One Man’s Opinion

By Eugen Schoenfeld

Eugen Schoenfeld Atlanta Jewish Times

Eugen Schoenfeld

“Gene, did you listen to Netanyahu’s speech?” I am the symbolic Jew in my senior apartment complex. I am not the only Jew in the apartment complex; there are others whose door posts display mezuzahs. But since I have given a couple of lectures on my Holocaust experiences, I have become the “official Jew.”

So I am the one to whom the residents direct their questions about Judaism and Israel. I guess I brought it on myself. The people who asked me about Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s speech are all devoted Christians who feel that without a viable Israel, Christianity’s existence would be threatened.

I turned to YouTube and listened to Netanyahu’s advice to Congress. Yes, he is a skilled speaker, but what he told us is nothing new.

No one needs to tell me that Iran has nefarious intentions, not only against Israel, but also against the whole non-Islamic world. The leaders of Iran interpret Allah’s wishes expressed in the Quran as a call to Islamicize the world, much as the Catholic Church tried to Christianize the world during the Crusades.

In the March 1992 issue of the British Journal of Sociology, I outlined the nature of “aggressively militant religions,” and Islam, I proposed, is one such religion.

If Netanyahu came to the United States merely to advise the president, he could have done so in private discourse with the president. I am quite sure that President Obama is aware enough to be distrustful of Iran and the Middle Eastern countries. He and Netanyahu are also equally aware of ISIS and the other Islamic extremist groups in the Middle East.

The questions that this country and our supposed allies face: What must we do to curb Islamic aggression? What road should we follow to avoid the devastation a militant country could bring with nuclear weapons?

Netanyahu is perhaps right that we need stronger terms in any agreement we make with Iran (and perhaps with any Islamic country) and strong sanctions against Iran should its leaders violate nonaggression treaties. The president probably could have demanded this, but it seems that our supposed allies are repeating their feared stand of 1938 against Hitler. I call the other countries in the coalition, as well as the members of the U.N. Security Commission, “supposed allies” because some do not care and others are fearful and unwilling to support even the level of sanctions that the United States has already imposed.

It seemed to me that the Netanyahu speech was a sermon to a converted choir.

Netanyahu said that he does not wish to make war and that the proper way to deter Iran is through negotiation, even though he does not trust Iran. He follows Isaiah’s advice in the name of the Lord: “Come let us reach an understanding.”

I hope our experiences in Vietnam, Afghanistan and Iraq have made us aware of the futility of war. True, some leaders are true believers who cannot or will not negotiate or come to an understanding; Iran’s leaders may be among them.

I remember Neville Chamberlain’s futile attempt to negotiate with Hitler. I hope we have learned the lesson that we cannot control other countries, especially when they have allies. Let’s hope that the United Nations and its supposed desire for a peaceful, moral world will not follow the path of its predecessor, the League of Nations.

I hope that we will not become a militant country and start another war instead of solving our differences through negotiations, leading to the loss so many young men and still in the end the need to negotiate under adverse conditions. Shouldn’t we follow the Jewish ideal of being rodef shalom, the seekers of peace?

The road to peace is through negotiation. Aren’t we instructed to be the seekers of peace, to make peace between man and his fellow, as well as between nations? It seems to me this is the road that Obama seeks.

I believe that Netanyahu is a follower of Jabotinsky. I had the privilege to meet Ze’ev Jabotinsky and spent many years afterward as a member of Betar. I was young and, facing the Nazi onslaught, believed in an armed response. Like most of us in my time, we sought to shed the galut (diaspora) mentality that was described as being k’tzon latevach, sheep led to slaughter.

Israel has proved, as the prime minister said, that the Jews are no longer fearful and cowering, that we are capable of defending ourselves. Neither is the U.S. military fearful. Therefore, we can have the inner strength to negotiate.

Perhaps Netanyahu did advocate negotiations, but any negotiation that starts with distrust is destined to fail. Successful negotiations must begin with this biblical advice: “Come and let us reason together.”

I am, however, saddened that a person who represents Israel, the country of my dreams, the country that has produced the prophets advocating morality and peace, should be suspected of having put his personal agenda ahead of a concern for coexistence.

I, as a Jew, a Holocaust survivor and an American, have had enough of politically induced wars. I am tired of the expectation that the United States should take on the burden of creating peace or of waging wars while the rest of the world stands by. Netanyahu perhaps should have gone to other countries, both European and Islamic, whose contributions to the sanction of Iran are merely symbolic.

What I am most saddened by is the prime minister’s disregard for good manners and proper courtesy and his shaming and accusing the president for not having proper insight. It is understandable that two countries have different concerns and thus different perceptions of what needs to be done. They may even be diametrically opposed. But friends should not disregard courtesy; they must respect each other’s feelings. To do otherwise is contrary to Jewish values.

The consequences of an absence of courtesy and of the care for another person’s feelings, especially among friends, are illustrated in the Talmudic tale of Kamtza and Bar-Kamtza. Our rabbis propose that Kamtza’s disregard of Bar-Kamtza’s feelings contributed to the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem.

I am sure the prime minister is aware of the teaching of hamalbin pney chavro barabim. It is an extreme sin to shame another person in public; how much more so the president, who is the symbolic representative of the people of this country.

I know that the prime minister is not happy with some of Obama’s views, and neither am I. No two people can agree on all things, and the president advocates views with which I do not agree. It is acceptable to be critical, but like mussar (chastisement), it should be beyn adam l’chaveroh — between two people in private without dishonor.

Obama is my president, and, like the prime minister, he deserves the honor that goes with his position. Netanyahu failed in this common courtesy because, as I see it, he let himself be guided by personal interest. It pains me that he has made me suffer by possibly causing a rift between two countries I and most Jews love. Remember, today no nation can stand alone, by itself and for itself.