The Holocaust and Israeli identity

From Jeff Goldberg’s article about the possibility of an Israeli attack on Iran:

After staring at the photograph of the Israeli air-force flyover of Auschwitz more than a dozen different times in more than a dozen different offices, I came to see the contradiction at its core. If the Jewish physicists who created Israel’s nuclear arsenal could somehow have ripped a hole in the space-time continuum and sent a squadron of fighters back to 1942, then the problem of Auschwitz would have been solved in 1942. In other words, the creation of a serious Jewish military capability—a nuclear bomb, say, or the Israeli air force—during World War II would have meant a quicker end to the Holocaust. It is fair to say, then, that the existence of the Israeli air force, and of Israel’s nuclear arsenal, means axiomatically that the Iranian nuclear program is not the equivalent of Auschwitz.

Original site:



On the other hand, Israeli author Daniel Gordis argues that an Iranian nuclear weapon would restore the conditions of Jewish vulnerability before the founding of Israel:

What must be understood is that the threat to Israel is not that Iran will one day use the bomb. No, Iran merely needs to possess the bomb to undermine the central purpose of Israel’s existence—and in so doing, to reverse the dramatic change in the existential condition of the Jews that 62 years of Jewish sovereignty has wrought. The mere possession of a nuclear weapon by Iran would instantly restore Jews to the status quo ante before Jewish sovereignty, to a condition in which their futures would depend primarily on the choices their enemies—and not Jews themselves—make.

My thought about this after reading Gordis’ article was that Israel is not unique in this fear.  Goldberg linked to James Fallows’ reaction to the article, in which Fallows writes that nuclear weapons threaten all people with destruction, not just Israelis.

Hat tip for Gordis’ article: Jeff Goldberg and Michael Totten



  1. Gordis comes across as a little melodramatic but his underlying point seems valid.

    Fallows sounds like he might be misplacing emphasis on weapons over wielders, leading to simplistic and fantastical goals. Charles Krauthammer has an excellent op-ed on START which addresses that direction.

  2. Kevin, I meant to get back to you sooner on this.

    I like the distinction between weapons and wielders, which is really important in this discussion. I still think that Fallows is right to make his point: Gordis is too Israel-centric. It is a real nation with real armed forces and real enemies, just much like other nations. The particular wielder of the weapons is more sinister in its language than most nuclear-armed state, though, which means that he’s not totally out-of-bounds.

    On New START, I thought that you might find Fred Kaplan’s pieces interesesting too. He has a different perspective from Krauthammer, who I thought made some good points too. (a few weeks old, more policy-oriented) (newer, but more about political fallout)

  3. Gordis may be a bit too pro-Israel, but even Arab states in the region see Israel’s nukes differently from Iran’s.

    Aside from Kaplan’s insulting tone and assumption of dishonesty, he makes good points that I’d like to see Bolton and Yoo respond to (and Krauthammer for that matter). I’d expect them to know what is and is not binding and the actual (as opposed to theoretical) effects of the preamble and FRC resolutions. But I don’t understand enough realpolitik to comment authoritatively myself; there’s too many possibilities.

    Total disarmament is clearly a bad idea, IMHO. Partial is harder to judge and may be useful since each side would like to disarm anyway. But I don’t even know how effective inspections are, for example. From my limited understanding, it seems that both sides are blowing the treaty’s ramifications out of proportion. Kaplan seems to lean that way, too, when he suggests the real importance is not the treaty but the perception of Obama’s international authority.

    I also found it strange that Kaplan only elaborated upon the Russian side of the “reset”, as though Obama’s symbolic act was the actual trigger for it. Instead, IIRC, it seems that Obama gave up interest in Georgia and the promised Polish and Czech missile defense systems in exchange for a cooperative drug raid into Afghanistan and the cancelation of the sale of air-defense missiles to Iran.

  4. I also meant to excerpt this fascinating quote of Kaplan’s from the last article you link:

    “Over the years, both Russia and the United States have made their sharpest reductions in nuclear armaments on their own, outside the context of any arms-control treaties. (This is especially true of short- and medium-range nukes.) And so maybe this is the route Obama and Medvedev should emulate for the future.”

  5. You wrote: “Gordis may be a bit too pro-Israel, but even Arab states in the region see Israel’s nukes differently from Iran’s.” Touche.

    This subject is really complex, as you noted, and seems to have a lot to do with perception. One’s perspective also seems to have a lot to do with assumptions about how international power and cooperation work and America’s role in the world.

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