You Say Messianic, I Say Messianic (NY) TIMES OP-ED) By SHMUEL ROSNER JERUSALEM, ISRAEL 05/03/12)
NEW YORK TIMES
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JERUSALEM — As I was driving to Jerusalem on Monday morning, the
regular lineup of morning radio shows was suddenly interrupted. It
was 7:57 am, but the anchor couldn’t wait three minutes for the daily
8 am round-up to deliver this news: Benzion Netanyahu, the father of
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel, had died at 102. He was
a well-known historian, intellectual and Zionist. He was also an
outspoken alarmist, who warned Israelis of Iran’s apocalyptic
Coming on the heels of a fresh controversy over Iran between the
former head of Israel’s security agency, Yuval Diskin, and Netanyahu
the son, the news of the death of Netanyahu the father gave Israelis
yet another chance to compare two markedly different ways of looking
at the country’s biggest foreign policy headache.
Last Friday, somewhat unexpectedly, Diskin attacked the prime
minister, as well as his close ally Defense Minister Ehud Barak. He
was all over the place. He said Netanyahu and Barak could not be
trusted to lead Israel. He said they drink and smoke cigars during
important meetings. He said they don’t want to talk peace with the
Palestinians. But Diskin’s main message really was: “The present
leadership is messianic.” A week ago, on Israel’s Independence Day,
Barak had told foreign dignitaries that Iran is not “‘rational’ in
the Western sense of the word,” the one that connotes looking
for “the status quo and the peaceful resolution of problems.”
Netanyahu and Barak say Iran’s leaders are irrational, Diskin says
Where Netanyahu sees an existential threat, Diskin sees yet another
challenge for security analysts. What Netanyahu believes is a sober
understanding of cruel realities, Diskin calls alarmism. When
Netanyahu looks in the mirror, he sees a modern-day Winston
Churchill, ready to take on both aggressors and appeasers. When
Diskin looks at Netanyahu, he sees another irrational leader, not so
unlike the president of Iran.
What’s what? It’s a difficult to say: the stakes are so high, and
Iran’s motivations are so purposefully obscure. Yes, President
Mahmoud Ahmadinejad of Iran has reportedly said that “the Zionist
regime” is a “filthy microbe” and called Israeli Jews “bloodthirsty
barbarians,” “criminals” and “cattle.” But as a reader pointed out in
response to my post about Holocaust rhetoric last week, according to
some experts, “‘death to Israel’ really means ‘down with Israel’ in
colloquial Farsi.” And did Iran’s president really say that Israel
should be “wiped off the map”? No, not exactly.
But if Iran’s leaders have sometimes been quoted inaccurately or out
of context, they’ve had plenty of opportunities to set the record
straight and haven’t seemed to want to. A 2006 interview of
Ahmadinejad by Lally Weymouth, of The Washington Post, went like this:
Q: Are you really serious when you say that Israel should be wiped
off the face of the Earth?”
A: We need to look at the scene in the Middle East — 60 years of war,
60 years of displacement, 60 years of conflict, not even a day of
peace. Look at the war in Lebanon, the war in Gaza — what are the
reasons for these conditions? We need to address and resolve the root
Q: Your suggestion is to wipe Israel off the face of the Earth?
A: Our suggestion is very clear. … Let the Palestinian people decide
their fate in a free and fair referendum, and the result, whatever it
is, should be accepted. … The people with no roots there are now
ruling the land.
Q: You’ve been quoted as saying that Israel should be wiped off the
face of the Earth. Is that your belief?
A: What I have said has made my position clear. If we look at a map
of the Middle East from 70 years ago …
Q: So, the answer is yes, you do believe that it should be wiped off
the face of the Earth?
A: Are you asking me yes or no? Is this a test?
It is a test, yes, and one that apparently the Iranian leadership
won’t pass, or even be bothered to take. It would have been easy
enough for Ahmadinejad to say that, no, Iran does not intend to
destroy Israel. But time and again, he has chosen to keep his
country’s intentions disturbingly vague.
No wonder Israelis are edgy, and all of them. Edgy Netanyahu believes
he must protect Israel against Iran’s messianic leaders. Edgy Diskin
believes Israel must be protected against its own messianic leaders.
Their readings of reality are so different, but their fear of
annihilation is so tragically similar. (Copyright 2012 The New York
Times Company 05/03/12)
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