Dear President Rouhani:
For quite some time now, we have been speaking a lot about each other and at each other. Iran’s support for my bitterest enemies and call for my destruction, founded on a cocktail of a particular form of Islamic faith and anti-Semitism, has made Iran an object of much concern and worry. I speak about you often, both here in Israel and to our friends in the international community as I warn of the dangers that we and the world would face if and when Iran becomes a nuclear power. You probably don’t like me very much, but that shouldn’t stop you from at least admitting that my fears are hardly unfounded.
You may find my claims duplicitous and the world’s concern with you, inconsistent and a symptom of Islamophobia, for after all, Israel, as well (according to foreign sources), is in possession of nuclear weapons and a potent missile delivery system. I cannot speak for the world, but the fact that we in Israel are not calling for the destruction of any of the sovereign nations of the world may be the cause for this disparity.
Truth be told, I don’t really know you and where your presidency of Iran will take your country. I didn’t particularly care for your predecessor, and it is important that you understand that you are not exactly functioning from a clean slate.
That said, I am writing to you because your narrative has deviated from that of Ahmadinejad, and your cancellation of the annual anti-Israel New Horizon Conference in Tehran, which offered a platform for Holocaust deniers, while arguably an excellent public relations move, have piqued my curiosity and motivated me to want to explore what may lie behind it.
As the leader of the Jewish State, and as an individual who has learned much from my tradition, I know that the right to self-defense is a moral right and a moral duty. All human life is endowed with infinite value, because we are all created in the image of God. The Jewish tradition teaches us that that applies not only to others, but first to oneself. “Love your neighbor as yourself.” (Leviticus 19) I must love my neighbor but I must first love myself. If an enemy arises to kill me, I am commanded to kill him or her first. (Bamidbar Rabbah 21:4)
And so, I make no apologies for my readiness to defend myself and my people, and my calling for the willingness to use military means to do so. That said, my tradition also teaches that the use of force must be a measure of last resort and must be done only in the proportion needed to stave off the danger. (BT Sanhedrin 72a & 49a) The foundation for the value of my life is the same as that of others. All human beings and the emphasis is on all, are equally created in the image of God, regardless of their religious, national, racial, or gender identity.
I and my people belong to a tradition which teaches that whoever takes a life, it is as if s/he has destroyed a whole world, and whoever saves one life, it is as if s/he has saved a whole world. (Sanhedrin 4:5) As a Jew, I am commanded to emulate God, whose attribute is to be merciful over all of God’s works. (Maimonides, Laws of Slavery, 9:8). It is God, who when defending the Jewish people from the tyrannical Pharaoh, destroyed him and his forces in the Red Sea, silenced the angels who began to sing God’s praise. God argued, “My creation is now drowning in the sea, and you want to sing my praise?” (BT Megillah 10b)
The Jewish people do not seek war, nor do we celebrate the shedding of blood, even if it is that of our enemies who wish us harm. I and my people want to live in peace, freedom, and security here in our homeland. I believe it is our right as a sovereign people. While for much of our short history we have had to fight in order to exercise that right, I am not nor do I want to be a people who get so accustomed to war that we believe it to be inevitable.
And here you come onto the scene, at least initially, armed primarily with a new rhetoric. At first, my stance was to cry wolf. By that I mean, to declare that you are still a wolf in sheep’s clothing. I warned anyone who would listen, and many who did not want to, of the dangers of letting down our guard, whether it be the stopping of economic sanctions or the taking of military options off the table. It is too soon, I argued, warning of the profound dangers of confusing our aspirations with reality. (Even you were probably at least a little surprised by Iran’s appointment to a key role on the UN’s Disarmament and International Security Committee.)
I still believe that, and feel that you must be judged by your actions and not merely your words. I am writing to you not merely to reiterate this claim, but to express my deepest hopes and prayers, that your actions will indeed be different. I am writing to tell you how happy I am that new channels of discourse and negotiations have opened between you and the rest of the world. When nations reach out to each other there are new opportunities which surface, opportunities that I as a Jew embrace.
I do not yearn to go to war with you, nor do I yearn for any harm or hardship to befall your people. I want to live in peace and security, and I wish it for you, as well. There is a time for war, a time for fighting. But there is also a time for talking. I am happy that you and the world are now talking, and am grateful to those leaders who seized on the opportunity. In truth, I am even a little jealous. For I would like to talk, as well. Not about you, not at you, but with you.
Please accept my wishes and blessings on a fruitful negotiation with the world, ones which serve the needs of your people while protecting the rest of the world from a danger we are morally obligated to prevent. There is a time for war and a time for peace, a time for fighting and a time for talking. I hope that you use this time to translate words into actions and move your country onto a new path. We look forward to meeting you there, and hopefully walking together.
State of Israel
This is a letter that I dream will come one day out of Israel’s Prime Minister. May such a day come in our lifetime. Amen. – Donniel Hartman