Wednesday, August 02, 2006

Spotty award, academic division

For this courageous op-ed piece in Wednesday's Strib, Professor Warren Goldstein earns a Spotty. Remember, a Spotty is award for a letter, op-ed piece, or a blog post or comment that Spot wishes he had written.
I am a Jew, and I am an American. I am in anguish over both identities right now.

In my name, my country has been supporting -- with armaments and its remaining diplomatic clout -- the reckless killing of civilians whose only crime is to live in a country that cannot control its own fate. (How supporting? By not exercising its immense influence over Israeli policy and weaponry.)

The country that considers itself a Jewish homeland has effectively declared Lebanon a "free-fire zone" and believes that if its military drops enough bombs on apartment buildings in Beirut (Hezbollah "strongholds") and empties enough southern Lebanese cities, it will destroy Hezbollah as a political and fighting force. The mass grave in Tyre is now burned into Lebanese consciousness, along with Sabra and Chatila.

When I visit the website of Reform Judaism, I see a propaganda effort on behalf of the Israeli bombs. "What can I and my congregation do now to help the people of Israel?" asks a headline. The answer: "Now is the time to stand with Israel in solidarity." I could, the website suggests, "Post a 'We Stand With Israel' lawn sign and proudly fly an Israeli flag at your congregation." After all, "Israel is a home for every Reform Jew."

This is moral and religious nonsense.

And it is silencing Jews who know better, because the Israel propaganda machine works most effectively through Jewish organizations, where any hint that the lives of Lebanese children matter as much as the lives of Jewish children is treated as (1) a refusal to recognize the demands of realpolitik, (2) slippery-slope "moral equivalency" reasoning, or (3) treason. By these efforts Judaism has been reduced to political cheerleading, an international equivalent to what the American religious right has done to Christianity. Too many American Jews are putting their religion on the shelf while they take up the impoverished language of strategy and tactics and realpolitik.

The God of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Sarah, Rivka, Rachel and Leah does not distinguish between Israeli and Lebanese children.

Let me be clear. No nation ought to have to live alongside well-armed, frankly terrorist political entities committed to its destruction. I shed no tears for Hezbollah militants, whose murderous raid clearly invited the Israeli response and whose lack of respect for civilian lives knows no national or religious boundaries. Nor do I shed tears for Hamas, the latest example of Palestinians' propensity for self-destructive choices. Some form of Israeli military response is completely understandable and justifiable.

That is why we need an international police force to patrol southern Lebanon, disarm Hezbollah, and keep Israel in its borders.

Israel's far greater military power, and its ability to inflict far greater harm -- no jiggering the numbers can hide the fact that Lebanese civilians are dying at roughly 10 times the rate of Israelis -- bring greater responsibility, no matter what the other guys do.

No religious or political tradition worthy of the name justifies burning children to death in the hopes of "taking out" a rocket launcher. Doing everything possible to avoid killing civilians (using antipersonnel bombs fails the test) is not only the right thing to do -- it makes long-term strategic sense, as fewer surviving children will grow up swearing vengeance.

Nor should the fact that the Israeli public seems unusually united in favor of the current offensive silence those of us who want the killing to stop now. Most Americans supported the hopeless, pointless and reckless war in Vietnam -- which killed far more civilians than soldiers of any kind -- until its last years, but the war's critics were right from the beginning.

In that spirit, I hope Jews and non-Jews alike will reject the pall over debate about Israel and speak their minds, breaking through their fear of being labeled "self-hating" or "anti-Semitic" by so-called "friends of Israel." Israel needs friends who support its security and tell the truth, not sycophants putting out lawn signs.

I wish Jewish congregations would direct as much energy as they have lately expended on the distant, complicated killing fields in Darfur (dare I say a "safer" issue?) toward the far easier task of getting their own government to make real peace in the Middle East by ceasing its blanket support for the Israeli government and military.

In the meantime, what Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice calls a "new Middle East" is being baptized in the blood of civilians. Not on my watch.

Warren Goldstein, a former Summer fellow of the University of Minnesota Humanities Institute, chairs the history department at the University of Hartford.

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