I was leaving Treblinka.
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.