Memory is always at the heart of redemption. It is also indispensable to survival in a still-anarchic world politics. For Israel, both meanings are now essential and interdependent. And both meanings have pertinent and crucial connections to international law.
History is our best starting point. After uncovering Germany’s unprecedented crimes at the end of World War II, the newly victorious allies drafted a special charter for an international military tribunal at Nuremberg. Concluded on August 8, 1945, this document defined “crimes against humanity” as egregious acts that are designed to eradicate entire groups of people.
Today, as I have often pointed out in this very column, Iran unambiguously plans a Nazi-style fate for the Jewish State. But this time, the required exterminatory logistics would actually be less complicated. All that would be needed are assorted nuclear weapons, placed strategically on missiles, or delivered far more prosaically by car, truck or ship.
This warning is already obvious, and – ironically perhaps – even a bit tiresome. It is pretty much generally known that Iranian intentions toward Israel are authentically genocidal. What is not usually acknowledged is the absolute and immutable impotence of the so-called “international community.” Indeed, not only does the “civilized world” stand by ineffectually as Iran proceeds furiously with its enrichment of uranium and associated technological refinements, the United Nations itself insists on impotence.
Credo quia absurdum. “I believe because it is absurd.” Our international community confirms its bottomless disutility and associated lack of self-respect by periodic celebrations of appeasement. In the United Nations, both crime and folly remain the official order of the day. Unless we as a species are now willing to openly welcome intermittent genocides, it is plain that the world of diplomacy and international statecraft is now a relentlessly absurd world. I mean this in the most literal sense, of course, as everywhere a dizzying unreason triumphs boldly over both rational thought and compassion.
For the Ahmadinejad regime in Tehran, any planned annihilation of “The Jews” is always a pretext for convulsions. It is true that this intended genocide is now directed against the institutionalized state of the Jews − the codified State of Israel, which nonetheless represents each individual Jew in macrocosm − but Iran’s annihilatory motives remain unchanged. Moreover, under binding international law, war and genocide are not mutually exclusive. Any Iranian war to “liquidate the Zionist entity” would be jurisprudentially indistinguishable from what happened to the Jewish People before and during the Second World War.
In the grotesquely apocalyptic vision of the current Iranian regime, Israel is merely the newest face of an old hatred. Whatever assaults were once directed only against flesh-and-blood Jewish individuals, are now focused upon those particular Jews who are bound together in an institutionalized “entity.” Allowed to “succeed” by the international community, Iran’s carefully crafted plan for another Jewish genocide would affect the whole world. As goes Israel, so shall go an entire planet. It should, therefore, now become an overriding imperative of the whole world – not just of the Jews – to safeguard and sustain the imperiled Jewish State.
Let me invoke here the pertinent thought of Rabbi Abraham Isaac Kook, who sought in all inquiries, not “concepts of truth,” but truth itself. Influenced even by Buddhist philosophy, Kook envisioned a species with a natural evolutionary inclination to perfect itself. The course of this human evolution, he surmised, must always be directed toward a progressively increased spirituality. The Torah, he continued, is a concrete manifestation of the Divine Will on earth; thus, the entire People of Israel must assume a cosmic and redemptive role in saving the whole world. Things cannot be otherwise.
Rabbi Eliezer Waldman has written periodically in The Jewish Press of “the eternal flame of Jewish life in Israel.” By working for the redemption of Israel, Rabbi Waldman instructs, we necessarily work to bring a blessing to all the peoples of the world. It follows that we Jews ought never to imagine a contradiction between our own struggle for Jewish survival in the State of Israel, and our existential concern for the wider world. The mutually reinforcing wisdom of Rabbi Kook and Rabbi Waldman points to a genuinely serious and meaningful understanding of the historically oxymoronic term, “international community.” And this understanding belies the usually ritualistic affirmations of worldwide justice, solidarity and international law.
The Jewish People, whether dispersed like evaporating dew all over the world, or struggling mightily in their own state, can never trust their survival to others. In The Jewish Revolution (1971), Israel Eldad painfully announced that the persisting miscalculations of “Jewish diplomacy” had hastened the Holocaust. Yet, even today, Eldad’s warning and reminder is largely unheeded. Bound first to patently suicidal agreements known cumulatively as “Oslo,” and now to the equally disingenuous cartographies of a “Road Map,” Israel still considers making further surrenders of Judea, Samaria and Golan to sworn enemies.
What strange expectations for diplomacy could possibly justify such twisted reasoning? What curious faith in the international community could conceivably prompt such unilateral concessions? Credo quia absurdum.
Let us understand that, in substance, the purported promise of “negotiations” with Iran is always self-deceiving. Should Iran be permitted to acquire nuclear or even certain biological weapons, the probable result to Israel would be another Jewish genocide. Although history is largely the record of humankind’s most inhumane inclinations, its “lessons” still need to be examined.
For now, lets look at history just before the start of World War II. Beginning in 1938, small groups of predominantly Jewish scientists from Central Europe living in the United States began to express informed fears that Nazi Germany could try to build nuclear weapons. About two years after Albert Einstein transmitted these critical apprehensions to President Franklin D. Roosevelt in his now-famous letter of August 1939, the United States launched the Manhattan Project. In part, this unprecedented effort was the result of a perceived danger by Jewish émigrés of an incontestably existential threat to the then widely dispersed European Jewish communities.
Now it is the responsibility of all “civilized nations” to recognize another existential danger. This time the genocidal threat is to the ingathered Jewish population of the State of Israel. Should it fully acknowledge the prospect of a nuclear Iran, or even of any Arab state or movement with nuclear or even certain biological weapons, Israel would have no rational choice but to act preemptively. This is exactly what Prime Minister Menachem Begin did on June 7, 1981, when Israel’s “Operation Opera” successfully destroyed Iraq’s Osiraq nuclear reactor.
But political decisions are not always consistent with expectations of rational judgment. Operation Opera, best described under international law as “anticipatory self-defense,” was a tangible application of the “Begin Doctrine.” This policy framework affirmed Israel’s policy to deny certain weapons of mass destruction to particular enemy states. It was drawn directly from Prime Minister Begin’s thoroughly correct awareness that the developing nuclear threat then facing Israel (at that time, from Iraq – not Iran) was merely a new form of an old cry: “Slaughter the Jews.”
Copyright © The Jewish Press, November 7, 2008. All Rights reserved
(To be continued)
LOUIS RENÉ BERES (Ph.D., Princeton, 1971) is Strategic and Military Affairs columnist for The Jewish Press.