Rabbi Dow Marmur is one of the most insightful and incisive thinkers about the current Israeli situation I know. He is the retired Senior Rabbi of Holy Blossom Synagogue in Toronto and is a former President of the World Union for Progressive Judaism (WUPJ) in Jerusalem. He spends most of his time living in Jerusalem where his son, Rabbi Michael Marmur (Provost of HUC-JIR, and a brilliant scholar in his own right) and his family, live.

Dow gave me permission to post the following piece both here and on my blog at the Los Angeles Jewish Journal. It concerns Israel and Iran and the politics and dangers of engagement. Rabbi Marmur gives no solutions. He only describes what is obviously an impossible situation with real-life consequences for the State of Israel, the Jewish people and the entire Middle East.


            If you’re an optimist you may decide to interpret the comings and goings of the US and Israeli generals as yet another way to intimidate Iran and prevent it from manufacturing nuclear arms. If, on the other hand, you’re a pessimist, you may conclude that the frequent contacts between Israeli and American top brass, reported daily in the media, are preparations for a US supported Israeli attack on Iran’s nuclear facilities.

If such an attack takes place, it won’t be a short and sharp operation like Entebbe, but a prolonged military struggle between Israel and Iran that may also involve other states. The missiles are bound to cause incalculable damage in both countries. Israelis may have to face bad times. Those of us who have family members in combat units – our grandson is in one of them – have additional reasons to fret.

And then there’s the political fallout. The present US-Israel brinkmanship probably enjoys the support of opposition forces in Iran. A direct attack on Iran, even if it’s “only” its nuclear facilities (some of which are reported to be immune from air strikes), will unite that country and force the Iranian internal opposition at best to lie very low, but more likely to abandon its struggle and join the calls for national solidarity.

Though the above are only empty speculations in the absence of solid evidence – the media spread more dread than shed light on the situation – the Israeli military is bound to be aware of the grim consequences, although we know from history that many fateful decisions are made despite sober factual evidence to the contrary. Yet it’s reasonable to assume that even trigger happy generals and politicians who yearn to go down in history as heroes won’t risk the future of the country a la the biblical Samson.

That assumption prompts the question: So why are they scaring us so much?

In the belief that all politics is really domestic, it’s not unreasonable to answer the question by pointing to the need of Netanyahu and at least the majority of his cabinet ministers to divert attention from the many internal problems the country is facing by pointing to the real danger, namely Iran, in comparison to which the other issues pale into insignificance and can be put off for better times.

As I once heard Ehud Barak (when he was still in opposition) say about discrimination of Reform Judaism in Israel: “The issue is indeed important, but it’s not urgent.” Politicians have ways of acknowledging problems as important without trying to deal with them by deeming them not to be urgent in comparison to more immediate threats. Thus the stalled peace process, gross economic inequality, discrimination of minorities, the growing militancy of settlers and haredim, the attempt to clip the wings of the Supreme Court, the emergence of new political forces etc. etc. can all be acknowledged as very important and yet left to their own devices with Iran as the excuse.

Not unexpectedly, this page doesn’t even attempt to come to a conclusion. It only seeks to report on the confusion that most of us in Israel have to deal with and the frustration at not being helped by those who should be in the know.

When neither pessimism nor optimism can be vindicated, all that’s left is to go about one’s daily life in as normal a fashion as possible – and to hope. Because it’s inconceivable that anybody in Israel or the United States would wish to gamble with the future of the Jewish state, continuing to hope for its peace and security makes good sense.


Jerusalem 15.1.12                                                                                           Dow Marmur