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'Netanyahu is a master of manipulating the fantasies that the right-wing discourse advances,' writes Lerner. (Image: Creative Commons via Tikkun)

Benjamin Netanyahu's Fantasy World

Michael Lerner

 by Tikkun

"If you take out Saddam, Saddam's regime, I guarantee you that it will have enormous positive reverberations on the region." –Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu urging the US to invade Iraq in 2002.

Netanyahu's speech to Congress was brilliantly deceitful because it played to the fantasies that Israeli propaganda and right wing militarists in the US have been popularizing for the past thirty years.

The biggest fantasy: that we can coerce others through power over them to do what we consider in the best interests of the U.S. or Israel. This is what I call The Strategy of Domination. A more effective path is The Strategy of Generosity--showing others that we care about them and recognize their needs as being equally legitimate to our own. This second approach is the view that made trade between tribes, and eventually between nations possible in the past, and it remains the view that makes it possible for most countries of the world to live in peace with their neighbors. They hate to do business with those who think that they can get their way through power-tripping and manipulations and threats. This struggle between two world views is the core of the debate today in the U.S. and the reason that the militarists have the upper hand is because the Obama Administration, fearing that it might be ridiculed as believing in "kumbaya politics," used its first six years to pursue policies that better fit the Strategy of Domination than the Strategy of Generosity. Predictably, now it finds itself without a popular base for turning toward a more rational path in regard to Iran, having to frame its policies in terms of his policies' toughness rather than in terms of their humanity and reflection of higher ethical values.

I know so many people who shake their heads in despair at the growth of the right-wing consciousness in the US in every sphere except identity politics, but really what other discourse are they ever exposed to? Obama should embrace the Biblical call for "love the stranger/the other" and challenge Americans to take that call seriously. Instead, he tries to measure up against the criteria set by the militarists. Guess what? In that coercion-oriented arena liberals and progressives will always fail, because you have to be unscrupulous to win there.

Netanyahu is a master of manipulating the fantasies that the right-wing discourse advances. For example, the view of the world that sees "our side" (whether that 'our' be the U.S. or Israel) as always innocent and good, and "the other" as intrinsically evil.

So consider his claim that it is Iran that has been making war against countries in the Middle East. No...actually it is the U.S. that has been making war against those countries in the past 12 years. You will have to look very hard to find any Iranian troops in Iraq, Syria, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Jordan, or Egypt in the past 12 years. But you will find tens of thousands of American troops in Afghanistan and Iraq in the past twelve years. Similarly, it is Israel that has been decimating Gaza, not Iran decimating a neighboring city or province or country. From a global perspective, and based on the behavior of these countries in the past two decades ever since the peace-oriented prime minister of Israely Yitzhak Rabin was murdered by a right wing religious Zionist, the world has more to fear from the US and Israel and our indomitable sense of self-righteousness than it does from Iran.

Iran is the biggest violator of human rights in the region. Not so fast. Iran has some stiff competition with America's ally Saudi Arabia, not to mention the U.S. torture operations in Abu Ghraib. In fact, the US still won't release the full U.S. Senate report on its torture operations around the world because they would be too shocking to the US population. And the CIA chief recently appointed by President Obama insists that the CIA was not involved in torture, and the Obama Administration refuses to bring charges against any CIA agents who were engaged in torture, thus giving a signal to future torturers that they will be exempt from any punishments. We will deplore their behavior, but then let them continue it.

Undermining negotiations with Iran by continuing sanctions and offering no serious benefits for Iran to agree to anything would lead to Iran accelerating its nuclear program out of fear that it might soon be facing a war with Israel and the U.S. and perceiving itself as vulnerable unless it quickly develops nukes for itself. So following Netanyahu's path would actually create the very situation he claims to fear--a renewed commitment on the part of Iran to develop nuclear weapon capability.

Israel is a beacon of democracy. Well...not so fast. Palestinians living within the West Bank and Gaza are living under the effective control of Israel on most matters of life, pay taxes to the Israeli government, must get permission from Israel to lave those areas, yet have no vote in the elections (though Jews living in the West Bank do have the right to vote). It's certainly better than what faces people in many other middle eastern countries, but it's a stretch to call Israel a democracy as long as the Occupation continues.

Iran with nuclear weapons would be a danger to everyone. Well, that's partially true and partially false. It's true to the extent that any country having nuclear weapons is a danger to everyone on the planet (though the US is the only country in the world to have ever actually used nuclear weapons in a war). But it's not true that Iran would use those weapons. While I detest the current regime in Iran and hope for its nonviolent overthrow by the people of Iran, I see nothing in their behavior that leads me to believe that they are suicidal. On the contrary, they have a strong desire to make their Islamic republic the model for all future Islamic societies.

Iranian leaders know full well that Israel has the capacity, should Iran strike at Israel, to use its 200 nuclear bombs to wipe Iran off the face of the planet, if the US didn't do that first in the event of an Iranian use of nuclear weapons against Israel. So Netanyahu's paranoid fantasy only seems plausible if you think that Iran is the equivalent of the Nazi regime. And that is precisely where political analysis has to yield to psychological investigation. In my book Embracing Israel/Palestine (check it out at based in part on research I did while living in Israel and doing research at Tel Aviv U. and Hebrew U in Jerusalem, I describe the devastating consequences of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder on the capacity of those who have suffered extreme stress or oppression to make rational decisions for themselves. The PTSD is most acute in both the Israeli and Palestinian population, but far less so among Iranians who have never suffered in the past 70 years the way Jews and Palestinians have. So if we have any worries about possession of nuclear weapons, that concern should direct us to seeking nuclear disarmament from Israel. But for the impact of PTSD, having those 200 nukes should have yielded Israel a payoff in feeling secure. Instead, Israel continues to live under the cloud of the 70 year old trauma of the Holocaust, and the Prime Minister of Israel comes to the U.S. to shout "Never Again." But that slogan was originally meant to be a slogan concerning all peoples--so that no one should ever suffer what Jews suffered. The path to a war with Iran would make a mockery of that slogan. So it was tragic to see Elie Wiesel allowing himself to become a political pawn in Netnayahu's fantasy trip.

All this plays well for the US militarists and their cheerleaders among Christian Zionists and the rightwing of the Jewish Zionist movement. They raise the same fears and solutions they raised 55 years ago when they hoped to push the US into a war with the Soviet Union when it developed nuclear weapons. That war would have cost millions of lives, and saner voices prevailed. President Eisenhower warned about the dangers of the military/industrial complex and its ability to push the US toward wars. But Democrats, fearful of being called weak, brought us the War in Vietnam, and refused to cut off funds when the Republicans led us into the trillion-dollar debacle of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. Now those same moral idiots who led us into the Iraq war want to let Netanyahu's brilliant manipulation of our quite justified desire to see Israel remain safe and strong lead us into a war with Iran. We should resist such a folly. We could have used that trillion dollars to end global and domestic homelessness, hunger, poverty, inadequate health care, inadequate education, and to repair the destruction advanced indsutrial societies both capitalist and socialist have done to the global environment. Such a Global Marshall Plan might be dismissed as "unrealistic," just as the movements to end apartheid and segregation, provide equal rights for women, end legal discrimination against gays and lesbians, were also dismissed at first as unrealistic, naive, utopian or even "dangerous."

But the only way we can succeed in stopping the Republicans and AIPAC Democrats from following like lemmings the Netanyahu path is to present and powerfully advocate for an alternative--the Strategy of Generosity and a Global Marshall Plan modeled on the one we at Tikkun and our interfaith and secular-humanist-welcoming Network of Spiritual Progressives have developed (read it at Please join us in developing this path rather than in the futuile path of domination that will only confirm the fears of the most paranoid elements of all sides.

Please join us in developing this path rather than in the futile path of domination that will only confirm the fears of the most paranoid elements of all sides.

You don’t have to believe in God or be part of a spiritual or religious tradition or practice to be a “spiritual progressive.” You are a spiritual progressives by our definition if you want institutions, social practices, government policies, corporations, our educational system, our legal system to be judged “efficient, rational or productive” to the extent that they maximize our capacities to be loving and caring for each other and the earth, supporting generosity instead of domination, and responding to the universe not solely as “a resource” for human purposes, but with a sense of awe, wonder and radical amazement at the grandeur and preciousness of life itself and the universe in which it has evolved!

© 2021 Tikkun
Michael Lerner

Michael Lerner

Rabbi Michael Lerner is editor of Tikkun Magazine: a bimonthly Jewish and Interfaith Journal of Politics, Culture and Society. He is chair of the interfaith Network of Spiritual Progressives, author of 11 books including "Embracing Israel/Palestine: A Strategy to Heal and Transform the Middle East" (2011), and rabbi of Beyt Tikkun synagogue in San Francisco.

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