President Obama is under immense pressure from Netanyahu and his allies in the U.S. Congress, AIPAC, Christian Zionists and Republican candidates for the presidency to give Netanyahu private assurances that if the U.S. strategy to stop Iran from developing the capacity (not the actuality) for nuclear weapons doesn't work, the U.S. will back an Israeli first strike.
This is the moment for peace oriented voices to speak out and say no to an Israeli first strike with American overt or covert backing. We at Tikkun magazine and our Network of Spiritual Progressives have launched a national campaign to say no! We are attempting to buy space in major newspapers and electronic media on the web to launch this campaign quickly before Obama and Netanyahu meet next week. Please get involved here.
There is a non-violent way to deal with all this. The background info:
Apparently the U.S. and Israel are debating the best method for coercing Iran to stop developing the capacity for nuclear weapons. Israel believes that goal requires a military strike; the U.S. talks of "crippling" economic boycotts. Other military and strategic experts have argued that neither path is likely to succeed in the long run as long as Iran finds itself in a world in which nearby China, Russia, India, Pakistan and Israel all have powerful nuclear military capacities. And with Iran certain to face nuclear obliteration should it use its nukes in a first strike against Israel or anyone else, it is more likely that continuing extremes of poverty, oppression from Western supported elites, and social injustice, rather than the threat of Iranian nukes, will continue to be the primary destabilizing factor among the tens of millions of Middle East Muslims in the coming decades.
Imagine instead if the U.S. were to announce our new non-violent path to homeland security: a strategy of generosity, acknowledging the pain and distortion hundreds of years of Western colonialism has brought to the region, particularly to the Palestinian people, and simultaneously launching a Global Marshall Plan (already introduced to Congress by Hon. Keith Ellison as House Res. 157) aimed at ending poverty, homelessness, hunger, inadequate education and inadequate healthcare both at home and around the world. Dedicating 1-2% of our gross domestic product each year for the next twenty (to be collected not through taxes on ordinary citizens but a 1% Tobin tax on all international transactions of one million dollars or more).
The first location for launching this program ought to be both the U.S. domestically and the Middle East, seeking not only to rebuild Palestine, to compassionately address the huge gap between rich and poor in Israel but also to end poverty in Egypt, Pakistan, Lebanon and Jordan -- with the people of these lands deciding in cooperation with the international community on how best to implement programs to eliminate poverty and provide adequate education and health care for all.
The U.S. and Israel could use Israeli expertise to offer to build alternative energy projects in Iran sufficient to offset any loss of energy that a reduction in some of its nuclear aspirations might entail. Meanwhile, Israel could acknowledge its responsibility to Palestinian refugees some of whom fled voluntarily, others of whom were forced from their homes in 1948 and never allowed to return by Israel, and both Israel and the U.S. could accept Palestine into the U.N. Iran would be asked to renounce publicly any intention to use military force to destroy Israel. And Israel and the U.S. could announce the creation of an international fund to provide reparations for Palestinians who fled Israel in the period 1948-1967 or who were pushed from their homes during the post-1967 occupation of the West Bank and Gaza, allow 20,000 Palestinians per year for thirty years to return to inside the pre-67 borders of Israel and help find them housing, and provide reparations for Jews who fled Arab lands from 1940-1978.
Imagine if the U.S. and Israel were to say that they were doing this because: (1) we've come to realize that we cannot address the environmental crisis facing humanity in a world in which non-sustainable choices will be made by underdeveloped countries choosing to alleviate poverty even at the cost of long-term environmental disaster unless we take their suffering seriously (2) Because immigration strains on the U.S. can only be reversed by making the countries from which immigrants are fleeing economically successful enough so that they don't have to come here to have a decent economic standard of living. (3) Because both Americans and Israelis now understand that our well-being depends on the well-being of everyone else on the planet, and so we want to be "number one" in overcoming the need to be "number one."
If we followed this path, the U.S. could become a powerful model and inspiration, and earn the moral high ground to make the kinds of claims for global justice, human rights and democracy that its current domination subtext discredits.
This change in America's approach to the world, coupled with withdrawing from economic trade arrangements that benefit us at the expense of developing nations, would make an impact on Iran far greater than bombing its nuclear facilities. It could empower the democratic forces that risked their lives against Iran's repressive regime after the last rigged election if they no longer faced the charge of being agents of a West that sought to dominate Iran. A path of generosity and caring for others is actually less utopian or unrealistic than yet another set of wars, like our disastrous military failures in Vietnam, Iraq and now Afghanistan. Giving generosity and moral responsibility a chance (for the first time) is far more rational than giving Israel and American militarists yet another chance to prove how violence only begets more violence.
Rabbi Michael Lerner is editor of Tikkun magazine, chair of the interfaith (including atheists and secular humanists) Network of Spiritual Progressives www.spiritualprogressives.org, and author of eleven books including the newly released Embracing Israel/Palestine (North Atlantic Books, 2012).