Richard Weaver once wrote that the “trouble with humanity is that it forgets to read the minutes of the last meeting.” We are wise to consider his words as we think about the nuclear deal with Iran.

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Others have spoken more knowledgeably about its security shortcomings and lack of safeguards. My concern is different. It is captured in a story from my colleague Rabbi Jeffrey Salkin. He spoke with his close friend, a pastor, who adamantly supports the deal. He said to him:

[callout]“If you need to defend this deal to your parishioners, all I ask is this: can you also remind them that the Supreme Leader of Iran wants the Jewish state dead?” [/callout]

We might say this fear is overblown. Iran has every incentive to follow the agreement. In any case, the agreement does not depend on trust, but on rigorous inspections and protections. Yet, anyone who has gotten away with speeding or parking illegally knows laws and restrictions do not always work.

And what we consider proper incentives—what we see as Iran’s self-interest—might not be the way they see it. Just look at the minutes of several of history’s last meetings:

1. World War II: In the waning days of the Second World War, Germany’s defeat was imminent and inevitable. Germans were dying in the street. Soldiers on the front lines were perishing for lack of food.

Yet, the Nazis spent diverted trains carrying supplies to their troops in order to transport more Jews to death camps. As Jonathan Sacks puts it, “So driven were they by hate that they were prepared to put their own victory at risk in order to carry out the systematic murder of the Jews of Europe.” Such hate is not rational, but it is real.

2. Conquering the New World: Okay, I admittedly am reaching far back in history, but it is an instructive story. In 1520 the Spanish explorer Cortes arrived in the New World. Soon thereafter he was met by Montezuma, the leader of Aztecs. The Aztecs were at the height of their empire, which covered much of modern Mexico.

They reached an agreement, and Cortes even lived in the Montezuma’s palace. Within a few years, however, Cortes had utterly destroyed the Aztec empire.

Montezuma assumed Cortez was a civilized man with honest ambitions. This assumption cost him his life and his empire.

3. The Exodus from Egypt: Now I’m reaching further back, but the biblical stories resonate for a reason. They capture basic human truths.

Amongst the most intriguing parts of the Exodus story is the behavior of the Egyptian Pharaoh. After the seventh of the ten plagues, Pharaoh’s advisors pleaded with him. ““Do you not yet realize that Egypt is ruined?”  (Ex. 10: 7)

Yet, Pharaoh had lost the will to act rationally. He was willing to destroy himself in order to destroy his enemy.

None of this is to say peace is not possible. The United States made peace with Germany and Japan, and Israel made peace with Egypt. Jewish tradition includes three daily prayers for peace. Yet, peace is rational. Hate is not. Let’s remember the minutes of the last meeting.

What Do You Think About the Deal? What Other Examples Would You Add? 

Rabbi Evan

I show the way Jewish wisdom make our lives richer and happier. In particular, I help Jews appreciate their heritage and Christians uncover the Jewish roots of their faith. Get my FREE Jewish holidays cheat sheet by clicking here.

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