Fidel Castro and Israel's Right to Exist

By Jeffrey Goldberg

As I return to the subject of Fidel Castro and the many things he said to me on my recent visit to Havana, I'm struck again and again by a wonderful irony. Fidel is the icon of the global Left. The global Left today is thoroughly infiltrated by Israel-negationists, those people who have aligned themselves with hardcore Islamists and extreme-rightists to form a Red-Green-Brown front opposed to the existence of the world's only Jewish-majority country. It's a strange alliance, of course, in which to find self-described progressives, but hatred of Jewish national equality can do funny things to people's heads. But what's even stranger is that Fidel, this historic, iconic figure for global leftists, expresses nothing but sympathy for Jews, for the history of Jewish suffering, and even for the Jewish state. He doesn't have much love for its governments, but for the idea of Israel? Nothing but support.

I asked him, during the course of our first conversation: "Do you think the State of Israel, as a Jewish State, has a right to exist?"

Fidel Castro answered, "Si, sin ninguna duda" -- "Yes, without a doubt."

When I followed-up by asking if he -- or, more to the point, his brother's government -- would reestablish relations with Israel, he gave a simple procedural answer -- these things take time -- rather than a condemnation of the idea. He went on, as I detailed in an earlier post, to express great sympathy for persecuted Jews throughout history, but he also said -- and this is truly notable -- that he understands how such suffering could inform the decision-making of Israel's prime minister: "Now, lets imagine that I were Netanyahu," Castro said, "that I were there and I sat down to reason through (the issues facing Israel), I would remember that six million Jewish men and women, of all ages were exterminated in the concentration camps." He also -- and this, too, might be considered notable -- expressed great admiration for Netanyahu's father, Ben-Zion, the world's foremost historian of the Spanish Inquisition, and a hardline Likudnik, who is today 100 years old but still arguing for his beliefs (he is also one of the subjects of my recent cover story on Iran and Israel). Fidel expressed a desire to talk to Ben-Zion Netanyahu, saying that he was "impressed by his character, his knowledge and his history."

Can you imagine: A summit meeting between the 100-year-old Ben-Zion Netanyahu and the 84-year-old Fidel Castro? That would be a meeting to remember. Talk about a nightmare for the Eradicate-Israel coalition! I don't necessarily think the two men would agree on much, but Fidel Castro has surprised us lately. Maybe Ben-Zion Netanyahu would surprise us as well.

This article available online at:

http://www.theatlantic.com/international/archive/2010/09/fidel-castro-and-israels-right-to-exist/63369/