By Steve Bhaerman
This article was written 3 years ago.
Last year during one of my comedy performances, someone asked the Swami, “What do you think about AIPAC?”
The Swami — being the Swami — answered, “AIPAC? I don’t know about AIPAC. I’m more into Deepak. And Tupac. Gimme Deepak, Tupac and a six-pack, and you can keep your AIPAC.”
Well, the audience liked the answer, but my serious side wasn’t satisfied. I’d been hearing disparaging remarks about AIPAC, which stands for American Israel Public Affairs Committee, but I had dismissed them as fringy, anti-semitic fulminations. The more I’ve read since then, however, the more I realize that this organization — supported by many well-meaning Jewish people because it is “pro-Israel” — is really a neocon front that hardly represents the majority of the Jewish people, let alone the people of Israel.
Just as George Bush and company tried to pull the “you’re either with us or against us” wool over our eyes, AIPAC and its posse define anti-semitism as any questioning of Israeli’s policies no matter how questionable. They’ve tried to silence non-Jewish critics with the anti-semitic smear, and Jewish ones by calling them “self-hating Jews.” As a Jewish American, I have come to the sad and disturbing conclusion that AIPAC is why we’re still in Iraq and why we’ve been threatening to attack Iran. You’ve only to look at the news story about the recent AIPAC conference and the unenthusiastic response Nancy Pelosi received for not being sufficiently pro-war. Opening our eyes to AIPAC’s power and influence makes it easier to understand why Congressional Democrats backed off of their stand to make an attack on Iran contingent on the approval of Congress.
As the world seems to be hurtling toward that self-fulfilling prophecy called “Armageddon,” the forces of fear and destruction seem to be polarizing to either side, each desperately trying to make sure that their evildoers will be able to out evil-do the evildoers on the other side. I like to consider myself a realist. As the old saying goes, “Just because you’re paranoid doesn’t mean there isn’t someone following you.” So — just because our Middle East policies are fear-driven, greed-driven, misguided, obsolete and dangerous — doesn’t mean that there aren’t toxic Islamic forces hell-bent on the destruction of Israel.
Try to imagine what it must feel like to know that the enemy that has vowed to destroy you has the power to launch weapons of mass destruction. Feel that, and you can empathize with civilians in Israel — and Iran.
For in their fear for their own lives and destruction, many Israelis feel resigned to preemptively doing the same to the Iranians. Same old “us or them.”
From M.A.D. to Madder
For nearly 45 years, the Cold War was kept on ice because of an eerie Strangelovian concept called “Mutually Assured Destruction (MAD).” With both the U.S. and the U.S.S.R. over-armed to teeth, if any one side pushed the button, both sides would assuredly perish. Whether it was that delicate balance of power and fear or some other form of divine grace, no button was pushed and we are still here to be grateful.
But there is no such balance of power today. As the last superpower standing after the fall of the Soviet Union, the United States has super-abused its superpowers. Instead of following the advice of former Senator Gary Hart and treating terrorist cells like a criminal gang instead of a military force, we have squandered any good will we might have had left and have shown the entire world that we’re not in the Middle East to keep the peace, we’re there to keep the pieces. Of course, this is not the intent of the majority of Americans, nor is it the intent of the majority of Israelis. However with the neocons in control of both countries for most of the past eight years — and with AIPAC successfully muzzling most dissent against Israeli policies, or marginalizing it as “anti-semitic” — our two countries together are drawing the battle lines for an insane and unnecessary world war that will lead to countless deaths, not to mention irreparable ecologic harm.
Here’s how the real balance of power stacks up. On one side, we have the “kill or be killed,” “dominate or be dominated” worldview, the one that has persisted for thousands of years and brought the world to the brink of destruction. Everything about this side sounds rational at first hearing because we humans habitually associate “normal” with “sane.” But rationality has been replaced with rationalization, which goes something like this: The world is a bad place. It’s always been that way, and always will be. We have to protect ourselves. We sincerely regret any unnecessary deaths — of course, we will only do “surgical strikes” designed not to harm civilians, and besides those people hate us anyway.
Under this umbrella of self-protection, any violation of human rights, human decency, rule of law and morality is permitted as long as it can be rationalized as a “necessary evil.” Even better if it can be done in secret and can be officially denied. That way, there can be the illusion of democracy, justice and living by spiritual principles. Of course anything built on a foundation of lies is destined to crumble and that accounts for the disheartenment both in America and Israel. The “self-protection” clause also means you can buddy up with “allies” who violate the very essence of who you are and who you believe yourself to be.
Check out this video featuring Rev. John Hagee’s speech at a recent AIPAC conference. In fact, check out all the speeches, but particularly Rev. Hagee’s whose intolerant beliefs are now tolerable because he supports Israel and in fact has asserted that the Book of Esther predicts the very attack on Iran that is soon to be launched. But hey, this is about self-preservation so it really doesn’t matter which devils you sleep with, as long as they’re on your side now.
That’s one worldview, the one that is considered “mainstream” in our society, despite any “naive” moral objections the rest of us may have.
There’s a second world view, however, the same one put forth by spiritual teachers from Buddha to Jesus, and is at the bottom of every religion once the bullshit is boiled away. That worldview insists that there is such a thing as a common humanity, and we are all in it together. It seems to be contrary to the “evidence,” if you look at human history — well, it’s more like inhuman history. However, when you consider how this evidence has been spun and is being spun, and how war is used to justify more war, it’s easier to see how 80% to 90% of us get manipulated by a small group of manipulators who know how to press the buttons marked “fear” “survival” “patriotism” and “tribal loyalty.”
This alternative worldview that we’re all in it together is the foundation of mutually-assured survival rather than the deadly alternative. It also reflects the heart essence of Judaism, Tikkun Olam — the healing of the world. This notion of bringing healing to this world is in direct contradiction of Rev. Hagee, who subscribes to the “We’re going to heaven and everyone else can go to hell” insanity.
The Jewry Is Still Out
When I was a kid, one of the things that made me proudest of my heritage was the willingness of Jews to be a stand for the rights of all, not just Jewish people. You may remember that two of those three civil rights workers killed in Mississippi in 1964 were Jewish, but what you may not know is that the NAACP was co-founded by Joel Elias Spingarn, a Jew. These days, the cry of “never again” no longer means never again a holocaust for anyone, but “never again for the Jews.” This is an understandable nationalist sentiment, but it contradicts the spiritual foundation of Judaism.
This is a hugely challenging time for all peoples. How much easier it would be for a Messiah to come down and declare himself “the only Universal Law south of the Pleiedes,” or for the nasty machinations of empire to work their nastiness without our ever having to know about it. How much easier for us to immerse ourselves in reality TV so we don’t have to engage reality, or insist we “create our own reality” without coming to grips with the reality we all share.
As with every religion, there comes a time when we have to distinguish between the spiritual essence, and the distortion being used to keep the powers that be in power in power. Or, as some wit once said, “Spirituality is our relationship with the Divine. Religion is crowd control.” I hope this article and the connected links provide plenty of cognitive dissonance for both Jews and non-Jews alike. Which do we choose — mutually assured survival, or mutually assured destruction? Given the delicate balance of life on earth at this point, the zero-sum game of “me or you” may end up as a big zero for all humanity and an F in works and plays well with others.
P.S. I expect lots of letters telling me I’m a self-hating Jew (with plenty of evidence of how Israel is absolutely right and justified), and other letters accusing me of being a Zionist (including tons of evidence of how Jews have been responsible for any and all evil since the beginning of history). Please spare me these. I’ve read plenty on both sides already. Please DO send me any links to organizations and actions focused on healing, cooperation and mutually-assured survival. Meanwhile, pray for healing even if you’re an atheist. As Swami says, “Who cares whether you believe in God? What really matters is, do you believe in Good?”