Jerusalem Notebook: Terrorism in Paris – A Conversation with Iddo NetanyahuThursday, November 19, 2015
Late Friday night, I was headed for bed when an ominous news bulletin flashed across my computer screen – something about a shooting in Paris.
It wasn’t long before the “small number” of shootings and casualties began to double and triple and quadruple. The locations of attacks seemed crazily disorganized, and the tweets and videos became more and more horrifying.
It was a long night for many stunned observers. We tried to understand what was happening, and we hoped and prayed that the carnage would stop.
But it didn’t. Not for far too many hours.
The following day, I was invited to lunch at the home of my friends Daphne and Iddo Netanyahu. Both of them are Israeli, born and raised in this country, but also well traveled, thoughtful and exceptionally well read. And (thankfully for me) they speak flawless English.
Daphne is a lawyer, speaker and writer; she is also the publisher and editor-in-chief of an online political Hebrew language magazine called Maraah (which, in Hebrew, means Mirror). Most importantly, at least in my view, Daphne is a dear friend.
Iddo is a physician, author and playwright. Two of his plays are presently in production (more about one of those in a moment), and he is currently in the process of finishing a third one. And, in case his family name sounds familiar, Iddo is also the brother of Benyamin Netanyahu, Israel’s prime minister.
Along with his two brothers, Iddo served in an elite Israeli special forces unit called Sayeret Matkal. The oldest brother, Yoni, was killed in 1976 while leading the historic rescue of 106 mostly-Israeli hostages from a hijacked Air France flight in Entebbe, Uganda.
Needless to say, I was eager to hear my friends’ views about the Paris terror attacks. “So what was your first thought when you heard the news?” I asked.
“It certainly wasn’t a surprise,” Iddo answered. “These things will happen. They’ve already happened in Paris, just not on this scale. Even worse things might happen. So there was no surprise about it.”
He went on to say,
The question is really not about these particular incidents’ happening, whether in Paris, whether at a specific nightclub, or in some other place. The question is how to stop them.
French headlines reported that President Hollande said, “We’re at war.”
So if you’re at war, then you have to find out who the enemy is. You have to define the enemy. And you have to actually wage war. And I think people in the main understand that there is an enemy and who the enemy is. The problem is not so much with the population. The problem is with its leadership.
Our lunch discussion went on from there, and fortunately the subject changed to happier matters. But it occurred to me that by interviewing Iddo, I might add his well-informed voice to the ongoing international discussion about terrorism in Europe. I was very curious myself to hear what he had to say about it.
We met a few days later and continued the conversation.
Iddo Netanyahu’s so-far best-known play – which appeared off-Broadway earlier this year in a five-week run and has been staged in more than half a dozen countries – is titled A Happy End. It is set in 1932-1933 and depicts a Jewish family in Berlin as they watch the rising dominance of Hitler and struggle to understand what kind of long-term threat he poses. But most of all, they remain distracted by heartfelt personal concerns and complications in their day-to-day lives.
I asked Iddo how he would compare attitudes in Europe today, especially in light of the recent attack on Paris, with those preceding the Third Reich’s dictatorship.
“A Happy End is set in the early 1930s,” he explained. “It’s about a Jewish family and the dangers they faced in 1932-33. But really, I wrote the play about Europe of today and, of course, about Israel. In a sense, it’s about the internal struggle between optimism, which resides in every human soul, and realism which can run counter to it.”
He went on to describe his play’s primary theme.
Self-delusion, in not wanting to understand dangers, is so strong in us because it’s painful to admit to processes that are threatening our cherished world, and sometimes taking action can be is even more painful.
In a sense, I can better understand those people in Europe then, during the rise of Hitler and even a few years after he took power, than today’s Europeans. They told themselves, “No, there’s still a chance here for peace.” Because Hitler always talked about peace. He didn’t say openly, “I’m going to wage war and destroy you.” True, if you’d read his earlier writings or carefully read between the lines of his speeches and analyzed his actions, then yes, you’d might have understood his intentions. But publicly, all he wanted was “peace.” Just give me a little bit of this and all will be well. So Chamberlain believed him.
But now, with ISIS or Al-Qaeda or Iran or Iran’s proxies like Hezbollah, they talk openly about what their real goal is. They don’t hide it: It’s world domination. Whether it’s Sunni world domination on the part of Al-Qaeda and ISIS and others, or whether it’s Shiite world domination on the part of Iran and its proxies, there’s nothing hidden here. They openly state what they want, even though they often give ad-hoc reasons for specific terrorists acts, supposed retaliations for actions by the West.
So I cannot even compare today’s leaders to Chamberlain. What are they thinking? They are being told to their face, “This is what we’re after. We’re out to destroy you.”
Told to their face day in and day out. Yet they persist in not doing much of anything. In fact, they persist in leaving themselves open to attack.
As our conversation continued, it focused on Europe’s leadership and what has weakened it so drastically. Iddo explained that in his view, “Europe’s leadership feels beholden to ideas that have been standard with academicians, with the press, with the various elites – ideas of universalism, internationalism, and certainly pan-Europeanism.
“This has to do with a rise anti-Western sentiment and a weakening of the national sense in each of these countries – certainly among the intellectual elites and those who follow them,” he added. “I think that explains a lot about what’s happening in Europe.”
He went on to say that in many ways, the European Union is a product of an anti-Western and anti-nationalist mindset that has taken over the West. Much of this emanated from World War II, when war was waged against the Nazi’s extreme form of nationalism – “a pathological hyper-nationalism.”
So it was asked, what’s the way to prevent wars like WWII? Do away with nationalism altogether (at least for the West). Instead, a sort of commodity was created – which is hard to define – where “bureaucrats are running this vague entity called Europe, thereby obliterating the whole sense of national identity.
“Nationalism,” Iddo went on to say, “is a very fine idea. And it is an idea that, in many ways, is the only guarantor of freedom. A leader who knows that he is leading his own people and is beholden to them has the sense and finds the courage to do what needs to be done for his people’s sake. But what if he is merely a part of some vague machinery of internationalism, and all the more so feeling beholden to it ideologically? He might pay lip service to the desires of his own nation, yes, but then do nothing of any real consequence when strong, painful action is needed.”
As I listened, I could almost hear John Lennon’s anthem playing in my head: “Imagine there’s no countries; it isn’t hard to do. Nothing to kill or die for, and no religion too.”
In fact, just days before, one of my 30-something sons in the United States pointed out to me that both faith in God and patriotism are frowned upon by his generation.
Ideas are powerful forces. And these two forces – nationalism and anti-nationalism – are battling each other not only in the minds of the young, but in the thinking of today’s most celebrated leaders.
“You can even see even it in Angela Merkel,” Iddo remarked. “She has her own particular problems in terms of Germany’s identity from World War II. So she does something that she believes will finally give a new face to Germany for the whole international community to see. And she certainly has been lauded for it! Who in the media hasn’t lauded her over the last few months?: ‘My God, It’s a new Germany! Finally, it’s really, really changed!’”
So Merkel is opening the gates of Germany to countless immigrants from Muslim countries. Some of them are refugees, to be sure, but I imagine most are merely migrants seeking a “European” future.
Does she not have the sense to realize that this means a destructive weakening of her country? Doesn’t she know that she’s inviting in people who, for the most part, will not integrate, thereby causing endless internal strife, slowly tearing apart the fabric of German society? And I’m even not mentioning the terrorist potential.
Germany is a case in point because of the guilt it rightly feels about what happened in World War II. And certainly it’s a case in point in its active attempt to weaken the idea of peoplehood, of nationalism. And of paying lip service – and more than lip service – to other ideas. They couch those ideas in very nice terms like “human rights” and “multiculturalism,” but we all know that in the main such ideas are actually anathema to the societies these migrants come from, running counter to their ethos and beliefs, and that these very ideas will be under attack internally very soon.
In reflecting on all this, the big question in Iddo Netanyahu’s mind is, “Will the actual people of Europe – these are all democracies, after all – will they realize that this is their 11th hour? Will they come to their senses? Will they force their leaders to act as leaders of free nations? Or not? I don’t know.”
He believes that the free world is hanging in the balance. And, at this point, the future is unpredictable.
“Iran is far more dangerous than ISIS,” he told me. “It’s a huge nation with a very talented people and a standing army that will be getting stronger in the coming years. And they are in the process of getting nuclear weapons.”
He also pointed out that during the recent Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action negotiations,
The West relinquished any kind of confrontation with Iran. We saw that. And don’t think ISIS doesn’t watch it and see what’s going on. They are gaining tremendous energy from seeing the weakness of the West. This is a huge factor in the support they’re getting.
Just as the support Hitler got from his own population was from his early gains. He changed the status quo in the Rhineland. He was able to get part of Czechoslovakia – the German speaking part – as his own. He was able to get Austria. All these early gains were achieved without firing a single shot.
Likewise, the more the West relinquishes, the less it does in – at the very least – physically fighting the terrorist Islamic movements, the greater will be the growth of extremist elements.
Iddo Netanyahu concluded, “America is still a nation with a great degree of self-identity and sense of nationalism. Although its strength has been eroding over the past 50 years because of a particular ideology that has taken hold in many places, Americans still view the United States as a nation to be cherished.
“If America revives, it might push Europe to do something. And it’s also possible because of what’s just happened that France might show the way to the rest of the West, including America. Though I don’t place many hopes though on this latter possibility.
“But in the long run, as it was throughout the 20th century, so it is now. In the end, it depends on America.”