03/12/2012 02:14 pm ET Updated May 12, 2012

Abandoning "Israel Firster" to Fight a Battle to Win

Writing in the Jewish Daily Forward,
JJ Goldberg reminded me of words I wrote 43 years ago in the Village Voice:

I shall always choose the Jewish cause.
Not blindly, not arbitrarily, but with full knowledge of who I am and where I
must be.

My views on Israel have not changed very much since then. Then,
as now, I opposed Arab radicals who refused to accept Israel's right to
sovereignty and security. Then, as now, I opposed Israeli
radicals and their allies here who pretend that Palestinians don't exist or, if
they do, don't have the rights granted to every other people.

One monumental thing has changed in 43 years. In 1969,
neither any Arab country nor the Palestinians accepted Israel's right to exist.
Since then, Israel, Jordan and Egypt have signed bilateral peace agreements, and
remain committed to their terms. The PLO recognizes Israel's right to exist
securely within the '67 lines. The entire Arab League (every single Arab state)
is offering Israel peace, normalization and security in exchange for ending the
occupation. As Shimon Peres says, Israel now has "partners for peace."

But then there is Iran. Watching the AIPAC conference, I was
horrified to see an ostensibly pro-Israel organization promoting a war that
presents an existential threat to Israel's survival. I vehemently oppose the
very idea of war with Iran and am appalled by the right-wing Israeli
government  but, even more, by its
supporters here at home who are trying to push the president to either bomb or
support the bombing of Iran.   

Not surprisingly, I have been under
by various people on the right for my vigorous criticism of
AIPAC and its role in promoting confrontation with Iran. My critics are
particularly irked that I use the term "Israel Firster" to describe people who,
in my opinion, put the interests of the Israeli right above everything else. This
includes politicians such as Newt Gingrich, who as far as I know, is not
Jewish. Watching the AIPAC conference convinced me that I must recommit myself
to fighting those who are working to lead this country and/or Israel to war in

But I will do so without using the term "Israel Firster." The term was coined in 1960 by the late Abram Leon
Sachar, founding President of Brandeis University, and a renowned Jewish historian (his son Howard Morley Sachar remains the greatest historian of
contemporary Jewry) and was first used by the elder Sachar in a speech he
delivered that year to a Zionist organization.

It has proven to be a distraction, allowing the pro-war lobby
to focus on my choice of words rather than the substance of my arguments. I
will not be using it again, for many reasons including the fact that some good
people were genuinely offended by it. That was not my intention. My intention
is to focus like the proverbial laser on the threat posed by war with Iran and
the 45 year occupation.

Perhaps I feel that threat more than some. My wife was born
in a Displaced Persons camp in Germany to Polish Jews who survived the
Holocaust. Many in the family didn't including my wife's uncle, for whom our
oldest son is named, who was caught by the Nazis putting up posters in Warsaw urging resistance. He was gassed in Maidanek along with
his young sister, just engaged to be married. They were both Zionists who
dreamed of living in Israel. How amazed and happy they would be to know that a
vibrant Israel exists. How horrified
they would be to know that its existence is jeopardized by an unnecessary war,
one that can be avoided by diplomacy.

Just yesterday on 60 Minutes Meir Dagan, the recently retired Mossad director, said that in his opinion, Iran is
"rational" and not suicidal and that war would be an unending
disaster for his country. He implies that following a retaliatory
attack by Hezbollah, which has tens of thousands of missiles on Israel's
northern border, the Jewish state would not even survive as a functioning
society. The blowback from an attack on Iran "will have
a devastating impact on our ability to continue with our daily life."

is Jeff Goldberg, The Atlantic writer, on what the ramifications would be if
Israel or the United States begin to bomb Iran, regardless of whether the
attack succeeds or "fail[s] miserably to even make a dent in Iran's
nuclear program:

[The Israelis] stand a good chance of
changing the Middle East forever; of sparking lethal reprisals, and even a
full-blown regional war that could lead to the deaths of thousands of Israelis
and Iranians, and possibly Arabs and Americans as well; of creating a crisis
for Barack Obama that will dwarf Afghanistan in significance and complexity; of
rupturing relations between Jerusalem and Washington, which is Israel's only
meaningful ally; of inadvertently solidifying the somewhat tenuous rule of the
mullahs in Tehran; of causing the price of oil to spike to cataclysmic highs,
launching the world economy into a period of turbulence not experienced since
the autumn of 2008, or possibly since the oil shock of 1973; of placing
communities across the Jewish diaspora in mortal danger, by making them targets
of Iranian-sponsored terror attacks, as they have been in the past, in a
limited though already lethal way; and of accelerating Israel's conversion from
a once-admired refuge for a persecuted people into a leper among nations.

It gets worse, at a recent meeting of the Conference of
Presidents of Major Jewish Organization, New York Republican activist, Jeff
Weisenfeld said he thought Israel could well be destroyed in a war. This piece
by the brilliant Larry Derfner appears in the absolute best Israeli (and
Jewish) internet publication +972.

starts telling me that it's not enough for Israel, or America,
or Israel and America to bomb Iran's nukes. "Israel can't
go on living with 200,000 missiles pointing at it," he said -- they
had to be destroyed, too. I saw no use in
mentioning Israel's deterrent power, or questioning the morality
of war as a means of arms control, so I asked Wiesenfeld how
Israel could survive the wars that would follow its attacks on
Iran, and Syria, and Lebanon, and Gaza, and the other countries that have
missiles aimed our way.

"It's going to happen sooner or later," he

And when the missiles are falling on
Israel, would he come here with his family and sit it out?

"At that point," he said, "Jews will be
targets all over the world. There won't be any difference
being in Tel Aviv or Times Square."


My message is this.

Many of the same people who pushed us into Iraq are doing the
same thing with Iran. They are pressuring Congress to prevent the president of
the United States from negotiating with the Iranian government. They are
banning diplomatic contacts. They are (as they have for a decade) hyping the
Iranian threat, in part because they want a war and, in part, because they want
to use President Obama's reluctance to jeopardize lives as a tool to defeat him
in November. And they are demanding that should Iran develop a nuclear bomb, we must
not contain the threat (as we did with the Soviet Union, China, North Korea,
Pakistan, etc) but should immediately go to war.

I have been fighting to help achieve a secure Israel, at
peace with its neighbors, for
more than 43 years.
 I continue to do that by fighting against a
war that could eradicate Israel and endanger Jewish security in the United
States and throughout the world. This war has to be prevented. The issue must
not be what label I use to describe the war agitators. It is what the Iran war agitators
are doing. They must be stopped.

The first step is continuing to shine a light on their
activities. That is what I do.


Lately, I have been thinking that the struggle against U.S. support for the occupation and for Israel's ambitions vis a vis Iran are similar to the struggle against slavery. Abolitionists were hated in the south. It was against U.S. law to mail abolitionist material to southern states. In the north, which mostly opposed slavery, abolitionists were considered over the top, extreme, radical and worse.

Congress consisted of southerners who defended slavery, northerners who went along purely out of expediency, and a few brave people who spoke out.

One man who did was William Lloyd Garrison, widely considered an extremist but a man who knew he was right and would be proven right. I do not compare myself to him or to any of the heroes of the abolitionist movement.

Nonetheless, Garrison's words sum up my philosophy and why I do not intend to be silenced by those who have been silencing opposition for 50 years or more. I think Garrison would understand why I use strong language when confronting neocons who are jeopardizing the survival of Israel and the well-being of the safest and most welcoming homeland Jews have ever had, the United States of America.

"I will be as harsh as truth, and as uncompromising as justice. On this subject, I do not wish to think, or speak, or write, with moderation. No! now! Tell a man whose house is on fire, to give a moderate alarm; tell him to moderately rescue his wife from the hand of the ravisher; tell the mother to gradually extricate her babe from the fire into which it has fallen; -- but urge me not to use moderation in a cause like the present. I am in earnest -- I will not equivocate -- I will not excuse -- I will not retreat a single inch -- AND I WILL BE HEARD."