, nothing resembles what we’ve been seeing these past few years.

    Occam’s Razor suggests the obvious — on Iran, as with everything else, the two are completely apart. If it looks, quacks, and walks like a duck, it’s a duck — unmistakably so in this case.

  23. And even in obvious areas where the US and Israel thankfully work together, it is not because of Obama but in spite of him. The same was true of the Carter administration…….But the truth always comes out when presidents leave office. Then they reveal their true feelings regarding other nations.

  24. Well said.

    One can make a very expensive “dirty bomb” with the kind of uranium the Iranians have, but its practicality is nearly nil compared to the cost and effort in producing it. But the implied threat of enriching what they have further was what drove all the hubub.

    Had Iran been seriously pursuing nuclear weapons in earnest, there is no way in hell the international media would know ANYTHING of their uranium stocks and quality. The existence of such conversations in the public are already a sign that Iran’s nuclear program was not really all it cracked up to be.

    Their willingness to remove the centrifuges and essentially sell reactor grade uranium at an over-inflated diplomatic treaty price shows this whole thing was probably about money and whipping up hysteria.

  25. “That begs the question: Why don’t Bibi and Obama get along? Why, a couple of years ago, did Bibi feel compelled to lecture Obama publicly, in the Oval Office, about Israel’s security needs?”

    Because Bibi’s support comes from Obama’s detractors and the Israeli right wing. Liberals are far more skeptical of Israeli “hawks” in general both in the US and in Israel. Christian Zionists are solid Republicans. Obama has never been openly antagonistic to Bibi, but Bibi certainly has been. No Israeli PM has ever tried to play US partisan politics so openly.

    Israel is losing relevance in the US Middle East policies for 4 reasons:
    1. Israel lacks the existential threats of days past and immediate imminent threats presently.
    2. Iraq and its fallout has taken most of the attention for the US.
    3. There is no interest for Bibi in moving forward on the 2 state discussions.
    4. The fallout of the Iran/Saudi cold war is producing more immediate mayhem.

  26. As Netanyahu points out, Christian Zionists were actually the first Zionists. As he has said repeatedly, they emerged nearly a half century before Jewish Zionism did. That was in the 1840s, 50 years before the Zionist Congress of 1896.

    Bottom line is that Zionists of all sorts are in it for the long haul. It doesn’t matter who’s in power in Israel. Now I don’t doubt that it’s possible that if Israel goes the way of America and elects a Labor candidate of the kooky-hard-left variety, the silly goose will distance himself or herself from these natural allies in America. But Christian Zionists will still continue to support Israel, because such support transcends which politician happens to be in power. Zionism, be it Jewish or Christian, is obviously here to stay.

  27. I’m Jewish and I’m not with you on this one. I read an article in The Forward about how current and former Israeli defense professionals don’t agree with Netanyahu Here is the beginning of the article, you can read the rest on the Forward’s web site.

    “There is no ideal world, and there are no ideal agreements,” says Ami Ayalon, a former director of Israel’s Shin Bet internal security service. “And let me add that there is no ideal Middle East.”

    Given the imperfections in the world at large and the Middle East in particular, the imperfect nuclear agreement that was concluded with Iran this week in Vienna is “the best possible alternative from Israel’s point of view, given the other available alternatives,” Ayalon told me in a telephone interview. He finds the agreement “hard to defend,” but he defends it anyway.

    His views are worth listening to because they represent the mainstream of Israel’s security establishment. …”

  28. The backhanded nature of the current batch of Israel loving Christians is fairly obvious. Christian Zionists seem hell bent on defending Israel to the last Israeli. As usual you use the term “hard left” without any concept of what it actually means. You act as if Israel never elected people who were not dyed in the wool hawks. Even Israel’s “left” is far different in nature than American versions.

Leave a Comment