This time there are no excuses. No one can say there was no warning. In a speech delivered last week during mosque prayers, and which was broadcast to the nation, Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, said that Iran would support any attack on Israel, declaring: “The Zionist regime is a true cancer tumor on this region that should be cut off. And it definitely will be cut off.” This was followed by the publication of an article by Alizera Forghani, a top Khamenei strategist, on an Iranian government-supported website, Alef, setting out in detail the legal and religious justification to kill all Jews and to annihilate Israel. (The meaning and context of Forghani’s article are exposed and explained by a senior analyst on www.wnd.com.) The article, which has since been published by most state-owned sites including the Revolutionary Guards’ Fars News Agency, and thereby officially endorsed by the Iranian government, quotes from the Koran and other sources to justify theologically the murder of all Jews and the destruction of Israel. The document presents detailed military plans for how the genocide can be achieved: using official statistics, the article suggests that with its Shahab 3 ballistic missiles, Iran could target the three major metropolitan areas with the highest concentration of Jews – Tel Aviv, Jerusalem and Haifa, annihilating most of their inhabitants.
And this is not the first time; for years and especially in recent months senior Iranian leaders – especially the President – have openly stated that they intend to destroy Israel and murder its entire Jewish population. These are no empty threats; Iran, via Hezbollah and Hamas, has been waging a proxy war against Israel and has even attacked Jewish communal targets in other parts of the world. And yet, international indifference prevails. William Kristol noted how The New York Times, when reporting on Khamenei’s most recent speech, didn’t even include Khamenei’s reference to Israel as a cancer tumor that needed to be cut out. This is emblematic of how so many government leaders tolerate the threat of genocide against Jews with equanimity. The silence, and its accompanying acquiescence, is morally reprehensible, even absurd. Where are the statements of condemnation from the governments of the world? From the United Nations? From religious leaders? Where is the horror, the outrage?
One of the great codifiers of Talmudic law and ethics, the Rambam, writes (Laws of Repentance 2:1) that the test of true repentance is when a sinner is faced with the same circumstances he or she faced when first committing the sin and then, demonstrating sincere repentance, refrains from committing the sin again. In the lead up to and during the Holocaust the world sinned by ignoring the desperate plight of Europe’s endangered Jews. So many nations prevented Jews from finding asylum from Nazi Germany. Boats of terrified Jewish refugees were turned away and sent back to their deaths in Europe. And when horrific reports of the gas chambers and crematoria came through, the Allies refused to bomb the railroads to Auschwitz and other death camps.
Memorializing the Holocaust has become part of an international ethos, which, even, the United Nations supports; there is a claim of regret and a desire to repent for the sins of the past, the omissions and commissions which led to the death of six million Jews, including more than one and a half million children. Now is the test to see if this repentance is genuine. The nations of the world are confronted with the same set of circumstances in which they committed their original sin against the Jewish people. And now is judgment time before G-d. No one can claim they weren’t warned. No one can say that genocidal threats against Jews are deranged rantings not to be taken seriously. History proves otherwise. This time there are no excuses.
We all hope and pray that sanctions will work, but there isn’t much time left. If and when the crunch comes, G-d forbid, will the Jewish people once again stand alone? World leaders must ask themselves this: would you wager the life of your children on the mercy and reasonableness of the Iranian government? And the question may not be hypothetical either. Hitler came after the Jews first, and then he attacked the world. The Jews are Iran’s first target, certainly not its last.
There is one major difference this time around, and that is G-d’s blessing of Jewish sovereignty in Israel, with its accompanying political and military power. In Nazi Europe our faith was tested by our helplessness and vulnerability. Now, our faith is being tested by our power. Arrogance is our temptation. Do we see the remarkable achievements of the State of Israel – technological, military, economic, agricultural and scientific – as blessings from G-d? We are warned about this in the Torah, which says (Devarim 8:11- 18) “Lest you eat and be satisfied and build good houses … and amass much gold and silver … and you become arrogant and forget the L-rd your G-d who took you out of the land of Egypt… and you say in your heart ‘my power and the might of my hand has made for me all these achievements.’ And you shall remember the L-rd your G-d, for He is the one who gives you the power to achieve, in order to establish His covenant that He has sworn to your fathers on this day.” Humility is to recognize with gratitude and loyalty that everything we have comes from G-d. At a time like this we need to renew our faith in and commitment to G-d and His Torah, and to realize with humility that power and success are Divine blessings which cannot be separated from their Source.
It is eerie that this nightmare has returned to the world. It is unprecedented and incomprehensible that one nation should face the threat of genocide twice within living memory. These events – and indeed all of Jewish destiny – cannot be understood in terms of the normal laws of history. It is perhaps the very surreal nature of these events which calls on us to see G-d’s hand in our history and that, together with the appropriate political and military preparations, we need to realize that our strength and direction come from G-d and His moral vision for us as given in His Torah. And so while this is a time of repentance for the nations of the world for their sins of indifference, it is also a time for us, as Jews, to introspect.