by David Isenberg
Last year I wrote a column for the Huffington Post discussing how some of my fellow members of the Chosen People — specifically, Jewish neoconservatives — were doing their best to bring comic relief to the American public in making idiots of themselves by opposing the nomination of former U.S. Senator Chuck Hagel as the next Secretary of Defense on the laughably spurious grounds that he was insufficiently supportive of Israel and even an anti-Semite.
In terms of sheer unadulterated, one hundred percent kosher, chutzpah, that set a new record for political comedy, and one I thought might last a while.
But, stop the presses! We have a new winner, and it is none other than Sheldon Adelson, the chairman and CEO of the Las Vegas Sands Corporation — a gambling tycoon well-known for his support of Israel and Jewish charitable causes. He also owns the Israeli daily tabloid Israel HaYom. As of October 2013, Adelson was listed as the 12th richest person in the world with an estimated net worth of $34.4 billion.
One might think that with all that money at his disposal, Adelson might be willing to spend a few dollars hiring a tutor to bring him up to speed on current geopolitical realities. But no, showing the same perspicacity and judgment that led him to financially contribute to Newt Gingrich and Mitt Romney’s presidential campaigns, we now know, thanks to the Mondoweiss blog, that on Oct. 22 at a Yeshiva University event in New York Adelson said the U.S. should incorporate the firing of a nuclear weapon at Iran into its negotiations strategy. He apparently believes that if Obama shoots a weapon into the desert and then threatens to send the next one to Tehran so it’s “wiped out,” Iran will cease its nuclear program.
Evidently Adelson is in the running for becoming a Jewish version of Donald Trump. Their motto: nothing is too stupid to say, as long as it gets them publicity.
Before going further, we should note that there is a longstanding myth — assiduously cultivated by the private sector — that if you make a lot of money in one particular field, you are somehow qualified to opine in other areas. This is — putting it politely — a non sequitur. Less politely put, it’s sheer fatuousness.
But, if you spread enough money around, you can always find someone willing to say you’re the most profound thinker since Rabbi Maimonides. In this case, the role of posterior sucking interlocutor and softball-tossing moderator was filled by Shmuley Boteach, an Orthodox rabbi best known for his self-promotion.
Adelson’s remarks were so out of touch with reality that one scarcely knows where to begin when analyzing their innate stupidity. But before proceeding, we should thank him, for his remarks resoundingly confirm that having lots of money is no indication of intelligence.
Let’s go to the videotape. Here’s the nut graf:
What are we going to negotiate about? I would say ‘Listen, you see that desert out there, I want to show you something.’ …You pick up your cell phone and you call somewhere in Nebraska and you say, ‘OK let it go.’ And so there’s an atomic weapon, goes over ballistic missiles, the middle of the desert, that doesn’t hurt a soul. Maybe a couple of rattlesnakes, and scorpions, or whatever. Then you say, ‘See! The next one is in the middle of Tehran. So, we mean business. You want to be wiped out? Go ahead and take a tough position and continue with your nuclear development. You want to be peaceful? Just reverse it all, and we will guarantee you that you can have a nuclear power plant for electricity purposes, energy purposes.’
Putting aside his obvious ignorance about the way the National Command Authority over U.S. nuclear weapons actually works, the least of his offenses (hint: it doesn’t involve the commander-in-chief of the U.S. armed forces picking up his cell phone and calling Nebraska), I should point out the following:
First, ever since the United States was faced with the possibility of a nuclear weapons attack, its policy has been that nuclear weapons can only be used for deterrence, not for war fighting, not even for the purpose of threatening war. Apparently the irony of a Jewish plutocrat espousing a policy formerly advocated by an ex-Nazi scientist — though thankfully fictitiously in the film Dr. Strangelove — escaped Adelson and his publicist.
Evidently, it has also escaped Adelson’s attention that absent an attack on its territory or its allies, the United States has a no first-use policy when it comes to nuclear weapons.
Second, the idea that a nuclear weapon could be detonated somewhere in Iran without harming Iranian civilians is sheer fantasy. Adelson is entitled to recklessly gamble in his own casinos but he has no right to play Russian roulette with the lives of innocent people in another country.
Third, the idea that the threat of using nuclear weapons will shock and awe someone to capitulate to your demands is an option the U.S. has rejected in the past. It was considered by the Truman, Johnson and Nixon administrations during the Vietnam War and was decisively rejected. (For more details on this consider Five Myths About Nuclear Weapons, which was published earlier this year.)
Fourth, threatening to destroy Tehran because the Iranian government won’t comply with your unreasonable (see next point) demand is advocating genocide; something we Jews are supposed to know something about. Think I’m exaggerating? The definition of genocide, coined by a Jewish lawyer named Raphael Lemkin, is “the deliberate and systematic destruction, in whole or in part, of an ethnic, racial, caste, religious, or national group.” While legal scholars debate what constitutes enough of a “part” to qualify as genocide, consider that Tehran has a population of around 8.3 million and surpassing 14 million in the wider metropolitan area and is one of the largest cities in Western Asia.
Finally, as a signatory to the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons Iran has a legal right to enrich uranium for peaceful purposes as part of its civilian nuclear energy program (see Article IV of the NPT).
It is true that Iran has been found in non-compliance with its NPT safeguards agreement, and the status of its nuclear program remains in dispute. It is also true that the November 2007 US National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) later concluded that Iran had halted an active nuclear weapons program in the fall of 2003 and that it had remained halted; an assessment with which many Israeli military and intelligence officials also agree.
So, to conclude, while we can thank Adelson for his willingness to offer blatantly insane policy advice and offer us a few laughs along the way, making him a sort of leytsim for the-out-of-touch one percent, we should also be horrified that anybody might take him seriously.