Obama V Netanyahu (Shadow Boxing or A Real Contest?)

“If we had invested in the Arab problem a tenth of the energy, the passion, the ingenuity, the resourcefulness which we developed to gain the support of Britain, France, the US and Weimar Germany, our destiny in the development of Israel may have been quite different… We were not ready for compromises; we did not regard it (the majority Arab presence) as a major problem… We did not make sufficient efforts to get, if not the full agreement of the Arabs, at least their acquiescence to a Jewish state, which I think would have been possible. THAT WAS THE ORIGINAL SIN.”

On the one occasion I met and talked with Nahum Goldmann I was moved close to tears by the way he was trying to handle the guilt he felt on account of the injustice done Palestinians and the enormity of Zionism’s crime. And it was obvious that he was shocked to the core of his being by the way in which, for daring to speak the unspeakable, he had been vilified by the defenders of Zionism right or wrong. By hardcore Zionists he was never to be forgiven for refusing to suppress for all time his own moral sense of what was right and wrong. That he fought and won the battle with his own conscience made him, in my view, a man worthy of respect without limit by people of goodwill everywhere.

Nothing better illustrates the contempt Zionism’s zealots had for Goldmann’s goodness than Prime Minister Begin’s response to his death. Begin could not avoid giving permission for a state funeral and Goldmann’s burial on Mount Herzl; but he did refuse to attend the funeral. In his place Deputy Prime Minister Simcha Ehrlich said: “We regret that a man of so many virtues and abilities went the wrong way.” There could not have been a more callous epitaph for the man who was owed so much by Israel and all Israelis.

But so far as Zionism’s zealots were concerned, there was much more to Goldmann’s “wrong way” than daring to suggest that Arab acquiescence to the creation of a Jewish entity in Palestine could have been secured in time without resort to war.

In his advancing years Goldmann advocated the need for the creation of a Palestinian state. And he became the leading and most influential Jewish critic of Israel’s continuing occupation of Arab land taken in 1967 and the illegal settlement of it. He utterly rejected the claim of Zionist bigots who insisted that Jews had to make the Greater Israel project a reality because God had promised them the land. Goldmann called this thesis “a profanation.”

Now to the real point, one of two, of this story.

There was a moment during Begin’s first term as prime minister when Goldmann advised President Carter to “break the back” of the Zionist lobby in America. The President had to do that, Goldmann said, if he was to have the freedom to be serious about peace-making in the Middle East.

At the same time Goldmann’s message to American Jewry was this: “By misusing its political influence, by giving the Begin administration the impression that the Jews are strong enough to force the American administration and Congress to follow every Israeli desire, they lead Israel on a ruinous path.”

Real point number two is this. When Goldmann realised that the Zionist lobby was breaking Carter’s back, he requested another meeting with the President. Up to this moment, and because of his stature, all Goldmann had to do to get a meeting with the President, any president, was to pick up the ‘phone and call the White House. But this time, for the first time ever, he was not connected to the President and his call was not returned. Goldmann then asked somebody else who was about to meet with President to tell him that he, Goldmann, was requesting a meeting. When the message was delivered, Carter shook his head and said, sadly and with genuine regret: “I’m under enormous pressure from the Zionists. I can’t meet with Dr. Goldmann again. It’s impossible.”

Near the end of his life, deeply troubled by the fact that the Zionist lobby had broken President Carter’s back, Goldmann gave this warning: “It (the Zionist lobby) is slowly becoming a negative factor. Not only does it distort the expectations and political calculations of Israel, but the time may not be far off when American public opinion will be sick and tired of the demands of Israel and the aggressiveness of American Jewry.”

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