Diplomacy, Not “Red Lines,” this Rosh Hashanah

Source: Ha’aretz

As the Jewish New Year beckons, Bibi Netanyahu is cravenly criticizing the US President for not drawing a “red line” in the sand that would give the US the go-ahead to militarily attack Iran.  I’m tempted to vent my gall, but thank goodness for MJ Rosenberg, who hits the nail right on the head in a blog post with the awesome title, “My Rosh Hashanah Greeting to Netanyahu: Butt the Hell Out of Our Election”:

For the last three weeks, Netanyahu has been openly attacking our president and has made clear his determination to defeat him. He is demanding that the president draw a red line in the sand, one dictated by Netanyahu, and tell the Iranians that if they cross it, we, the United States, will go to war. In short, he is demanding that the United States allow a foreign country to make our decision to commit our forces on his behalf.  (Not even Winston Churchill demanded that and his country was fighting for its life against Nazi Germany not some imagined threat).

Obama is not going to risk American lives because Bibi wants him to. And I don’t think Romney would either. There are limits, not even Adelson’s campaign contributions are likely to buy a war that would destroy Romney’s  presidency.  He is, after all, an American politician  – just like Obama. American.

Right on. I’m heartened that so far Obama has resisted Bibi’s cynical attempts to use our election season for his own political benefit. As Nicholas Kristof put it so aptly in today’s NY Times, “I think Obama should indeed set a red line — warning Netanyahu to stop interfering in American elections.”

This New Year, as I listen to these kinds of threats bandied about, I can’t help but think back to a sermon I gave to my congregation during the High Holidays four years ago – on the eve of my trip to Iran with the Fellowship of Reconciliation. This is what I had to say back then (still all too relevant today):

If we Jews truly want to avoid a “second Holocaust,” I would suggest the first step would be to stop comparing every provocation against Israel and the Jewish people in the most extreme terms possible.  Iran is not the Third Reich and Ahmadinejad is not Hitler. This is not to say we shouldn’t take Ahmadinejad’s hateful rhetoric seriously, but it does mean that this is a thorny, difficult and complex crisis. And we would do well to respond to it with intelligence and understanding, not by drawing lines in the sand and increasing even further the likelihood of yet another tragic military conflict in the Middle East.

You can click here to read the entire sermon. I also blogged extensively during my trip – you can dig up those posts by going to the Categories menu on the right and clicking on “Iran Trip 2008.”

Let us all pray and work for peace in 5773.

6 thoughts on “Diplomacy, Not “Red Lines,” this Rosh Hashanah

  1. Melissa Mizel

    Threatening to attack other countries for possessing weapons that we’ve long had ourselves is not a moral position. And the corollary, that only a handful of countries (Israel included) could employ these weapons “responsibly” as they wreak unfathomable destruction on others, takes the policy discussion from the immoral to the absurd.

  2. Wendy Carson

    Netenyahu has no business tryimg to potray Obama as a foe of I rael.Any person who reads or listens knows that this is quite the opposite.Does he think that a Romney win will allow himto build more illegal settlements or to threaten iran with military strikes?

  3. Miriam

    another Rosh Hashanah 40 years earlier…..and an earlier human tragedy when a red line was in place but obviously it was ignored by a predecessor of Netanyahu, Sharon. Today in the NYTimes and Oped by a doctoral student was published along side it is the declassified document from Isr.archives that reveals how this failure to act led to the brutal deaths of more than 800 women, children and elderly men in Sabra Shatilla. The Times enables readers to read page by page the entire declassed document as well as including some information about how US Marines became victims thru faulty White House/State decisions to TRUST the ally in that case. The US MUST avoid any further injudicious decisions by trusting such an ally.

    “What experience and history teach is this—that nations and governments have never learned anything from history or acted upon any lessons they might have drawn from it.”
    —George W.F.Hegel, 1830.

    H/T to Sam Bahour for the link:

  4. Ken

    No one can force a U.S. president to go to war against the interests of the U.S. Any president who takes any action is solely responsible for it. So why is Netanyahu publicly speaking out? He can’t force Obama to do anything. He’s responding to the public muddled statements of Hilary and other US officials who are saying things publicly to pressure Israel not to act in its own self defense interests. So he seeks to shame not just Obama, but all world leaders who choose to follow a failed sanctions effort. Belittling the serious dilemma facing Israel by suggesting a political motive is a sad reaction while Iran marches forward and our President “has no time”.

    1. Rabbi Brant Rosen Post author


      Neither I, nor any of the commenters above suggested that Netanyahu can “force” our President to go to war. That is not the issue. The issue is that Netanyahu has repeatedly behaved as if he intends to do what he can to ensure Romney’s election in November, which makes his red lining comments particularly cynical and shameful.

      Yes, there are many in the US administration who don’t support an attack on Iran and they are saying so. The majority of Israelis are also against this, as are many in Netanyahu’s own cabinet, including his own Minister of Defense, Ehud Barak. It is somewhat disingenuous of you to state that such an attack should ipso facto be considered in “Israel’s own self defense interests” when that is far from the universally held opinion in our country or in Israel.

      It’s worth pointing out that today, the politically conservative editorial board of the Chicago Tribune described the Obama administration’s approach as “sensible” and “wise.” Drawing a red line in the sand is simply not sound diplomacy, particularly at this stage in the game. As today’s op-ed ed correctly stated:

      Drawing a red line means ceding the ultimate decision-making power to Iran. It’s far wiser for the administration to communicate its demands privately to the Iranian government, while preserving maximum flexibility if and when those demands are rejected.

      It is far too early – and exceedingly dangerous – to reduce the diplomatic process to “a failed sanctions effort.” The last time we heard words like that they were invoked by George W. Bush in regard to Iraq (and we all know how well that turned out, don’t we?)

      1. Ken

        Perhaps my english skills are not quite up to it, but I did not suggest that you or any of the other commenters suggested that Netanyahu can “force” our president. I just made a statement on reality, and then asked why Netanyahu is speaking out. You then argue that few feel an Israeli attack is in Israel’s interest. My point is that to avoid such an attack, Israel’s right to defend itself and act against Iran, should be firmly supported by our government. And they have repeatedly stated that Israel has the right to act in its own defense. The more recent statements by Hilary and others, I believe, are causing Bibi to speak out because they are weakening the military threat that the administration keeps saying is an important part of diplomacy and sanctions. Whether a REAL attack would be in Israel’s interest is a question beyond my pay grade. But to simply and so easily reject Bibi’s concerns and call them a ploy to elect Romney is in my opinion irresponsible.
        Also, I’m not aware of Netanyahu making any statements like that you refered to: “Netanyahu has repeatedly stated his intentions to do what he can to ensure Romney’s election in November.” Can you please provide a citation for this? Thanks.

        May God grant peace to Israel and to the world. Shana tova.

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