Speaking last night at an alarmingly titled forum called “Will Jews Exist? Iran, Assimilation and the Threat to Israel and Jewish Survival,” casino mogul, Jewish benefactor, and Republican bankroller Sheldon Adelson suggested that in order to send a message to Iran, the United States should drop an atomic bomb in their desert.
In a follow-up news release, host Rabbi Shmuley Boteach is scrambling to defend Adelson from charges of Strangelovianism.
But first, here are Adelson’s remarks, as transcribed by The Atlantic off a videotape of the event:
What do you mean support negotiations? What are we going to negotiate about? What I would say is, ‘Listen, you see that desert out there, I want to show you something.’ You pick up your cell phone, even at traveling rates. You pick up your cell phone, and– what are they called– [Boteach: roaming charges] Roaming charges. You pick up your cell phone and you call somewhere in Nebraska and you say, ‘OK let it go.’ So there’s an atomic weapon, goes over ballistic missiles, the middle of the desert, that doesn’t hurt a soul. Maybe a couple of rattlesnakes, and scorpions, or whatever.
And then you say, ‘See! The next one is in the middle of Tehran. So, we mean business. You want to be wiped out? Go ahead and take a tough position and continue with your nuclear development. [Applause] You want to be peaceful? Just reverse it all, and we will guarantee you that you can have a nuclear power plant for electricity purposes, energy purposes.’
In a news release sent this morning, Boteach responds that “Adelson made an innocuous comment”:
“I would hope that those who seem alarmed by Sheldon’s overstatement on the extent to which the United States should go to stop Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon will at least protest that much more loudly against its actual development,” added Rabbi Boteach.
I think Boteach sensed trouble as soon as Adelson dropped his, um, bomb. After Adelson’s comments above, Boteach comes to the rescue and suggests that what Adelson meant to say is that there should be a “tremendous demonstration of American strength” (where a journalist might have asked — Are you being serious about a nuclear strike, or using hyperbole?”) Adelson agrees with Boteach and they move on.
The news release also quotes a spokesman for Adelson:
“As one of the country’s most successful entrepreneurs, Mr. Adelson was using hyperbole to make a point that — based on his nearly seven decades of experience negotiating business deals — actions speak louder than words.”
Which of course raises the question — just what the hell kind of negotiating tactic does Adelson use in business, if he thinks America’s opening position should be an atomic strike?
I think Adelson’s spokesman speaks to a deeper truth when he begins his defense by saying, “As one of the country’s most successful entrepreneurs…” That’s another way of saying, “As someone with no experience in statecraft, diplomacy, or military strategy.” The problem, of course, is that people like Adelson do end up exerting tremendous sway on the system, either through their deep-pocketed funding of politicians, or think tanks that press their agenda. For an object lesson, read George Packer’s history of the Iraq War.
And even if Adelson’s remarks were meant to “goad his more liberal critics,” as Boteach suggests, they might have just the opposite effect: painting the pro-Israel community as loony tunes, and making it easier for the administration and its supporters to dismiss the Jews as alarmist and unhinged.