Abraham offering Isaac | Credit: Wikimedia Commons

BOMBS AWAY:  Over the last few months, we just whizzed past Ramadan, Easter, and Passover, major milestones for Islam, Christianity, and Judaism, respectively. In other words, the Big Three. Given how the Holy Land seems poised to blow up and take the rest of the world with it, I’m not sure how I should feel. Except horrified.

Growing up, we celebrated Easter and Passover in my house. And yes, that was unusual.

Easter is kind of obvious. We were Catholics, and my mother’s Catholicism was of the fervid variety typical of converts. Growing up, we knew — as a matter of fact — which of our neighbors was going to hell. Poor Mr. Kirby. He seemed like a nice man. But he left the Church to marry the woman he loved. So, to hell with him.

Less obviously, we also celebrated Passover. Every year, my mother would get a gallon of lamb’s blood and paint a big red “X” on our front door. This kept the Angel of Death from making any surprise visits. We ate matzo crackers and drank Manischewitz red wine as my father struggled to get his mouth around a passably non-garbled Hebrew pronunciation when reciting the Passover prayers. This was my mother’s idea. There would be no New Testament if not for the Old, she explained. As a theological tip of the hat, Catholics owed the Jews, so this was the least we could do. My father knew better than to ask too many questions. In our house, there was no greater love than not asking questions.

To mention the obvious, each of these religions traces its roots to the prophet Abraham, who we are told was born about 4,200 years ago and lived to be 175. Abraham — also known as Abram or Ibrahim — is largely credited with the discovery of monotheism, which ranks as perhaps the single most consequential invention humans have yet devised.

He was also the one who struck the deal — better known as “The Covenant” — with the One True God. OTG promised Abraham, “I will make nations of you, and kings will come from you.” To that end, he dispatched Abraham to the land of Canaan. God also blessed Abraham — at age 100 — with his first child. In exchange, God demanded that Abraham and all his descendants be circumcised. “You are to undergo circumcision, and it will be the sign of the covenant between you and me.” So, at age 99 — some insist it was really 80 — Abraham circumcised himself using a tool that looked very much like a hatchet.

It was said to be quite painful.

As a result, we now find ourselves in a world brimming over with millions of circumcised males who believe their lack of foreskin entitles them to a piece of the rock. Little wonder World War III appears imminent and college campuses are blowing up, collateral damage to the razed-earth strategy undertaken by Israeli strongman Benjamin Netanyahu in Gaza in response to the October 7 attack by Hamas. 

One of about 10 tents forming a pro-Palestinian encampment at UC Santa Barbara.

To date, I am relieved that the dueling factions at UCSB have managed to keep things relatively sane. Chancellor Henry Yang has seen fit to accommodate the protest encampments now springing up without activating the National Guard or calling the local cops, as has happened in Texas, New Orleans, and New York City. 

For a host of reasons I’d rather not explore right now, there’s no safe ground for people of good will on all sides to respectfully disagree. Or even ask each other questions. I get it; if I were Jewish, I’d definitely be freaked about a resurgence of anti-Semitism. Given historical realities — and present realities, too — you’d be crazy not to. 

Likewise, if I were Palestinian, I would be enraged by the selective outrage of the United States as the casualty counts spiral up past 36,000. With all this finger-pointing, it’s easy to get confused as to who the “good guys” are. 

How is it that some of Israel’s biggest supporters include some of the most virulent anti-Semitic, evangelical Christians who believe in the state of Israel only as a necessary precondition for the Second Coming of the Lord — a k a the Rapture — as described in the Book of Revelation?

The lines have blurred significantly. 

I’d like to hear both sides denounce both Hamas and Netanyahu. I’d like Netanyahu and Hamas’s Yahya Sinwar to be charged with war crimes. I’d like a lot of things, but pissing up a rope in a stiff wind won’t make any of them happen.

The functional reality — at least as perceived by an older generation of Democratic leadership — is one of absolute, if uncomfortable, loyalty to the State of Israel. Israel has been the one ally in the Middle East upon which the United States has been able to rely; that’s been especially true regarding the mullah-infused government in Iran, which has helped bankroll not just Hamas but Lebanon’s Hezbollah and Yemen’s Houthis, too.

I am not making the case that the Iranian government is not every bit as bad as it’s cracked up to be. This week, for example, an Iranian rap musician was sentenced to death for producing music critical of the ruling regime. But it’s also worth remembering how the United States and Iran got so sideways.

There are no good guys in this story. Just bad and worse. 

The Shah of Iran, 1973 | Credit: Wikimedia Commons

The mullahs took over in 1979 after deposing the Shah of Iran — the King of Kings who assumed his perch on Iran’s Peacock Throne in 1941. The Shah has been portrayed as a great modernizer and a forward-thinking moderate, so long as you didn’t happen to disagree with him. Opponents and critics were known to disappear suddenly, mysteriously, and terminally, but only after being tortured at the hands of SAVAK, Iran’s notorious intelligence agency. The United States not only bankrolled SAVAK, but also trained its operatives in the dark arts of torture and coercive interrogation.

Were it not for the CIA — working in tandem with their British counterparts — the Shah of Iran’s reign would have ended abruptly in the 1950s with the election of Prime Minister Mohammad Mosaddegh.

Mosaddegh initially won election in 1951 — overwhelmingly and democratically — after promising to nationalize Iran’s oil industry, then firmly under the thumb of what’s since become British Petroleum. Mosaddegh’s crime was trying to live up to his campaign pledge. When he lowered the boom and actually nationalized Iran’s vast oil wealth — which he did with the overwhelming support of Iran’s parliament — Britain, and later the United States, freaked out and hatched the plot that led to his eventual overthrow.

In impolite society, they call that a coup d’état.

In the United States — where people are reportedly polite — the government would not call it any such thing. In fact, the government would not acknowledge its role in hatching — and then executing — this plot until many years later, when Barack Obama occupied the White House. 

It’s of some note that when Harry Truman, a Democrat, still occupied the White House, the United States actually supported Mosaddegh and were not that upset by the nationalization of the nation’s oil industry, now the fifth largest in the world. But when Truman was replaced by Dwight Eisenhower, a Republican, things changed, and the coup attempt was given the green light. CIA bribes and CIA-paid gangsters took to the streets as a British-imposed blockade made Iran’s economy scream.

The Shah, it turns out, initially opposed the proposed coup, but he changed his tune when the United States put him on notice he’d be deposed too if he didn’t go along. During the coup, the Shah bravely sought comfort and refuge in a swanky Italian hotel. Mosaddegh was arrested and sentenced to death. The Shah, it should be acknowledged, reduced this sentence to three years behind bars in solitary confinement. After three years, Mosaddegh was sentenced to house arrest until he died.

Which he did. 

Even for those of us who ever knew this, this might qualify as old news. If you never heard, it’s ancient history and of even less interest. Unless, of course, you happen to live in Iran. There, it remains very fresh and raw, a wound that will never heal. 

Mohammad Mosaddeq | Credit: Wikimedia Commons

Would the mullahs have taken over in Iran if Mosaddegh had been allowed to play out his term in office? Would the anti-Western clerics have achieved critical mass if his plan to nationalize the oil wealth had been allowed to play out? Who knows? But the perception — and the reality — was that the Shah was an obliging tool of the United States, a man only too eager to use his nation’s vast wealth to pay for one of the biggest, technologically sophisticated, and most extravagant spending sprees on military hardware the world has ever seen. 

When the Shah was forced to flee Iran in 1979 and was diagnosed with cancer, David Rockefeller pressured then-president Jimmy Carter to take in our loyal vassal dictator. Carter paid the price with his political career, losing to Ronald Reagan in 1980, due largely to the American embassy hostage crisis in Tehran. That, of course, was triggered by the Shah’s arrival in the United States.

There is, of course, more to suggest that no one has clean hands. When Iraq’s Saddam Hussein attacked Iran in 1980, the United States provided war matériel — including chemical weapons — to Hussein’s Iraq. That war would last eight years, and before it was done — depending on which source you cite — anywhere from 500,000 to two million people on both sides were killed. We would later feel the need to decapitate Hussein on the false charges that he had weapons of mass destruction and had somehow been implicated in the attack on 9/11. 

Enough, I know. 

The point here is that the enemy of my enemy is not necessarily my friend. The point also is that none of us have clean hands here. There are no good guys. Just a lot of dead ones. And more coming every day. Do we have to take sides? Can we just be horrified? Can we stop aiding and abetting in all the slaughter? 

In the meantime, I want it made clear that I’m not blaming today’s violence in Gaza on Abraham’s deal with God, though it might inflame some West Bank settlers’ sense of entitlement to land that is not theirs.

One last detail. Since Abraham and God made their deal, I am told that God has entered into subsequent covenants with his people. I am told these covenants may supersede the first one. The biggest new one is this: Love thy neighbor.


I have to say that’s got a nice ring to it. But is it enforceable? 

Premier Events

Get News in Your Inbox


Please note this login is to submit events or press releases. Use this page here to login for your Independent subscription

Not a member? Sign up here.