Aharon Nathan’s address on behalf of the Opposition to the Debate at the Oxford Union on 8th June 2006. The following motion lost and the Opposition led by Mr Nathan won by a large majority.
“THIS HOUSE BELIEVES IRAN HAS NO LESS RIGHT TO NUCLEAR WEAPONS THAN ISRAEL”
It is a great privilege for me to speak in this world famous hall on a subject that has haunted me all my life. So forgive my lack of wit and humour. All points for and against were already made by other speakers so eloquently and comprehensively that very little is left for me to pay for my dinner. Let me therefore summarize rather than expound for both sides of the aisle.
Nuclear weapons are an abomination. However, they have at least become internationally accepted as being deterrents to avoid the breakout of war and not weapons to be used in pre-emptive strikes. The problem is how to prevent them falling into the hands of rogue regimes or terrorist organisations. No one, not even its enemies, can say that Israel belongs to these categories. Nor do I think does Iran.
The case for Israel however, is not that Iran has less right, but that for the necessity of preserving its sheer existence, Israel has more right than Iran or indeed any other country.
1. Both Iran and Israel are stirred and spurred by fear of their neighbours. Iran’s fear is certainly not from tiny remote Israel however much Iran’s present leadership vocalise their apocalyptically expressed hostility. Israel has no quarrel with Iran and Iran has no reason to fear Israel unless you accept that if you are a Muslim anywhere you should by definition be in conflict with Jews. I can not believe that the Iranian people who were well disposed to Jews and Judaism throughout their history, pre and post Islam, would accept this premise. Iran’s leadership is merely using Israel as a proxy in its conflict with America. (…Otherwise there is no other reason why Iran’s government should be more hostile to Israel than neighbouring Egypt or Jordan who made peace with Israel….)
2. The fear of the Shi’a in Iran stems from a deep-rooted historic rivalry with, and mutual mistrust of Sunni Arab Islam. Ever since Khomeni’s Islamist Revolution this fear has been heightened by American support first for Sunni Saddam Hussein and later on for Sunni Saudi Arabia and the Gulf, and finally by the emergence of Sunni Pakistan as a nuclear power. These facts are behind the Iranian conflict with the West. Israel is not party to this conflict. (….and it would be well advised to re-evaluate its position, hold its nerve in the face of provocations by President Ahmadi Nejad, tone down its rhetoric and refrain from direct involvement in the West’s confrontation with Iran)
3. Iran has its sovereign right to go Ahamadi Nejad’s North Korean way or Rafsanjani’s South Korean way. It has the choice, and the right, but it does not have the need for Nuclear weapons. Israel is not in such a fortunate position. It continuously faces declarations by neighbouring nations threatening to wage a war of extermination and encouraging their streets and even their school children to that same end. It is in the context of self defence that Israel sought its nuclear capability. It held these weapons for decades but never once threatened anyone with them. Israel did not even confirm their existence in order to avoid any implied threat of employing them. Why has it suddenly now become an issue? It is particularly strange coming after Pakistan successfully exploded its Bomb. It has become increasingly crucial for Israel today facing the prospect of an unstable and porous Pakistan under the shadow of Bin Laden and with Ahmedi Nejad not mincing his words in echoing Arab leaders before him threatening and inciting and supplying arms and missiles to Israel’s neighbours to wipe Israel off the map. Israel’s need for its nuclear shield has never been greater to give her the feeling of security and military stability with so many refusing to recognise its legitimacy or even its existence.
4. Israel’s fears must be understood against its historical background. Two thousand years of persecution, execution and forced conversion culminated in Hitler’s Final Solution, a solution which wiped out almost half the world’s Jewish population on the watch of the civilised world.
5. Today it is worrying Israelis and Jews alike that what happened in Germany under the Nazis in the early 1930s is being re-enacted in a startling similar way in Europe today. Every aspect of life in Israel, its people, its institutions, its places of learning, even its acclaimed courts of justice are being demonized. Recently this demonizing has been organized and reinforced by concerted bans and boycotts here in Europe in protest they say to the occupation of Palestinian lands to which the majority of the people of Israel are opposed. All this sends shivers in the hearts of Jews everywhere reminding them of the anti-Semitic demonizing propaganda of the 1930s, which was the precursor of, and prepared the ground for the Holocaust. As Condoleezza Rice stated recently: Anti-Semitism is not just a historical fact but a current event.
6. The Arab World has played and continues to play its active part too in the Jewish tragedy. During World War 2 they made Jewish life in their midst a living hell. By the early 1950’s when the safe haven of Israel opened, some 900,000 Jews were ethnically cleansed to Israel from Arab countries leaving all Arab countries what the Nazis called Judenrein, lands without Jews. Therefore what the Nazis failed to do the Arab countries accomplished and perpetuated. And the world accepts that as normal. These 900,000 Jewish refugees are forgotten because Israel did not leave them in camps to rot and did not ask the UN to set up agencies to serve to perpetuate their misery and status as refugees. With help from Jews worldwide these Jewish refugees with their bare hands gave themselves dignity, security and a future in stark contrast to the way rich, very rich, Arabs treated the then 700,000 Palestinian refugees and disgracefully continue to treat them today. Mr President, I was a victim and a witness of this (constructive) ethnic cleansing. My personal story tells it all.
7. Fleeing Iraq, in my case via Iran, whose people I will always be indebted to for their hospitality and safe passage at my desperate time of need. I arrived at the absorption centre in Israel in 1949. I found there a mixture of people all dejected all helpless. My fellow refugees from Arab countries were desperately trying to rebuild their lives out of nothing in a land of nothing. But it was the sight of the remnants of the holocaust camps that broke my heart and my spirit. I saw frightened shadows of human beings dazed, confused and broken trying to regain their existence as humans. But the worst of all instead of hatred, rage and bitterness I found many trying to remove the concentration camp numbers on their arms feeling guilty of being alive and ashamed of not having put up a fight before allowing themselves to be led as sheep to the Gas chambers. It is the combined images of the ethnically cleansed Arab Jews who lost their countries, and the Holocaust remnants of European Jews who lost their dignity, that are engraved in my being and in the mind of every Jew who says “never again” Israelis feel the need to keep their nuclear shield not because they are on a Samson-like suicidal mission. It is because they are determined to live with pride and dignity denied to them in those dark days of the 30s and 40s. And this time, if they must die, they want to die fighting.
8. Fellow members of our great University, Your vote this evening will resound beyond the Quads of Oxford and the shores of Britain as indeed happened following the notorious debate of 1933. Israel desperately needs your support this evening at a time when it is waiting for a signal of hope from its Arab neighbours to create together two states living side by side in peace. It is these neighbours who can decide the fate of the Israeli nuclear weapons and make them redundant. Because it is they who continue to deny Israel and seek its destruction. Until their attitude changes Israel has the right above any other country be it Iran, Pakistan, France or Britain itself to continue to possess the nuclear shield, not to gain victory but through deterrence to prevent war and secure its continued existence. Mr President: Unlike Iran whose need for nuclear weapons is tenuous and optional, for Israel it is an existential imperative.
Oxford, 8th June 2006.