‘Death to Israel’ is more than rhetoric in Iran

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Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu

I am a gay Jewish American. Both of my parents were survivors of the Holocaust as was my father-in-law.

My mother was the youngest of nine siblings, most of whom were married and had children when the Nazis invaded Poland in 1939.  My mother spent four years confined in a ghetto and then was transported to two different slave labor camps. A month before the second camp was liquidated, she suffered an industrial accident and her right arm was severed at the elbow. Despite this, when the camp was liquidated, she survived a six-day death march before she was liberated. My father was one of five siblings and was confined to the same ghetto as my mother was. After four years there, he was transported to seven different concentration camps, including such notorious ones as Auschwitz and Buchenwald.


Each of my parents was the sole survivor of their families. The result of that is that my maternal grandparents, 20 aunts and uncles and 21 first cousins were killed in the Holocaust, most of them gassed to death in the gas chambers of Chelmno and Auschwitz and their remains reduced to ash and bones in the crematoria in those camps.

My father-in-law, as a 14-year-old boy, was sent in 1934 by his parents in Germany to live in the United States with foster parents because they were so fearful of their son’s future after the rise of Hitler to power. Can anyone imagine the level of fear that they must have had to send their fourteen-year old son to live across the ocean in a foreign country, not knowing whether they would ever see him again?

With all this family history, I recognize that, rightly or wrongly, I have always looked at many issues through the prism of the Holocaust. So when I read that a previous president of Iran claimed that Iran has no problem with homosexuality because it has no homosexuals and then read news reports of Iran publicly hanging gay men for their crime of homosexuality, it evokes to me the Nazi persecution of homosexuals. And when I hear the mullahs repeatedly commit to the destruction of the Jewish state of Israel and when crowds of their supporters chant in the streets of Iran “Death to Israel,” I don’t hear just rhetoric; rather, I hear real threats that were made in the 1930’s by Hitler that were realized in the 1940’s.

Within the past two weeks, New York Times columnist Tom Friedman and General David Petreaus each have identified Iran as a greater threat to the United States than is ISIS. Iran is the country responsible for the deaths of hundreds of American troops killed while fighting in Iraq. Iran is the world leader in promoting state-sponsored terrorism. Why then, I wonder, would the United States ever be a party to allowing Iran a pathway to becoming a nuclear power? With the possibility of Iran developing a nuclear bomb becoming a reality in this day and age, not only does that threat scare me, but it causes me to wonder what happened to all the vows that I have heard for decades of “Never Again.”

Frankly, I have never been a supporter of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. I am outraged by the constant expansion of settlements on the West Bank.  I was outraged when he disavowed his support for a two-state solution the day before the Israeli election earlier this month. I was outraged that he provoked his supporters to come vote by claiming that Israeli-Arabs were voting in droves. But despite all of this, Bibi Netanyahu seems to me to understand the gravity of the Iranian nuclear threat better than any other leader on the world stage and seems to me to be willing to do anything and everything in his power to prevent Iran from developing nuclear capability. And in my hierarchy of political priorities, stopping Iran from having a nuclear bomb is the most important.

When I see Democrats outraged that 47 Republican senators sent a letter to the Ayatollah trying to undermine the negotiations aimed at giving Iran a pathway to a nuclear bomb, I don’t understand why the other 53 Democratic and Republican senators, if they chose not to be signatories to that letter, aren’t taking effective action of their own right now to block Iran from becoming a nuclear power. I don’t understand why they don’t see Iran as the same terrifying threat to the Jewish people as I do and why they aren’t more outspoken and opposed at the prospect of Iran having a nuclear bomb as a result of these negotiations. I don’t understand why elected officials who honestly commit to “Never Again” suddenly seem to mean “Never Again but  . . . .”

I have been a liberal Democrat my entire life and have worked tirelessly on issues opposing social injustice. What greater issue of social injustice exists than that of genocide? The United States has a history of condemning genocide long after it happens but often doing little to prevent genocide from occurring. Just ask the Jews of Europe in the 1940’s, the people of Cambodia in the 1970’s or the Hutus of Rwanda in the 1990’s.

And equally troubling, what assurances am I able to provide now to my 98-year-old mother who lived through the nightmare of the Holocaust and doesn’t understand why the world hears the promise of the mullahs to create a second Holocaust and yet isn’t doing everything possible to stop Iran from developing weapons of mass destruction?

Michael Bauer, who lives in Chicago, is co-chair of the State of Illinois Holocaust and Genocide Commission.


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