Monday, July 30, 2007

It's NOT The Occupation, Stupid

Those who follow the adventures and misstatements of anti-Israel prattlers such as Norman Finkelstein, Jewish Voice for Peace and Bay Area Women in Black are familiar with their argument that the Palestinian failure to develop any type of actual civil society (as opposed to the kleptocracy and the rule of armed gangs that began as soon as the Palestinians fell under the dominion of Yassir Arafat, or the neo-Taliban emerging in Gaza) is all because of the occupation, and not any fault of the Palestinians, and certainly not that of their fellow Arabs (who, one assumes, were gently nurturing the development of political institutions in the West Bank and Gaza during the 19 years of illegal occupation by Jordan and Egypt, respectively). Therefore, of course, there can't be any realistic requirement on the part of Palestinian "leaders" to eliminate the terrorist infrastructure, or end incitement, or to do ANYTHING to help bring about peace. All the demands are directed at Israel.

There's an excellent op-ed by Shlomo Avineri in the July 28 Ha'aretz that reminds readers of a very simple fact:

"The current Palestinian excuse is that it is difficult to establish coherent political institutions in conditions of territorial fragmentation, refugees and Israeli occupation. All this is true, but irrelevant. Every national movement emerges in difficult conditions, which usually have to do with being under foreign rule. It is hard to imagine more difficult conditions than those that faced the Jewish Yishuv in Palestine in the 1930s and '40s, with the rise of the Nazis, abandonment on the part of Britain, the horrors of World War II and the Holocaust."

Of course, no other national movement (at least in modern times) has made it an essential part of its program the elimination of another country, the national movement of a different people. The Irish didn't require the dismantlement of England, the Eritreans didn't insist on the destruction of Ethiopia, and so on. But for too many Palestinians, the goal of destroying Israel has taken precedence over creating a Palestinian state.

Fortunately, even in the Arab media there are more voices being raised questioning the repeated refusal of the Palestinians to assume any responsibility for their own futures. Maybe once they realize that even their fellow Arabs are disgusted with their failure as a society, the Palestinians will be able to recognize that they will have to give up their dream of Israel's destruction before they can create a future for their own people. Unfortunately, it doesn't look like Farfur the Martyr Mouse and Nahool the Jihad Bee are too interested in teaching the next generation of Palestinian children about civic values.

It’s Not My Problem; Putting America First

Posted by Lawrence W. White MD

In the time leading up to Pearl Harbor, the large and influential America First movement, led by Charles Lindberg, and an assortment of anti-Jewish figures, isolationist Republicans, and figures from both the right and the left, including Norman Thomas, Gore Vidal, Potter Stewart and Walt Disney, declared that hostilities in some far-off place were none of our business, and certainly not worth the loss of American life. The underlying assumption, never stated, was that American lives were worth more than the lives of those affected by the onslaught of aggressive war by the Axis powers. Thus the lives of the Chinese in Nanking, the Poles in Warsaw, the Dutch in Rotterdam, the Brits in London, and of course the Jews all over Europe, were not worth risking American lives to save. The movement ended less than two years after it started with the Japanese attack on Hawaii.

What have we learned since then? The expression "Never Again" has a worthy pedigree. It was coined by Rabbi Meir Kahane and referred to the Shoah. It has also been used to refer to the Armenian Genocide and to the nuclear attacks on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. And of course, many Israelis quote this expression in their determination to avoid reliance for their security on any other power

Yet we have really learned nothing. Since the time of "America First", we have avoided intervening against the most egregious instances of genocide. Are American lives really more important than those of Bosnian Muslims, or the Tutsis of Rwanda, or the Czechs or Hungarians revolting against tyranny during the Cold War, or those we abandoned in Viet Nam in 1975, or the Cambodians murdered on the killing fields, or the Shiites who rebelled against Saddam Hussein during the first Gulf War?

With all these other instances, it may be comforting to know that the abandonment of the Jews during the Nazi period was not personal. As they say in the Mafia, it was just business. It was simply part of the general approach to "realpolitik" foreign policy, in which our involvement is dictated by (and only by) our own narrow interest, without regard to morality or legality. Yet, as Jews, we are acutely aware of what it means to be on the wrong side of “Its not my problem”.

I take no position on American involvement in Iraq. Yet I am troubled by the consequences of a pull-out and what that means for those left behind. Recently the AP reported that “Presidential hopeful Barack Obama said Thursday the United States cannot use it’s military to solve humanitarian problems and that preventing a potential genocide in Iraq isn't a good enough reason to keep U.S. forces there.” Why am I uncomfortable with this? Could it have something to do with the memory of an earlier time when the prevention of genocide against Jews in Europe was not considered “a good enough reason” to commit American power?

While Senator Obama’s plea for non-involvement is generally considered to be a legitimate point of view, it is troubling in its implication that American lives are more valuable than the lives of non-Americans. Is this really the sort of foreign policy that we want? Fortunately, we have had examples of doing otherwise. President Clinton, who failed to intervene in Rwanda, did in fact intervene in Kosovo.

Many Americans decry the ongoing murder of black Africans in Darfur by the Arab government ruling Sudan. The Sudan, a totalitarian fundamentalist Muslim state that permits slavery, is engaged in supporting genocide against blacks in Darfur. We all insist (rightly in my opinion) that more be done to stop the genocide. The UN, for all the usual reasons, will not do anything. Would these same Americans who call for more action in Darfur, Americans who are unquestionably humanitarian, support the only measure that could make a difference? I am speaking of a military attack by American soldiers on the Junjaweed killers, the Arab militias supported by the government who have slaughtered hundreds of thousands of Black Africans. And would such support continue after the first Americans to be killed return in flag-draped coffins?

A minority of Americans believe that our involvement in Iraq is beneficial to the citizens of that beleagured country, perhaps preventing a genocidal war at the expense of American lives. The jury is still out as to the best course to follow in Iraq. But anyone who truly believes in "Never Again" must ask whether or not this applies to the citizens of Iraq who face disaster in the wake of an American pull-out. The larger question is whether Iraq is another Viet Nam from which we must extricate ourselves. Or is it another Munich, in which surrender will embolden our adversaries, and increase the chances that we will still have to fight a larger war, as we eventually fought against Hitler.

We are also faced with the stated intent to commit a second Holocaust. The President of Iran, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, presents a genocidal double whammy. He promises the destruction of Israel, and is feverishly working toward nuclear weapons capability. The US has the ability to destroy the Iranian nuclear production facilities, but once again, the voices of “realpolitik” urge restraint. Will America stop Ahmadinejad, or this again an instance of “it’s not my problem”?

It seems that supporters of "realpolitik" do not believe in "Never Again". For these people, "Never Again" is a slogan of those who don’t understand what a realistic foreign policy looks like. So do we ever really learn from history, or is each generation "doomed to repeat" the tragic lessons of the past? Except this time, the nuclear-tipped lesson may be more swift and lethal, not permitting time to correct our errors of judgment.

Our choices are not simply between war and peace. In 1938, Winston Churchill, in responding to Neville Chamberlain’s appeasement of Hitler at Munich, told the English Parliament “You have been given the choice between war and dishonor. You have chosen dishonor, and you will have war!” As Churchill might have said today, if in our eagerness for peace, we consider the mass murder of Israeli or Iraqi citizens to be “not our problem”, we will surely end up with war, and it will become very much our problem.

Saturday, July 21, 2007

Liberal Zionism and Radical Islam

Rabbi David Forman, the founder of Rabbis for Human Rights, has written a thoughtful commentary in the Jerusalem Post which reveals the extent to which radical Islam has forced the Zionist left to reconsider its entire worldview. Of course, we have all seen how the jihadists promote their hate virtually without condemnation from the left in the US and in Europe (except when there is an ACTUAL terror incident; incitement to terror doesn't seem to worry them). Obviously, the Zionist left has a somewhat different agenda than their counterparts elsewhere. But as Rabbi Forman shows, even their idealism and pursuit of justice has now run headlong into the complete refusal of radical Islamists to accept the existence of Jews (and not just in Israel, but ANYWHERE). Given that circumstance, he notes ".... we must carefully weigh the possible consequences of our rhetoric and activities......Painful memories of our history, presently reflected in the mirror of a dangerous new reality, compel us to examine and reexamine, evaluate and reevaluate our deeply held principles - even as we resolutely cling to our ideals, steadfastly advancing a social agenda that impels Israel to be a 'light unto the nations.'" Many of us reached the same conclusion after the events of September 2000; well, better late than never.

As a liberal American Zionist, I also deal with the dichotomy between my liberalism and my Zionism. I support much of the social agenda promoted by the same Protestant denominations that entertain discussions of boycotting Israel; I abhor the strident opposition to choice and to gay rights from the same evangelical Christians whose financial and moral support of Israel I deeply appreciate (even if I don't agree with their more right-wing positions on the conflict). However, as Rabbi Forman also points out, staying alive is a pretty important priority on the agenda as well. And if anyone who thinks that radical Islam would be satisfied with (merely) the elimination of the Jewish state is the intellectual heir of Neville Chamberlain.

Perhaps Rabbi Forman's piece will help the Zionist leftists in this country realize that they cannot on the one hand work to build a just society within Israel, yet on the other continue to be involved with groups like Jewish Voice for Peace (and, at least in our area, Women in Black) who fundamentally oppose Israel's very existence as a Jewish state. Perhaps Rabbis for Human Rights won't co-sponsor events with JVP and Bay Area Women in Black, as they did earlier this year in Berkeley.

After all, the first basic human right is the right to life. And the forces of radical Islam surrounding Israel refuse to accept even that for the Jews. Indeed, it is well past time for those who do support Israel to heed Forman's words, and to actively challenge those, especially those in the Jewish community, who don't.