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Pay heed to Jewish fears of Iran's Ahmadinejad


Mahmoud Ahmadinejad doesn't stop reminding us that he wants to destroy Israel. Benjamin Pogrund explains why there are good reasons to believe Ahmadinejad is serious.

Pay heed to Jewish fears
By Benjamin Pogrund , Jerusalem

The call by Iran's President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad for Israel to be "wiped off the map" confirms the worst and most elemental Jewish fears about survival. No one in Israel is quaking in their shoes in response to Ahmadinejad, although there is certainly deep concern about Iran's nuclear programme and the danger of a rogue state obtaining nuclear weapons. Many Israelis would probably react to Ahmadinejad's hate-filled statement either with a shrug or by saying: "You want to kill me, I'll get you first."

At the same time, he does bring to the fore the extent of Jewish fear about survival and its significance in determining Israel's behaviour, which is too little understood by the world. To understand, a reminder of basic history: look at centuries of persecution of Jews, by Christians and by Muslims. There were golden periods for Jews in both West and East, but almost inevitably a new ruler would emerge and with him another era of prejudice and cruelty. In Europe, Christian churches have blamed Jews for the death of Jesus Christ and punished them; only in recent years has the Roman Catholic Church rid itself of this dogma.

Jews were confined to ghettoes in Europe and their personal freedom was limited. They were, and still are, the target of insane accusations such as murdering Christians so as to drink their blood for Passover. The slaughter of individuals and entire communities recurred over the ages. Then the Holocaust, the so-called Final Solution attempted by the Nazis to exterminate all Jews. They did not succeed, but did murder six million Jews. That is etched deeply into the consciousness. Survivors are alive to tell the story and many Jews carry the memory of the death of relatives. Resurgences of anti-Semitism, whether in Germany, Russia or France, are seen as proof that Jews remain in as much peril as ever.

Three years after the defeat of Nazism, the United Nations voted to partition Palestine and to create a Jewish state. The armies of five Arab countries, aided by local Arabs, promptly invaded with the aim of eliminating the new state. Since then, most Arab states have refused to recognise Israel's existence. There are incessant attacks at the UN on Israel such as suffered by no other country. Israel has endured one war after the other, with the loss of the lives of thousands of young men. It knows that it cannot afford to lose a war: to do so would mean its destruction, exactly as threatened by Ahmadinejad.

The rejectionist Arab movements and some Arab countries seek to put Ahmadinejad's "wipe out" view into practice: Israelis live under non-stop threat. Because of suicide-bombings, shopping malls, supermarkets, office blocks, theatres, cinemas, post offices, banks, sports grounds and even coffee bars have armed guards at their entrances and everyone entering is checked. Armed guards ride on buses (a frequent target for attack). Which other country in the world gives every person, including babies, a gas-mask and makes it compulsory for every building to have an air raid shelter? Which other country feels compelled to have a law that every apartment in new buildings must have one room built of concrete with a heavy iron shutter for the window; the room must be sealable against gas attack.

The Friday sermons given in mosques in Egypt, Saudi Arabia and other Arab countries are chilling evidence of rabid animosity. In one instance, on 15 November, Saudi Iqra TV began airing an Egyptian-produced series about the Prophet Muhammad and the Jews of Medina. MEMRI (The Middle East Media Research Institute) reports that the series focuses on Nabtal, a 'wicked' and 'evil' Jewish figure from early Islamic history, who concocts a four-part plan to eliminate Islam. In February this year, Iqra TV aired another series on the Jews during the time of Muhammad: it featured Jews, termed 'pigs', who practised voodoo against Muslims.

Can there be any surprise at mass Jewish insecurity and suspicion of what is being plotted against them and Israel? Ahmadinejad, who speaks for a country of 70 million people, confirms to Jews that their anxieties are well-based and go beyond paranoia. He has also given a gift to the Jewish right-wing, in Israel and elsewhere. He gives life and meaning to their fear-driven policies. He justifies their arguments that the Jewish state dare not yield an inch for fear of losing everything. He justifies right-wing arguments for Israeli expansionism on the West Bank.

Here again some basic history is relevant: in June 1967, when Israel was at war with Egypt and Syria, its government sent a message to Jordan's King Hussein telling him to stay out of the conflict; Israel had no desire to destabilise his kingdom. However, Hussein believed Egypt's (totally wrong) claims that its soldiers were winning, and he attacked. His forces were beaten and driven out of Jerusalem and the West Bank. Within days, Israel offered to return the newly conquered land in return for peace treaties: most of the West Bank to Jordan, the Golan Heights to Syria and Sinai to Egypt. However, in August/September 1967 the Khartoum conference of Arab leaders issued three no's: "no peace, no recognition, no negotiations."

Israeli attention turned to using the West Bank as a defensive shield against invasion from the east and the terrorist attacks then being mounted from Jordan. Settlements, well-guarded, were created in the Jordan Valley. Gradually, the concept of security, and the building of settlements on strategic hill sites, was extended through the West Bank. Gradually, too, religious Messianism entered the picture: this was land given by God to the Jews and it could not be yielded. It did not begin as a master plan for occupation. That developed later and has become entrenched over the past 38 years.

Under the Oslo Accords of 1993, Israel agreed to halt the expansion of settlements and Palestinians agreed to limitations on the numbers of their security forces and arms. Both sides broke their promises: Palestinians armed themselves and kept up their terror attacks on Israelis, while Israel continued its policy of what are known as "facts on the ground" – creating settlements on seized West Bank land so as to pre-empt future negotiations about the borders of a Palestinian state. During the decade after Oslo the number of Israeli settlers doubled, and is still increasing each year.

To add to the witches' brew, Palestinian organisations – Hamas, Islamic Jihad, the Al-Aqsa Martyrs' Brigade and others – have continued to reject the fact of Israel's existence. Their struggle is not only aimed at ending the occupation of the West Bank but to eliminate Israel. Islamic Jihad has distributed leaflets in Gaza in support of Ahmadinejad.

How to reverse Israeli rule and bring about a viable Palestinian state? Threatening the destruction of a country – not merely the replacement of a government or a leader but wiping out the entire nation – is not going to help. Indeed it has the opposite effect, reinforcing the belief among many Jews that Arabs cannot be trusted and that Israel is a sanctuary and must be preserved.

At least this time a significant portion of the world has spoken out against the Iranian call for mass murder. The UN's Kofi Annan cancelled a visit there. The US, Britain, France and others have strongly protested. Italy has been especially sharp, warning that Iran risked isolating itself from the international community by denying the "right to exist to another state and people." The Palestinian government has also protested. Strangely, South Africa has been silent. On a moral basis it should surely have made its views known in defence of a fellow UN member's right to exist. Even more, South Africa has been offering itself as a player in fostering Middle East peace. However, looking the other way on an issue as crucial as this is not going to persuade Israelis of Pretoria's good faith and intentions.

One South African voice that has been heard is the local Zionist Federation. It has expressed acute disappointment at "the refusal of the South African government to take any stand whatsoever against these unacceptable and inflammatory comments", adding: "Both the UN and the vast majority of members of the international community have reacted strongly against Iran, yet the spokesman for our Department of Foreign Affairs has seen fit to sidestep the issue and remain silent and refrain from condemning the Iranian President's despicable statements."

Centuries as victims of a baleful world have made Jews ultra-sensitive to criticism. They are quick - too quick, sometimes - to see anti-Semitism. When the criticism questions the right of the Jewish state to exist then defensive aggression is a natural response.

None of this is an excuse for the oppression of occupation. Israelis must be persuaded and assured that the end of the occupation of the West Bank, after the withdrawal from the Gaza Strip, is in their own interests as much as for Palestinians and others as a giant and vital step towards achieving peace. They will not do it if they believe and fear that individual and group annihilation awaits them. Ahmadinejad has done a grave disservice to the cause of peace with his "wipe out" call. He is abetted by those who fail to distance themselves from him.

Benjamin Pogrund is founding director of Yakar's Center for Social Concern in Jerusalem and co-editor of the newly published book, "Shared Histories: A Palestinian-Israel Dialogue". South African-born, he was deputy editor of the Rand Daily Mail in Johannesburg.

This article appears by courtesy of the Center for International Political Studies (CIPS)

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Replies: 4 comments

I think the idea that Israel will be destroyed is more or less fantasy than actual reality. It is a politically correct way to go about in the Arab world. Just like in the West when Arafat died and people like Max Boot did whatever they could to demonize him. Or Stephen Speilburgs new movie Munich


It is things like this the Arabs are constantly reminded of. Also your basic history about Jordan in 1967 makes no sense according to Encarta:

"War was not far behind on Israel’s eastern front. Israel had conveyed a message to King Hussein of Jordan asking him to stay out of the conflict, but on the first morning of the war Nasser called Hussein and encouraged him to fight."

This day and age Jews greatest threat is their own democracy which threatens the existence of a Jewish state due to the demographics in Israel and the territorities changing from a Jewish majority to an Arab majority.

Posted by Butros Dahu @ 12/16/2005 07:55 PM CST

I think the idea that Israel will be destroyed is more or less an actual reality.

Posted by moj @ 12/19/2005 08:41 PM CST

Trust an Israeli to twist facts. A. The partition agreed to in 1947 by the UN General Assemby is not what we have today. By 1949 the terrorist Irgun had stolen more land.


Regarding the 6 day war, Golda Meir has admitted that Israel's troop movements forced the Arabs into attacking as they believed an attack from Israel was imminent.

Israel has nuclear bombs thanks to their lacky's in America. Israel has more UN resolutions condemning its actions than any other nation since the UN was formed. Why haven't UN inspectors been into Israel to look for Nuclear weapons.

Here is a list of UN resolutions condemning Israel's actions and that Israel hasn't complied with. Could any other nation in the world get away with this.


Here is a list of the number of times the corrupt US has vetoed UN actions against Israel.


The Iranian President's comments have been twisted and taken out of context. There is no fear of Israel been damaged in the least, quite the contrary no other nation has been treated with such kid gloves.

Posted by John Purvis @ 12/20/2005 08:59 PM CST

I enjoy this website and I only hope you keep updating all these articles so everyone who reads them gets the whole story and the history behind the different countries' positions.
I think that people should have the right to live in whatever land they want, as long as they help maintain the peace and structure of that land. Yet all civilizations were founded by CONQUERING land without thought for the ones living there initially, but only concern for themselves. It is horrible that this is how mankind works. When we all come together and decide to act as one world community, surviving without gain, but being driven by the pursuit of knowledge; only then can their be peace in the middle east.
Unfortunately when there is peace in the middle east we may all realize how good we once had it. I'm just glad that I am not a leader of any country dealing with peace problems like the middle east has.

Posted by Jakinja @ 12/31/2005 02:37 AM CST

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