Heart of the Matter

Heart of the Matter photo 2

A heartfelt look by Aaron B. Cohen at the great arc of life through the prism of its details.

Heart of the Matter

May the memory of the victims of Toulouse be a blessing, and a reminder

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There are many traumas in the world, but Toulouse is our trauma. Not that our humanity is different from that of any other victims or mourners. Not that our hearts turn to stone at the news of other innocent lives cut short. Not that our souls are mute and indifferent to the grieving of others.

We are not indifferent; we are aware. Yet we are different, we are reminded, as we feel the pain of old wounds ripped open yet again. 

The March 19 murders at the Ozar Hatorah school in Toulouse, France of Rabbi Yonatan Sandler, his six-year-old son Aryeh and his three-year-old son Gavriel, and of eight-year-old Miriam Monsonego, the daughter of the school's principal, serve as terrible reminders. These deaths are recent eruptions of the ancient volcano of anti-Jewish hatred.

We know the cycle all too well: hot and noxious forces churn deep within society; the pressure builds as grotesque ideas swirl and seek to find their vent; then the mad rush of venom floods the landscape of our consciousness in fire as the innocents are consumed.

Never again seems never to be. The evil perpetrators always have their excuse-one blood libel or another; vengeance for one "crime" of the innocent or another. Usually Jewish existence is the affront. Our crime is our belief; our crime is our lack of the "correct" belief; our crime is our self-defense; our crime is our sovereignty; our crime is our very being.

Whether our innocents die at the hands of religious or political fanatics, the same truth haunts us through the ages: volcanos of fanaticism dot the landscape of "normal" societies.

Unlike actual volcanos, these mountains of hatred, with their plumes of prejudice, are not unstoppable forces of nature. Indeed they are tolerated, they are nurtured, are permitted to simmer and to bubble in societies that entertain lies and gross exaggerations. Israel is an apartheid state; Israel murders Palestinian children for sport; Jews are the source of evil in the world.

The tropes change over the centuries. We had hoped that with the last gasp of the previous century, the old hatred had run its course, that the volcanos had gasped their last, or at least had been confined to places where they could be deterred. But even in "normal" societies the pressure still mounts beneath the surface, until-as in Toulouse-our innocents are consumed yet again.

Israel has nothing against Iran

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Many people ask me about Iran these days, American friends, Turkish friends, Jewish friends, non-Jewish friends. Everyone—even those who know little about the Middle East and care about it even less—senses that something big could blow up there.

The sabre rattling between Israel and Iran has reached a raucous din, which should have all of us worried. American political hopefuls—whose discourse about most every topic sounds to me to be largely disconnected from reality—are fueling fantasies that there are obvious actions to take when it comes to curbing Iranian ambitions. They say nothing about the day after. Others, who wonder why everyone can't just get along—like in summer camp—harbor other fantasies, that doing nothing in the face of the Iranian threat will simply make those threats evaporate like the smoke from a campfire. They, too, have nothing to say about what tomorrow might look like, the day after Iran builds its bad boy bomb.

People have been asking me what I think because they know I'm a Middle-East-ophile. It's true that I'm a pro-Israel Zionist, a lover of Turkey, a guy who harbors affection for many things Arab, and a man with more Iranian classical music on his digital player than anyone else I know. I love the Middle East enough to accept that it is a region that makes absolutely no sense. A few changes of attitude there and poof—paradise. I’m talking the Garden of Eden variety, not the martyrdom kind.

That's what I've been telling my friends, as I try to explain what I think is happening in a region where stiff-necked pride and paranoid prejudice prevail, where people routinely applaud policies that fly in the face of their own self-interest. Defending their honor by trying to stick it to the other guy, Middle Eastern adversaries appear like two cars racing towards each other in a game of “chicken.”

So it seems at first glance that Israel and Iran are on a collision course.

But that's just how it appears.

Israel has nothing against Iran, except Iran's virulently anti-Semitic, anti-Israel stance. Were it not for that stance, Israel would be racing towards Iran not to collide with it, but to embrace it.

Iran is on a collision course with Israel because it chooses to be on that course for no reason besides mendacity and evil intent. If Iran had cared a whit about the Palestinians all the years of the Islamic Republic, it would have staunchly supported the Oslo Peace Accords. Instead it chose to undermine every attempt at Israeli-Palestinian reconciliation. If Iran wanted stability in the Middle East it would have normalized relations with Israel, rather than threaten to wipe the Jewish state off the map.

Instead Iran has drawn Israel, and by extension the West, into a dangerous game of chicken, thinking it will drive Israel off the road and thus make more room for its Islamic revolutionary designs.

Craziness, I say. Time to lift the foot off the gas, slow down, and flummox them in other ways.