Bill Kristol has reproduced in full the Yom Kippur sermon given by Israeli Ambassador to the United States Michael Oren this past Saturday at three DC area synagogues. (Here is the printer-friendly version.) Oren takes as the text for his sermon the biblical story of Jonah that is read each year in the Yom Kippur service.
Oren’s sermon is a characteristically lucid meditation on “the ultimate quandary of statecraft” presented by the “radical, genocidal Iran whose leaders regularly call for Israel’s annihilation and provides terrorists with the means for accomplishing that goal.” Oren poses the “Kafkaesque scenario in which you wake up one morning and find yourself transformed into Israel’s prime minister.” He asks those in his audience what they would do in the face of the various national security challenges confronting Israel. Here is Oren’s peroration:
[I]magine what [Iran] would do with the nuclear arms it is assiduously developing. And imagine what you, awakening once again as the Israeli Prime Minister, will decide. Do you remain passive while Iran provides nuclear weaponry to terrorist groups, targets Tel Aviv with nuclear-tipped missiles, and triggers a nuclear arms race throughout the region? Or do you act, as Israel has now, joining with the United States and other like-minded nations in imposing sanctions on Iran, hoping to dissuade its rulers from nuclearizing? And, if that fails, do you keep all options on the table, with the potentially far-reaching risks those options entail?
The issues of terror, the peace process, and Iran evoke strong emotions in this country and around the world, and often spark criticism of Israeli policies. Yet it’s crucial to recall that those policies are determined by the leaders elected through one of the world’s most robust and resilient democracies. Recall that the people of Israel–not of Europe, not of the United States–bear the fullest consequences for their leaders’ decisions.
There is no escaping the responsibility–as Jonah learned thousands of years ago–and that responsibility is borne by our leaders and by the majority of the people they represent. Israel today faces decisions every bit as daunting as those confronting Jonah, but we will not run away. There is no gourd to hide under or fish to swallow us whole. Terror, the peace process, Iran–our Ninevehs–await.
Support us as we grapple with these towering challenges. Back us in our efforts to defend ourselves from terrorist rockets. Uphold us if we have to make painful sacrifices for peace or if we decide that the terms of the proposed treaty fail to justify those sacrifices. Stand with us as we resist Iran’s efforts to acquire nuclear weapons. Respect the decisions we take through our democratic system and respect the risks that we, more than any other nation, take.
The message of the Book of Jonah is one of personal and collective atonement, but it is also a message of unity and faith. “In my trouble I called to the Lord,” proclaims Jonah, “VaYa’aneini” – “and He answered me.”
Let us–Israelis and the American Jews–united by our faith, our peoplehood, and our common love for democracy. Let us assume responsibility for our decisions, crushingly difficult though they may often be, and appreciative of the quandaries our leaders face. When we call out, let us answer one another with the assurance that no challenge–no paradoxes, no Ninevehs–can defeat us.
Please read the whole thing.