March 21, 2008

Knesset Was Right To Enact Smoking Ban

According to Israeli government statistics, smoking is responsible for 1,800 deaths in Israel every year (“Israelis Fume Over Smoking Ban on Army Bases,” February 29/March 7). That number far exceeds the 1,200 deaths claimed by terrorist attacks since the outbreak of first intifada.

To stem the epidemic of death and disease caused by smoking, Israel — along with 151 other countries — signed and ratified the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control, the first treaty negotiated under the auspices of the World Health Organization. Among the key provisions of the treaty are a ban on advertising and promotion of tobacco products, a requirement for health warnings covering at least 30% of a cigarette package, and the protection of nonsmokers from secondhand smoke.

Secondhand smoke contains thousands of chemicals, many of which — carbon monoxide and hydrogen cyanide among them — are well-known cellular poisons, while others are benzene derivatives that are known to cause cancer. States such as New York and California and countries including Ireland and Great Britain have already gone smoke-free. They are beginning to reap the benefits of a reduction in the prevalence of smoking: fewer heart attacks and fewer childhood respiratory infections caused by secondhand smoke.

Israelis, too, deserve to be freed from the tragic consequences of smoking. The Knesset was right to enact tough laws that protect the nonsmoker from secondhand smoke and that encourage the smoker to quit.

Sure, the anti-smoking brigade has a point. Cigarettes are an unhealthy habit and can be addictive. But smoking does have benefits — especially in the fraught business of defending the country.

When you are away from home, tense and frightened, there is nothing quite as comforting as a cigarette. Don’t ask me why. I don’t know. The fact is that it works.

There were times during my time with the Israeli military in Lebanon that cigarettes were the only comfort available. So don’t stop the smoking culture in the army. Sometimes that absurd habit of puffing on a little tube of paper and tobacco can keep a fighting man sane.

By the way, the assertion by anti-smoking activist Ruth Shekedi that those who smoke in the army continue to smoke afterward is not necessarily true. The only time I smoked was during reserve duty. As soon as I got home, I stopped.

Fight Anti-Catholicism

As someone who has written about and generally supported the growth of evangelical-Jewish relations, I am deeply troubled by Abraham Foxman’s dismissal of Pastor John Hagee’s anti-Catholicism on the grounds that it “is not a Jewish issue” (“Evangelical’s Endorsement Spurs Debate,” March 14).

Foxman rejects any analogy between Louis Farrakhan’s expression of contempt for Judaism and Hagee’s expression of contempt for Catholicism, effectively arguing that while Jews ought to be concerned about Farrakhan and about any political figure who passes through his orbit, however tangentially, we need not be concerned about Hagee and his political sorties. Is this really the best we can do? Since when are overt expressions of religious contempt — which insult our friends, neighbors and decades-long dialogue partners — not of concern to us? Jews owe their Catholic colleagues something more than Foxman’s narrow expression of identity politics.

If Hagee is truly our ally, then we ought to speak honestly with him about his anachronistic and bigoted anti-Catholicism. Much of the evangelical world is embarrassed by such Jurassic-era comments. Evangelicals have moved beyond such theological invective.

Hagee jeopardizes his own status as an evangelical leader, particularly for younger evangelicals, by holding such views. He also jeopardizes his relationship with the Jewish community by reinforcing harsh, and for the most part outdated, stereotypes of evangelicals.

It is in no one’s interest — not Hagee’s, not the Catholics’, not the Jews’ — to be complacent about the teaching of contempt.

The writer is the editor of “Uneasy Allies?: Evangelical-Jewish Relations” (Lexington Books).

Hagee Does Right by Us

Opinion columnist Leonard Fein accuses Pastor John Hagee of being too politically partisan (“Why Do We Fawn Upon John Hagee,” February 29/March 7). In protesting partisanship, I believe that Fein doth protest too much.

Fein describes Jewish support for Hagee as pathetic fawning. Well, I and Jewish leaders from across this country call our support by another name: “hakarat hatov.” This is the mitzvah that obligates us to recognize when someone does right by us.

There are no preconditions on this mitzvah. We are not instructed to recognize the good done for us only if we are in complete political and theological agreement with our benefactor. Fein is perfectly free to withhold his embrace from the good pastor. But to accuse those who disagree with him of fawning is an ugly escalation of what should be a mature discussion.

Lastly, Fein correctly notes that Christians United for Israel is opposed to American pressure on Israel to make territorial concessions. CUFI believes that such existential choices must be made by the Israelis themselves, free from any external pressure.

Fein’s critique of our position can only mean that he advocates such external pressure. It thus appears that Fein believes he knows what is best not only for America’s Jews, but for Israel’s Jews as well. With deep respect for Israel’s democracy and her citizen soldiers, I must dissent from his presumption.

The views and opinions expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect those of the Forward.

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March 21, 2008

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