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Seattle’s Leading Rabbi Supports Violent Overthrow of Iranian Regime

Tonight, the Jewish federation held its conference, Understanding the Iranian Threat, at Seattle’s largest synagogue, Temple DeHirsh Sinai.  Thankfully, I was able to attend with an Iranian-American who is working with me on the Iran-Israel conference I am planning for December.  I also met Bill Alford there, producer of the cable access program, Moral Politics, who will be interviewing me for his show this Saturday night which is broadcast on Scan TV (channel 77 in Seattle).  There was comfort to be among friends amidst such a hawkish anti-Iran presentation.

Frankly, I was surprised that the event was held in DeHirsh’s small sanctuary and only about 150 people attended.  Given that this was to be a community-wide event hosted by federation and several other pro-Israel groups, I expected it would be housed in the Temple’s main sanctuary (seating 1,200).  Dave Ross moderated and his questions were surprisingly challenging and at times slightly provocative.  Though he wasn’t exactly a dubious moderator, he was no pushover.  I was also surprised at the tenor of the audience questioning: almost half the questions seriously challenged the premises of the speakers regarding Israel and the alleged Iranian threat.  I don’t know that this means that the Jewish community doesn’t buy what these three speakers were peddling.  It might just as well mean that I stirred up the pot beforehand and the event attracted more than the usual right-wing pro-Israel suspects.

A fellow peace activist told me he was surprised at how lackluster the panel was.  Generally, I agree with him.  I said from the moment I first heard about this event months ago that the panelists had no particular expertise about Iran and therefore no special authority to speak about it.

But there was one thing that shocked me and it wasn’t anything spoken by a panelist.  Actually, it was spoken by the host, Rabbi Daniel Weiner, one of Seattle’s most influential rabbis.  In his short introduction, he spoke more virulently and passionately than all the other speakers put together.  Among other things, he said:

Iran is enslaved by unqualified evil.

That sure made me sit up and take notice.  After the event ended, I passed by Rabbi Weiner and had to make a split second decision about whether to engage him or let it go.  I decided to throw caution to the winds and asked:

Rabbi Weiner, Iran is enslaved?  By unqualified evil?  Do you really believe this?

He replied that he did.  I again was incredulous and asked him if he literally believed in what he said or whether he was speaking hyperbolically to make a moral point.  He made clear that he literally believed it.

I asked, if he literally believed this, whether he also believed in overthrowing this “evil” regime.  He said he did.  He said people in their tens of thousands believe this regime is evil and are prepared to overthrow it.  I replied: if the regime is as violent and despotic as you say, then how do you propose they would overthrow it?  He replied if they could not do it non-violently, then he supported a violent overthrow.  I asked him how tens of thousands of non-violent protestors would overthrow a regime backed with powerful military force?  Would the U.S. provide them the means necessary to overthrow the mullahs?  “If that’s what it takes,” Rabbi Weiner replied.

Then he proceeded to lecture me about the 1979 Iranian revolution and claimed it would be appropriate to overthrow the clerical regime by force since it had come to power by force.  I told him that the only force used during the 1979 Iranian revolution was by the Shah and his dreaded Savak.  In fact, hundreds of non-violent demonstrators were killed by the Shah’s forces.  That is what brought about the revolution.  If the protestors or the mullahs used force to topple the Shah, who provided them the guns to do so?  No one did.

Rabbi Weiner, as he was fleeing this uncomfortable encounter, called out with his back to me: “You’re mistaken, you don’t know your Iranian history.”

I bring up this incident to illuminate both the level of misplaced passion and outrageous ignorance that fuels Israeli and American Jewish attitudes toward Iran.  I find it unconscionable that one of Seattle’s leading rabbis would waste his moral suasion on such a foolhardy, historically bankrupt approach to Iran.  Whatever sins the Iranian regime has committed (and there are many), this type of demonology, while satisfying to moralists like Rabbi Weiner, serves no useful purpose except to lead us closer to a military solution to this conflict (one the rabbi apparently embraces).  Further, Weiner is clearly an intelligent person who possesses certain gifts.  But to pretend to understand Iran as he does, when he knows next to nothing about it except what fits into his narrow moral compass, is inexcusable.

As far as I’m concerned Rabbi Weiner was the whole show tonight.  The other speakers might just as well stayed home.  But they didn’t.  So we should review their statements which included some real eye-openers and even a few whoppers.

I’m going to convey this through my own notes so it won’t be a cogent essay, but more like an outline of the main points as delivered by the speakers (Jeff Colman of Aipac, Yaakov Katz of Jerusalem Post and Akiva Tor, Israel’s Northwest consul general).

Colman began his talk by saying that he was no expert on Iranian history, which he then proceeded to expound upon anyway.  He claimed the Ayatollahs “hijacked” the Iranian Revolution after 1979.    They have focussed obsessively on “external enemies” like Israel and the U.S., uniting the people against a common foe.  Iran today is characterized as a state which “meddles in the affairs of its neighbors.”

Colman claimed, in contravention of everything that I know about the group, that Aipac doesn’t want to see an Israeli attack on Iran.  He also claimed that current financial sanctions against Iran are having a “huge effect” on the Iranian economy.  This flies in the face of what most Iran analysts say, which is that the current sanctions are ineffectual, and any pain they were designed to induce has long been circumvented by Iranian counter-measures.

To the obvious question, can you get U.S. allies to join in the sanction regime, the Aipac lobbyist replied diplomatically that Russia and China “are not cooperating enough.”  What he left out is that neither country has expressed any interest in, or support for sanctions.  In fact, if the U.S. devises such a punitive policy it is likely that these two nations will not only not go along, they will actively subvert our intent by filling the economic vacuum left by the withdrawal of us and any of our other allies who join us (Britain, Germany, France, etc.).

An Iranian bomb, Colman argued (without any support), would destroy the Israeli-Palestinian peace process.  To this I would add a point raised by Judge Richard Goldstone in his telephone conference call a few days ago about his Gaza report: what peace process?  Not only is it ludicrous to link an Iranian bomb to an Israeli-Palestinian peace process…right now there IS no such process.

Dave Ross asked Akiva Tor how he saw today’s announcement that Iran was prepared to ship all its low-grade uranium to Russia for further enrichment, an outcome long sought by the U.S.  Tor called this agreement, if it held (and he suspected it would not), “a stopgap measure,” because Israel wants Iran to stop all uranium enrichment.  At a later point in the discussion, Tor advanced the contradictory position that Israel only opposed Iran’s quest for a nuclear weapon, with the inference being that Israel did not oppose nuclear research that could be guaranteed and verified to be non-military.

Tor claimed, without providing any proof, that an Iran with a nuclear weapon would be a threat to Europe, Russia and Sunni regimes in the Middle East.  At a later point, Yaakov Katz claimed that “six” European nations were in range of Iranian missiles.  What hawks like him always neglect to mention is that Iran has no bomb, nor a way to weaponize and deliver it.  And finally, Iran has never threatened any country except possibly Israel, and even that claim of Iranian threat is dubious.

Ross asked Akiva Tor why Israel couldn’t live with a nuclear Iran just as the U.S. lived for decades with a nuclear Russia.  Tor replied that MAD worked because the U.S. and Russia were “rational states,” while Iran is not.  He supported this claim by saying that any nation that pursues a nuclear quest for 15 years despite the fact that such a quest makes them a “pariah” to the outside world is “not rational.”

When Ross brought up the subject of a possible Israeli attack on Iran, Tor said it was “not helpful” to talk about a military strike.

The moderator asked why Arab nations shouldn’t be nervous about an Israeli bomb.  The Israeli consul general replied that “Israel didn’t threaten to destroy another country [as Iran allegedly has], so its nukes are not a danger.”

At that point, an audience member began shouting angrily that Israel destroyed his country, Lebanon, and how dare he [Tor] claim Israel never threatened any of its neighbors.  This interchange added a dose of ice-cold reality to an otherwise torpid discussion.

Iran, Tor continued, is a “grave threat to world peace.”  Those Arab nations who might pursue a nuclear bomb like Egypt would do so not because of an Israeli bomb, but because of the threat of an Iranian bomb.  Tor conveniently omits the fact that Israel allegedly destroyed a Syrian nuclear reactor last year which certainly wasn’t being built to counter an Iranian nuclear threat.  The Israeli diplomat claimed that several Arab states are seeking missile defense systems, and that they aren’t buying these systems to defend from Israeli missiles, but from Iranian ones.  Again, he provided no proof of his claim.

Turning to the issue of sanctions, the Israeli government representative said what was needed was “intelligent sanctions that won’t strengthen the Revolutionary Guards.”  Considering that Roger Cohen argues persuasively that the Guards have exploited sanctions to control massive portions of the Iranian economy based on smuggling, the notion that there can be any sanctions that will not benefit the Guards is preposterous.

Yaakov Katz, the Jerusalem Post’s military correspondent, painted an idyllic historic picture of Israel-Iranian relations.  In the old days, he claimed, we even sold them weapons.  And it should be remembered that Israel has nothing against Iranians per se.  It’s the Iranian government that is the problem.  The Iranian and Israeli peoples, so he claimed, “share strong bonds.”  Again, he provided no support for this claim short of the history of arms sales.

The Israeli journalist claimed, again without support, that sanctions could “influence Iranian behavior.”  When Ross asked him about the “blowback” from a possible Israel attack, Katz noted an Israeli intelligence study that reviewed past terror attacks on Israel and Israeli targets, including the SCUD attacks during the Persian Gulf war, the Hezbollah rocket attacks on northern Israel, and the Argentine terror attacks on the Israeli embassy and Jewish cultural center (attributable, or so Katz claims, to Iran).  The study estimated that the Iranian response to such an attack would be “three times” as severe as the cumulative effect of the above terrorist acts.

Ross then asked whether Israel would be prepared to pay that price.  Tor replied that the outside world might be surprised to learn that Israel is united in its determination to prevent a nuclear Iran.  The implication was that Israelis would be prepared to pay such a price.  The only problem is that Tor really wasn’t answering the question Ross asked.  I believe that Israelis do not consider the blowback from such an attack because that’s not the way their political/mental processes work.  They respond from the gut without taking into account long-term implications for their actions.  Taking out Iran’s nuclear weapons capability seems to the average Israeli the right thing to do.  What comes after is not on their radar.  It’s a strange way to approach statecraft to say the least.  When Israelis come to understand the price they will pay in blood for such a foolhardy military adventure, they will think differently about it.  But then it will be too late and the damage will be done.

When asked what impact an Israeli attack and Iranian response might have on the world economy, specifically oil prices, Yaakov Katz said:

I don’t know that skyrocketing oil prices would be at the top of Israel’s concerns.

To his credit, Dave Ross replied that he thought it might be at the top of the concerns of the U.S. Congress, inferring that the U.S. might take a dubious view of an Israeli military adventure that harmed our economy.

When asked whether the Israeli approach diverged from the U.S. government, the Israeli diplomat said Israel was “close to the U.S. position on Iran.”  Considering that Israel’s deputy prime minister said this week on the Charlie Rose show that Israel would “prefer regime change in Iran” if it had its druthers, Tor’s claim that both Israel and the U.S. are on the same page regarding Iran rings hollow.

Katz spoke to the effect that an Israeli military attack might have on Iran’s tenuous political situation.  He claimed, with a straight face, that there were reputable Iran analysts who claimed that the regime was so weak that an assault might so divide the people from the regime that they could topple it.  This simply is not so and I have not read a single credible analyst aside from people like Michael Ledeen (who is ipso facto not credible) make such a claim.  The Jerusalem Post correspondent at least conceded that there were those who believed Israeli force would unite the people behind the Ayatollahs and harm the reformers.

In one particular, Katz engaged in an outright lie.  He said that Iran “has the elements required for a nuclear weapon.”  He also claimed that it was “on the brink of making a nuclear warhead.”  The truth is far different.  Iran may be working on the various elements required to make a nuclear weapon.  On some, it appears to have achieved progress.  On others, it is far from being able to claim that it is ready to deliver a nuclear weapon.  It is certainly nowhere near “the brink” of having one.

Regarding sanctions, Katz maintained that the Iranian economy was so dependent on oil revenue that sanctions would exert “heavy pressure.”  Responding to a question from the moderator, he conceded that sanctions would hurt the average Iranian more than the leaders–“but that’s tough medicine,” was all he could muster in response.

To the claim that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict fuels other conflicts in the Middle East, the Jerusalem Post reporter uttered a vehement denial.  He proceeded to list multiple social and political conflicts in the region which he argued had no basis in the I-P conflict.  He conveniently left off his list Lebanon, Syria, and Egypt, whose internal political conflicts ARE directly impacted by this festering issue.

“It’s not about Israel,” Jeff Colman said.  Instead it’s about the “hegemonistic aims” of Iran against its neighbors.  Once again, this speaker provided no proof for his claim of Iranian hegemony.

Tor offered as his own proof of the claim that Ahmadinejad “wants Israel wiped off the face of the map.”  The only problem is that this little statement, bandied about by the Netanyahu government and its supporters forever has been mistranslated.  The Iranian president said he wanted Israel to “disappear” from the map, which is quite different from the alleged quotation attributed to him.

A questioner asked Tor whether Israel would be willing to give up its nuclear weapons and create a Middle East nuclear-free zone if Iran gave up its nuclear aspirations.  He refused to answer the question directly, but it was clear Israel, in his view, would not.

A second questioner asked whether Israel would agree to a nuclear-free zone if the U.S. and EU nations were guarantors of the peace.  Jeff Colman disingenuously chimed in that Israel never wants to put itself at the mercy of other nations for its own defense.  He neglected to mention the massive amounts of U.S. military weaponry Israel receives from the U.S., without which it could never maintain its own brand of regional “hegemony.”

Perhaps the most cynical stratagem of the night was Tor’s request of Washingtonians to lobby their state government to divest its pension funds of companies investing in Iran.  Those with a memory going back a year or two will remember the “infamous” Initiative 97, which asked the city of Seattle to divest itself of stock in companies benefiting from the Israeli Occupation.  At the time, the Jewish federation and StandWithUs spent an extraordinary $150,000 on a campaign that argued it was improper to mix municipal investment policy with foreign policy issues.

I know for a fact that members of the Jewish community warned the consul that Iran divestment would be a “no-go” here in Seattle because Jews here “shot their wad” on I-97.  Despite these demurrals, Tor tried valiantly to gin up support for divestment.  That’s because this is a policy directive from Tel Aviv to all Israeli diplomats here.  Lieberman and Netanyahu somewhat cleverly are trying to use the divestment weapon being levelled at Israel by the BDS movement and turn it against an Israeli enemy, Iran.  What this tells you is that the Israeli foreign ministry is entirely tone deaf when it comes to understanding local conditions in various Jewish communities.  One size fits all is the MFA’s motto.  If Seattle Jews are uncomfortable talking divestment because of past electoral experience, by God we in Israel will bring it up anyway.

Finally, to emphasize the Alice in Wonderland atmosphere of this conference, Akiva Tor claimed that Israel “welcomes dialogue with Iran” and that Pres. Ahmadinejad was “welcome anytime in Jerusalem.”  Dave Ross was incredulous and asked how Israel would allow an Iranian leader to visit Israel (since such visits are illegal), Tor replied: “We’ll create a special visa for him.”  Though people laughed, I wondered whether Israel might create a special “Auschwitz visa” to welcome him.

{ 31 comments… add one }
  • Daniel Weiner October 22, 2009, 2:40 AM

    Mr. Silverstein, while engaging you on a forum you control and from which your worldview and yours alone obviously prevails is futile, perhaps. But your representation of my comments is inaccurate at best, biased and malicious at worst. While I pray for a peaceful, Velvet revolution in Iran to overthrow the government, the current regime has demonstrated time and again that it will not go gently into that good night. Real change within Iran will come internally, through popular protest and reformist vigor, and most likely through a degree (I hope limited) of violent conflict. The bullies and thugs of the regime will need to be met with the only means many of them understand, as is the case with all bullies and thugs. And as far as my use of terms like “enslavement” and “evil”, please see most recently “Iran: The Revenge” in the Nov 5 edition of The New York Review of Books, with a special note of Khomeini’s post revolutionary “purging” of society and mass murder of thousands of imprisoned dissidents. I shudder to imagine how you might have confronted other myriad terrors of the twentieth century.

    • Richard Silverstein October 22, 2009, 11:14 AM

      Rabbi Weiner: You charge me with representing yr views inaccurately, maliciously & with malevolence. Yet you confirm in every particular how I portrayed yr views. You confirmed in yr comment that you expect it will take violence to overthrow the current Iranian regime (which is precisely how I portrayed yr views). The only caveat you added is that you hope it will be a “limited” amt. of violence.

      In addition, last night you claimed with enormous certainty that the Iranian revolution was brought about by violence against the Shah. Yet in yr comment you make no reference to this statement. Are you now backing away fr. this claim?

      I have never heard that there was a “mass murder” of thousands of dissidents after the Revolution. In effect, you’re charging Ayatollah Khomeini with being the Pol Pot or Stalin of Iran. I plan to consult with Iranian-Americans who actually went through the Revolution to confirm my impression that your view is highly inaccurate. No one here is saying that the current regime is fair, balanced or even deserves to remain in power. But what I am saying is that it is up to the Iranian people to decide what to do. And to encourage a violent overthrow of the regime as you do is highly damaging to the Iranian reformers you profess to support.

      Let’s also be clear about something else: this is my blog & so in that sense I exert some editorial control as any newspaper or media outlet does. But to say that it reflects my worldview & mine alone is patently fraudulent. You’re commenting here. Do you represent my worldview? If you are claiming that the posts I write represent my world view & that this is somehow unbalanced, I guess I have to plead guilty. It is my blog. It is not a multi author blog & so doesn’t represent the views of others.

      But I do periodically publish the work of others & if you would like to publish a post here with yr views on Iran I’d welcome it though I would promise you a robust rebuttal. In fact, I will suggest this to Joel Magalnick for the pages of JTNews. A point counterpoint debate bet. us there would be educational & instructive I think.

      • Donald October 22, 2009, 12:04 PM

        He might be right about the killing of thousands by the Khomenei government–I’d heard that. The revolution was carried out by religious and also nonreligious elements (lefties), but afterwards Khomenei suppressed the left.

        Here’s a link to a wikipedia article on the Iranian revolution, with references to thousands killed if you scroll down. I don’t have time to look for better articles, but anyway, I’m sure I’ve seen references to this in the NYT and elsewhere.


        I’m not supporting him otherwise, understand.

        • Shirin October 22, 2009, 11:30 PM

          But no one seems to care how many victims the Shah left behind, do they? Could that possibly be because the Shah was “their guy”, so the people he tortured and murdered and robbed of their lives must by definition be “bad guys”?

          • Donald October 23, 2009, 5:37 AM

            The same wikipedia article mentions thousands killed by the Shah, though there’s apparently some controversy (as there often is about such things) about the exact numbers. But yeah, usually people who demonize the Iranian Revolution will try to cover up the Shah’s crimes.

          • Shirin October 23, 2009, 7:27 AM

            And how precise are the numbers purported for the Khomeini government? And further, how is any of that justification for demonizing the present government?

          • Donald October 23, 2009, 10:00 AM

            Shirin, you seem to be disagreeing with someone, but it isn’t me.

          • Donald October 23, 2009, 10:03 AM

            I suspect, though, it has something to do with the genocide argument. We tend to agree on most things, from what I remember, but now maybe I’m on your sh** list or something. If so, too bad, but it’s not my problem.

          • Shirin October 25, 2009, 11:44 PM

            Donald, I have no idea what you are talking about. First, why would you automatically infer that by asking a couple of mainly rhetorical questions I was disagreeing with you, or anyone else for that matter? But let’s say I WAS disagreeing with you. Why would you assume that you are on my fecal roster for any reason, let alone that we did not agree on the genocide question. Do you really think that disagreeing with me qualifies a person for a spot on on FR? I assure you that it does not, if only because that would make the list so extensive I would need a special assistant just to keep track of it for me. And do you think I only disagree with people who are on my FR? The reality is that if someone is on that list I rarely will give them the time of day, let alone disagree with them.

          • Donald October 26, 2009, 12:48 PM

            Shirin– It was the apparent tone of your questions that had me wondering, but it’s easy to misjudge such things online–it has happened to me before, sometimes as the misjudger and sometimes as the one being misjudged.

          • Shirin October 26, 2009, 10:26 PM

            Well, my questions were rhetorical, and intended to challenge the standard thinking. And yes, misunderstandings are all too easy in this medium.

    • Assaf Oron October 22, 2009, 11:27 AM

      1. Rabbi Weiner’s indignant comment actually confirms your headline, i.e. that he advocates a violent overthrow.

      2. What would he say to those who might apply the same logic to Israel’s control of West Bank + Gaza? Those who think that, in his words, “the current (Israeli Occupation) regime has demonstrated time and again that it will not go gently into that good night “? Emphasize that personally, I (and I assume you too) do *NOT* advocate a violent overthrow of the Occupation dictatorship, but rather prefer to follow strictly nonviolent means. But that Rabbi Weiner’s opinion actually plays into the hands of those who support the Palestinian “armed struggle”.

      Or perhaps he thinks Israel’s control of said territories is democratic? Or perhaps non-existent? Or simply none of his business, being an American rabbi who probably encourages his flock to strengthen their ties with, and support of, that country?

      • Daniel Weiner October 27, 2009, 4:26 PM

        Not trying to avoid anything….just focusing on one issue at a time and still hold down a full time job which precludes constant blogging…in answer to your question…first and foremost, I believe the West Bank and Gaza should never have been under Israeli auspices from the beginning, but that despite all that has happened, the Palestinians fared better than during the years under Jordanian and Egyptian authority (remember Taba…remember Black September!) Be that as it may, it is disingenuous and inaccurate to compare the tyrannical theocracy of Iran to the democratic, pluralistic government of Israel on any measure, inclusive of the territories. Iran lacks any of the reviews, analyses, judgments, soul-searching, military ethics and internal findings favoring the Palestinians that are the normative course in Israel’s deliberations. Unfortunately, as Abba Eban stated years ago, the Palestinians never pass up an opportunity to pass up an opportunity. The scoffed at a state on a silver platter at Camp David in 2000…they were given Gaza by the most right of Israeli governments only to turn it into a point of departure for terrorism that undermined the peace-striving Israeli left…and they would have had most of the West Bank according to Olmert’s stated plans of disengagement if not for the unprovoked attacks of Hezbollah in 2006. Again, I blame the corrupt leadership of Fatah and the intransigent leadership of Hamas for their criminal negligence of the suffering of their own people. If you want a sense of what the people of Gaza truly want, check out this morning’s piece in the Times…http://www.nytimes.com/2009/10/27/world/middleeast/27gaza.html?_r=1&ref=world….hope this is a sufficient if not persuasive response…

        • Richard Silverstein October 28, 2009, 8:47 PM

          it is disingenuous and inaccurate to compare the tyrannical theocracy of Iran to the democratic, pluralistic government of Israel

          Iran is a democracy. A flawed democracy (obviously after the June elections) but it is a democracy. Israel too is a flawed democracy. In fact, it isn’t really a democracy, but an ethnocracy since it offer superior rights to one ethnic group over another. Also, to call Israel “pluralistic” in the sense you do is inaccurate since Israel barely tolerates its minorities (not unlike Iran btw).

          inclusive of the territories.

          Now this is rich. You’re claiming that Palestinian life under Occupation is freer, more democratic and pluralistic than life in Iran? Is that what you really are claiming? I know scores of Palestinians who are actually living life under Occupation who would eagerly dispute you. You, unlike them, know nothing about life under Occupation. Nor do you know anything about life in Iran. I would actually urge you to visit Iran, which despite difficult conditions is open to Americans to visit. In fact, I know an Iranian American who organizes such trips and would consider attempting to include you in a tour. I doubt you’d be willing to do so though. You’d prefer to rail against the Iran than actually visit the country and see it face to face.

          Iran lacks any of the reviews, analyses, judgments, soul-searching, military ethics and internal findings favoring the Palestinians that are the normative course in Israel’s deliberations.

          Ah yes, the IDF is the most moral army in the world, investigates itself, engages in deep soul searching. Really, are you still living in 1967? What country are you talking about? Do you know what’s gone on in Israel since 1967? How can any intelligent Jewish person say the things you have & ignore massacre and mayhem in Lebanon & Gaza (regardless of whatever provocation Israel faced before engaging in these massacres)? Do pls. explain to us what soul searching Israel has engaged in in the aftermath of the Gaza war? Point us to the independent investigatory commission appointed by the gov’t to review the killings of hundreds of unarmed Gaza civilians by the IDF.

          the Palestinians never pass up an opportunity to pass up an opportunity.

          More tired irrelevant propaganda circa 1967. I’m afraid it is Israel, at least as much as the Palestinians, that never misses an opportunity to miss an opportunity.

          The scoffed at a state on a silver platter at Camp David in 2000

          Now you’re spouting Ehud Barak’s propaganda about Arafat passing up a Palestinian state at Camp David. Apparently, you haven’t read books of people who were there like Aaron David Miller & Clayton Swisher which present a far diff. picture. The Palestinians scoffed at a deal they couldn’t sell to their own people that didn’t offer a full return to 67 borders.

          they were given Gaza by the most right of Israeli governments

          The Sharon gov’t was by far not “the most right of Israeli governments,” unless you exclude the governments of Yitzchak Shamir & Netanyahu who preceeded him. Not to mention Menachem Begin. The Gaza withdrawal was not a gift to Hamas. Israel left unilaterally making no attempt to negotiate its withdrawal with the Palestinians and getting nothing in return for it. It was one of the stupidest & most disastrous policy blunders the Israelis have ever made. And it’s no wonder that Gazans didn’t see the withdrawal as a peace gesture, but rather as an act of desperation, resignation & defeat on the part of the Sharon gov’t. Peace doesn’t come through unilateral withdrawals. It comes through bilateral negotiations.

          the unprovoked attacks of Hezbollah in 2006

          Let’s examine yet another pro-Israel hasbara meme you offer here. Do you say that hundreds of Hezbollah prisoners in Israeli jails w Israel keeping those prisoners imprisoned indefinitely w/o trial is not grounds for Hezbollah to feel justified in attacking Israel? Would you say that unresolved land disputes between Israel and Lebanon in which Israel held territory that Israel itself conceded was NOT Israeli, was not suitable grounds for Hezbollah to feel justified in attacking Israel? So while I do not justify any act of violence against Israel, to say that the Hezbollah attacks were “unprovoked” shows once again that you have little grasp for some of the subjects on which you expound.

          I blame the corrupt leadership of Fatah and the intransigent leadership of Hamas for their criminal negligence of the suffering of their own people.

          Yes, yes, we know how this song goes, the words place all blame squarely on the shoulders of the Palestinians while Israel is white as snow. It’s an old, tired song that most people stopped singing long ago. But you carry on despite everything that has changed since the song was a hit so long ago.

          • Shirin October 28, 2009, 9:09 PM

            the IDF is the most moral army in the world, investigates itself, engages in deep soul searching.

            Ah yes! The IDF shoots, cries, shoots again, cries again, shoots still more, and cries some more. Israel is the most self-pitying army in the world.

          • Richard Silverstein October 29, 2009, 12:31 AM

            Yes, buckets of tears.

          • Shirin October 28, 2009, 10:46 PM

            Iran lacks any of the reviews, analyses, judgments, soul-searching, military ethics…

            1. Rabbi, how do you know what Iran lacks and does not lack in that regard. In fact, all you have to go on is assumptions based solely on propaganda that you clearly have not fact-checked.

            2. Given that Iran has almost no need of a military, has not used its military since the ’80’s, and has not been involved in a war of aggression for nearly three centuries, it is difficult to see how “military ethics” are even relevant here. Iran’s military is very small relative to the size and population of the country, and its military budget is minuscule compared to that of the countries that are pretending to quake in fear of the “Iran threat”.

            it is Israel, at least as much as the Palestinians, that never misses an opportunity to miss an opportunity.

            It is not only that the above description applies to Israel far more than to the Palestinians. Israel does not merely never miss an opportunity to miss an opportunity, Israel never misses an opportunity to give the middle finger to an opportunity. As only one example, the Arab League has, for eight years running now, unanimously reaffirmed its official offer to Israel of everything Israel claims it wants – peace, recognition, and full diplomatic and economic relations. All Israel has to do in return is comply with international law by withdrawing from the Occupied Territories, leave the Palestinians free to form their state in the OPT, and come to a mutually-agreed-upon resolution to the refugee problem. For eight years Israel’s response has been a refusal to even consider this most generous offer as a starting point for negotiations. The entire Arab world has offered Israel peace, and more, on a silver platter, and Israel projects its middle finger at the offer. That fact, more than any other, tells us exactly how high a priority Israel really places on peace.

            The Gaza withdrawal was not a gift to Hamas.

            The Gaza withdrawal was also not an end to the occupation, as the hasbarists would have us believe. The fact that the colonies were dismantled and the military withdrawn does not change the fact that Gaza is still occupied territory held under Israeli control.

            I blame the corrupt leadership of Fatah and the intransigent leadership of Hamas blahblahblah…

            Standard blame-the-victims drivel. With all due respect, Rabbi, you forgot to mention how unconscionable it is that the Palestinians force the Israelis to slaughter their children, and destroy their homes, and fields, and businesses, and uproot their olive trees. I mean, how dare they be so cruel to the poor Israelis?

  • Rob Jacobs October 22, 2009, 9:49 AM

    Richard, I continue to question your credibility generally when I see you repeat “facts” that you know are not true.

    In this blog entry, you again state “Jewish federation and StandWithUs spent an extraordinary $150,000 [opposing I-97].” It would have been extraordinary, if that were what was spent.

    I do not know the specific amount that was billed by the consultant and the attorney. SWU never was involved in the actual hiring or direct management of either. But I do know that the total was less than half the $150,000 that you continue to bring up.

    I also know that you’ve been told this before.

    Given that you state you have inside sources, contacts on the Federation executive committee, you might want to check with them before again making statements that you know are not factually accurate.

    • Richard Silverstein October 22, 2009, 11:21 AM

      The $150,000 figure was offered by the anti-I-97 activists at a Jewish community meeting which you probably attended. Someone who was actually at the mtg. not only told me the figure but had notes to prove it. So if you have problems w. the figure take it up with whoever organized the mtg. at which the figure was mentioned.

      If you disagree then do what any reputable political figure would do & document what was spent & tell us how much it was (it’s prob. available through public records). I have a source for my claim. You won’t provide any. You have plenty of inside sources at the federation who can review the files and get you the answer. If you want to be serious rather than grandstand you’ll correct the record in the only way it can be corrected, factually.

  • Daniel Weiner October 22, 2009, 6:37 PM

    Yet another indication that your grasp of Iran’s history of violent revolution to bring about change is tenous…


    • Richard Silverstein October 22, 2009, 8:36 PM

      There is only one short, general reference in this article from The New Republic to violence being used by Khomeini to bring about the Shah overthrow:

      Khomeini’s revolutionaries used an array of clever tactics to neutralize the armed forces. Successful attacks on the security forces showed that the regime was vulnerable, and often intentionally provoked government reactions that incited more unrest. Khomeini also ordered his followers to embrace the military rank-and-file and bring them to the revolutionaries’ side through fraternization and propaganda.

      Since the author doesn’t specify what he’s referring to it’s hard to know what sort of ‘attacks’ he means. It’s also impossible to know whether such attacks were common or rare. And most important, TNR is known as a publication that is hostile to Arab nations like Iran and I can’t vouch for the accuracy of any claims made in this article. At any rate, the most commonly accepted view of the Revolution is that it was non-violent. And even if there was violence, this is certainly not what brought the victory of Khomeini & his forces.

      Regarding yout link to a photo showing Kurdish rebels being executed after 1979. Your claim was that “hundreds of thousands” were killed after the Revolution. I do not maintain that great injustices were not done after the Revolution. But you came tenuously close to accusing the Khomeini of crimes against humanity. And I know of no sources other than you and the Mujahadeen al Khalq who make such a wild claim. If those are the sorts of people whose views of Iran you share then that tells us a lot.

  • Daniel Weiner October 22, 2009, 6:38 PM


  • Daniel Weiner October 22, 2009, 7:06 PM

    And another example that your understanding of the 1979 revolution as peaceful is wrong…


    • Assaf Oron October 22, 2009, 10:24 PM

      Dear Rabbi Weiner,

      I am waiting for you to answer my questions above. They were posted on my behalf in the 3rd person via Richard, since I was unable to access the site myself at the time.

      Here’s a recap. Israel’s control of West Bank and Gaza Palestinians is almost universally seen as a dictatorship. As one who had carried out this control on the ground, I wholly agree. Would you agree as well to this characterization? Or perhaps in your view there is no such control, or is it just “temporary”? Or simply none of our business?

      Anyway, this regime has lasted 42+years – 12 years longer than the current Iranian dictatorship (which has replaced a U.S.-backed dictatorship; poor Iranians). Again, most outside observers now believe the Israeli Occupation will not dismantle itself out of free will or via routine negotiations.

      According to your method if applied honestly to Israel-Palestine, the violent overthrow of the Occupation regime is legitimate and even recommended.

      I beg to differ; I would strictly adhere to nonviolence and have been on record on this specific matter countless times.

      But with your relentless advocacy for violence against Iran and the particular arguments you have chosen to justify such violence, you have just dealt a trump card to those who support or tolerate Palestinian violence. Do you understand that?

      Sincerely, Assaf

  • Brett October 23, 2009, 7:17 AM

    Colman began his talk by saying that he was no expert on Iranian history, which he then proceeded to expound upon anyway. He claimed the Ayatollahs “hijacked” the Iranian Revolution after 1979.

    While they were at the forefront, that is technically true. The ayatollahs and their ilk were part of a broader anti-Shah coalition that included democratic factions, secular factions, etc. After the Shah was pushed out, the clerical regime pushed these other groups aside and took firm control.

    They have focussed obsessively on “external enemies” like Israel and the U.S., uniting the people against a common foe. Iran today is characterized as a state which “meddles in the affairs of its neighbors.”

    Now that’s the pot calling the kettle black.

    What hawks like him always neglect to mention is that Iran has no bomb, nor a way to weaponize and deliver it. And finally, Iran has never threatened any country except possibly Israel, and even that claim of Iranian threat is dubious.

    The first part is true – they don’t have a bomb, and probably won’t have one for years (assuming they decide to get one). The “delivery” part is half-true – while the Iranians don’t have a delivery mechanism right now, they do have the technology to build one. It’s not that fundamentally different from the technology they used to launch a satellite into orbit.

    I believe that Israelis do not consider the blowback from such an attack because that’s not the way their political/mental processes work. They respond from the gut without taking into account long-term implications for their actions.

    While I wouldn’t generalize that much, that certainly seems true for most of Israel’s political leadership. They don’t seem to really think beyond a year or two into the future, unless it’s planning for a near-future military assault. The result, of course, is that you just get people doing the status quo processes onward and onward.

    Responding to a question from the moderator, he conceded that sanctions would hurt the average Iranian more than the leaders–”but that’s tough medicine,” was all he could muster in response.

    The Iraqis would like to have a word with him about this.

    Tor offered as his own proof of the claim that Ahmadinejad “wants Israel wiped off the face of the map.” The only problem is that this little statement, bandied about by the Netanyahu government and its supporters forever has been mistranslated. The Iranian president said he wanted Israel to “disappear” from the map, which is quite different from the alleged quotation attributed to him.

    For that matter, what’s so shocking about this statement? It’s not as if statements like these weren’t (and aren’t) being bandied around by arab leaders today. Just look at some of the past rhetoric about the “Zionist usurping entity” to get an idea of what I’m talking.

    Seriously, the Israelis have been living in the midst of that type of rhetoric for decades. What’s making them so jumpy about a particular statement?

  • Saint Michael Traveler October 24, 2009, 9:48 AM

    The hideous cost of hypocrisy & nuclear warheads:

    Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT or NNPT), 1968, is a treaty to limit the spread of nuclear weapons. To be in compliance with NPT, we need to stop hypocrisy and eliminate the nuclear warheads in possession of the following nations:

    Nuclear Warheads 2009
    US: 9552
    Russia: 12987
    UK: 192
    China: 176
    France: 300
    India: 75
    Pakistan: 90
    Israel: 200
    North Korea: 2

    http://thebulletin.metapress.com/home/main.mpx“>BULLETIN OF ATOMIC SCIENTISTS, GUARDIAN/DEFENCE ESTIMATES

    Iran singed the NPT. Under this treaty Iran has the rights to enrich uranium, use nuclear byproducts for research, medicine, agriculture and produce nuclear electric power. There is no dispute that Iran is already a nuclear state. The states with this capacity are many; among them are Japan and Germany. Iran does not have any nuclear weapons and according to IAEA is in compliance with the terms of the treaty.

    Under NPT, Iran is able to produce fuel for nuclear energy production. Iran has already informed IAEA about construction of the facility at Qom for enrichment of nuclear fuel. But Iran should show and be in compliance with IAEA requirements for NPT.

    I suggest the following three steps to eliminate potential for violation of NPT by Iran and developing nuclear weapon in the future:

    1. Nuclear Fuel Cycle Iranian Consortium:
    USA should join the consortium among others Japan, Germany, France and England to actively monitor the Iranian fuel cycle activity too. IAEA has consistently asserted that the agency could not find any indications that Iran is diverting the fuel cycle for nuclear bomb development. Iran has asserted that their activities are limited to development of fuel for nuclear reactor.

    2. Nuclear Shield
    An international nuclear shield for all nations in the Middle East, including Iran, from nuclear bomb states;

    3. A nuclear- bomb-free Middle East
    This action will remove any pressure from Iran to develop nuclear bomb in the future for deterrence against nuclear bomb Israeli state.

    President Harry Truman in 1946 gave this statement about nuclear bomb:

    “It is a terrible weapon, and it should not be used on innocent men, women and children who have nothing whatever to do with this military aggression. That happens when it is used.”He was referring to using the bomb on Japan.

    I support President Obama’s quest for reduction of the nuclear warheads in USA and Russia. However, The treaty requires that the members give up their rights to have nuclear weapons for defense; those who had nuclear weapons and had signed the NPT had agreed to eliminate their nuclear weapons. China, England, France, Russia, and USA had singed the NPT treaty. All these nations are in violation of the NPT.

    Among the 189 countries party to the treaty, five nations have nuclear weapons: the United States, Russia, the United Kingdom, China and France (also permanent members of the UN Security Council).

  • Daniel Weiner October 25, 2009, 2:59 PM

    The aggregate of the articles I’ve cited indisputably attest to both the Shah’s regime and the Khomeini revolution as bloody and detestable. And if you are arguing that life in a medieval theocracy is better than a puppet dictatorship, than you have revealed your own idiosyncratic biases. I would also direct you to recent coverage of conservative revolutionary-turned-reformist-leader Mehdi Karroubi, who has spoken publicly condemning the current regime as “worse than the Shah.” Why you insist on defending the sovereignty of murderers, rapists and religious obscurantists, I’ll never know!

    • Assaf Oron October 25, 2009, 3:24 PM

      Dear Rabbi Weiner,

      Much as I adore your petty squabble with Richard over “which dictatorship is worse, the current Iranian one or the former” and also “who is more ignorant about Iran – you or me?”

      I wonder whether you’d take the time to respond to my question.

      In my view, any Rabbi who is silent or complicit about the oppression of Palestinians under occupation, has very little moral footings to stand on while sermonizing about other wrongs in the Middle East.

      It seems you are avoiding the issue.

    • Richard Silverstein October 27, 2009, 10:26 PM

      The aggregate of the articles I’ve cited indisputably attest to both the Shah’s regime and the Khomeini revolution as bloody and detestable.

      Until this comment you just published you hadn’t said a word about the Shah & your high moral dudgeon seemed reserved only for the Iranian Revolution. At least you concede there was evil that preceed it. Though of course you haven’t connected the two in a way that shows that the bloodiness of the Shah’s regime led directly to the bloodiness of the Revolution.

      Second, you didn’t just call the Iranian regime “bloody & detestable” which is a phrase I would generally accept unless it was being used in the form you are to justify war against it. You called the regime one of the greatest evils of our generation and said Iranians were “enslaved by unqualified evil.” The term’s “detestable” & “unqualified evil” are quite different.

      I find it interesting that you’re attempting to argue that the Shah’s rule was superior to the current government. The only Iranians who share this view are the monarchists. Are you one? I also find it interesting that you, living here in Seattle, knowing very little about Iran as a country, its culture, language or even religion have decided it is a “medieval theocracy” when Iranians I know, all of whom dislike the Islamic Republic immensely and wish to see it replaced, heartily disagree with you. One think I strongly urge is that you attempt to use a bit of nuance in yr judgments & language. It is very easy to get into high moral dudgeon and speak in slogans rather than depict reality.

      Mehdi Karroubi, who has spoken publicly condemning the current regime as “worse than the Shah.”

      Yet even someone who says the current regime is worse than the Shah does NOT support its violent overthrow as you do. In fact, he hasn’t even attempted to engage a mass movement to overthrow the regime through non-violent means (at least not yet). That’s a bit inconvenient for yr argument isn’t it? Or would you prefer that Karroubi attempt such an overthrow violently or not, begin a civil war and have Iranians by their tens of thousands slaughtered on both sides. Would that satisfy you? I’m continually amazed at how good “liberals” like you can propound arguments that might get others killed w/o even realizing the implications of yr overblown rhetoric.

      Since you expounded upon the religious philosophy of the Iranian clerics, can you tell me what you know about Iranian Islam? What gives you the special expertise to label it “medieval theocracy” or religious obscurantism?” Have you taken any course or read any primary texts in the field of Iranian religious beliefs or practices? Or do you learn this from anti-jihadi press releases and websites?

      I am not so much “defending” the ayatollahs as pointing out the gross misrepresentations and distortions of yr own pt of view.

    • Shirin October 27, 2009, 11:10 PM

      life in a medieval theocracy

      Rabbi Weiner, how much time have you spent in Iran? None would be my guess. Oddly enough, no one I know who has spent time there would ever describe it as a “medieval theocracy” or anything close to that, and I myself certainly would not.

      I am afraid you have drunk too much of the Kool Aid served up by the anti-Iran cult, and it has interfered with what must otherwise be a very good mind.

  • Warren October 28, 2009, 5:49 PM

    Rabbi Weiner, regarding the occupied territories, nice job blaming the Palestinian victims—pretty unseemly for a spiritual leader to stoop so low. I suppose concerning the 300 Palestinian children slaughtered by the IDF, it was their fault, they had it coming, right?

    I’m just curious, do you see anything in your mandate and calling as a rabbi beyond tribal cheerleading and ethnic nationalism, because I frankly don’t get the sense you embrace the whole of humanity beyond your own people? Granted, I come from a different faith tradition, but my understanding has always been that a spiritual leader is compelled to speak to the universal when it comes to peace, justice, understanding, and the like.

    You provide no indication that you have any sort universalist framework of looking at the world, which I always thought was at least implicit in the major world religions as well as stemming from the Enlightenment tradition.

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