Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Netanyahu's Shameful Holocaust Pandering

The imminence of war with Iran is all over today's reporting and analyses.  (See especially this long, in-depth report in Der Spiegel.)  But Haaretz features two pieces that highlight Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu's shameful resort (again!) to the Iran=Nazi Germany trope.  Barak Ravid and Chemi Shalev report:
[Netanyahu] dismissed arguments that an attack on Iran would exact too heavy a toll by provoking Iranian retaliation. He held up a copy of a 1944 letter from the U.S. War Department rejecting world Jewish leaders' entreaties to bomb the Auschwitz death camp because it would be "ineffective" and "might provoke even more vindictive action by the Germans."
Haaretz's editor-in-chief, Aluf Benn, assesses the implications and consequences of Netanyahu's approach: 

The Holocaust talk has but one meaning: they force Israel to go to war and strike the Iranians. The justifications against an attack, weighty as those may be, turn to fumes when put up against the Warsaw Ghetto, Auschwitz, and Treblinka. No calculus of missiles falling on Tel Aviv, rising oil prices and economic crisis can hold water when compared to genocide. If that's the situation, the option of sitting quietly, expecting the "world" to neutralize Iran, or of a stable balance of terror, becomes nonexistent. If Netanyahu doesn't act and Iran achieves nuclear weapons capabilities, he'll go down in history as a pathetic loud mouth. As a poor man's Churchill.
But Netanyahu booby-trapped himself back when he was still making his way to Washington, when he presented Iran with a public ultimatum: dismantle the underground enrichment facility near Qom, cease all enrichment activity, and remove the medium-grade uranium from Iranian territory. He realizes that the Iranian government will never agree to those terms, which seems more like setting up a casus belli that a reasonable diplomatic demand. But Netanyahu's Holocaust speech at the AIPAC conference went much further than that.
Obama asked Netanyahu to avoid inflammatory statements in regards to Iran, to keep gas prices down in America's gas station. It's an important issue when trying to rebuild the American economy as well as, of course, his reelection bid. And while Obama's thinking may seem reasonable, he's living in an entirely different world than that of Israel's prime minister. From the White House, Iran looks like a strategic problem, not as a Holocaust. Thus, time isn't of the essence, and diplomacy and sanctions should still be given a chance. Netanyahu is motivated by other things.
It's possible to detect enough loopholes that would allow Netanyahu to escape an imminent decision to go to war. Netanyahu has a political interest to aid his Republican friends against Obama, so his statement that "there wasn't a decision to attack" seems more like an attempt to stir things up ahead of the U.S. presidential elections than a command to Israel Air Force units. There are those who believe he's just a second-guessing coward who would never take it upon himself to initiate a war. It could be that all those interpretations are true. Nevertheless, Netanyahu took on a public obligation on Monday that would make it very hard for him to back away from the path of war with Iran.
No mainstream American commentator could have published an analysis such as Benn's without risking instant anathematizing as an anti-Semite from points all across the US political and social spectrum.  That's a shame, because comparing the so-called "existential threat" from Iran to history's most horrific human atrocity is something for which Netanyahu deserves to be castigated.  It cheapens the memory and impact of the Shoah.  It also nudges the world closer to a conflict the consequences of which could potentially include more thousands of lives exterminated by IDF (and US?) bombs and missiles, and by Iranian retaliation.  
To invoke the memory of the 6 million killed by the Nazis in order to green-light a new slaughter goes beyond shameful.  The Israeli media seem able to raise that point.  Would that Americans could be so honest.

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