I found the article in the Forward this week by Stuart Eizenstat absolutely fascinating. Eizenstat had a great deal to say, and much of it bears listening to, because this article contains many important points and many debatable ones.
Eizenstat is a former American ambassador to the European Union, deputy secretary of the Treasury, under secretary of commerce for international trade, and under secretary of state for economic, business and agricultural affairs. He served as President Carter’s chief domestic policy adviser and as President Clinton’s special representative on Holocaust-era issues.
The overall theme of the article is a plea for rational thinking. Eizenstat discusses candidly the anti-Semitism around the globe, but he says this must be confronted in a thought-out way, not in a panic that we are living in 1938 all over again and that the next Holocaust is around the corner.
He’s right about that, of course. One thing caught my attention in this article early on and that was Eizenstat’s description of the Holocaust. “[Hitler’s] ‘Final Solution’ became official policy later, as a result of both his vehement antisemitism and the failure of the Allied powers to agree to take any additional Jewish refugees, a failure he took as a clear signal that the world’s democracies put a low priority on saving Jewish lives.”
I might put it differently, but Eizenstat raises here and absolutely critical point that too many people fail to grasp when trying to understand the direction many Jews and the most organized parts of the Jewish community have gone in these days. For many Jews, there is nearly an obsession with self-reliance and with ensuring that there will always be a place for Jews to seek refuge. Many believe that mind-set comes from the horrors and scope of the Holocaust, but this is only one part of the reason.
Jewish history is replete with persecutions, pogroms, mass murders, expulsions and torture. While the methods and systems the Nazis used were different, in effect, the Holocaust was simply the largest of many incidents of persecution. What was most different, what was, in fact, unique in Jewish history was the fact that Jews had nowhere to flee to.
For a wide variety of reasons, most countries closed their doors or admitted few Jews fleeing the Nazis. That is a part of the trauma of the Holocaust that is rarely mentioned but accounts for a great deal of the Jewish post-Holocaust attitude regarding Israel. It is at the core of many Jews’ ability to tolerate some very horrifying actions in the occupation in the name of a false sense of security. If we fail to understand this, we are going to have a much harder time winning people, Jewish or otherwise, over to a different stance on the Israel-Palestine conflict.
Eizenstadt identifies as a major problem facing the Jews “…the canard that the so-called “Jewish lobby” controls American policy in the Middle East in ways that are disadvantageous to America’s national security interests.” He’s right that this canard is a threat to Jews. But he also contributes to its ongoing life by dismissing the point as mere anti-Semitism. Whatever amount of anti-Semitism, great or small, there is in such thinking has to be separated from legitimate criticism not of Israel but of pro-Israel lobby groups. Until we can have a rational discussion of AIPAC and whether it acts as and should be registered as an agent of a foreign country; until we can honestly debate the histrionics and fear-mongering of the David Project; until we can honestly confront the one-sided propagandizing of groups like CAMERA; and until we can rationally discuss how much more exposure our leaders get to the Israeli point of view as opposed to the Palestinian how can we expect this view to do anything but grow?
I’m glad Eizenstadt’s thrust was to try to temper the alarmism that runs rampant through the Jewish community. Policies urged at the behest of fear are just about always ill-advised. Indeed, this is the very point of creating fear, whether through military or propaganda operations or through terrorism. And when it comes to Iran, Eizenstadt does not say they are not a threat (nor would I), but he does say they can be dealt with. In stark contrast to groups that try to activate hysteria in order to support increased militarism in both the US and Israel, such as the David Project, Eizenstadt points out that there is a global community, including much of the Muslim and Arab world, that opposes Iran’s acquisition of nuclear weapons. His point is simply that now is not the time for rash or impulsive decisions.
Of course, Eizenstadt also over-estimates the threats faced by world Jewry, real though they might be. And it comes as no surprise that he fails to identify the Israeli occupation of the West Bank, Gaza, East Jerusalem and the Golan Heights as a major factor aggravating hostility against both Israel and Jews around the world. Nor does he address the fact that Israeli refusal to work for a negotiated settlement and its backing in this by the United States also adds fuel to that fire.
Still, one doesn’t really expect that of Eizenstadt. If he can simply inject some sanity into the discussion, I suspect there are others of us who can do the rest.