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September 3, 2004

Right on Settlements

The August 27 editorial about the Bush administration’s questionable approach to Israeli settlement expansion was absolutely correct (“Bush and the Settlements”). The president’s blessing of settlement growth in the Palestinian territories is more than just poorly timed, it’s also substantively incorrect. The expanding settlement movement is not in Israel’s interests — it harms the possibility of Israel ever reaching a viable peace agreement with the Palestinians, drains Israeli economic and security resources, and calls into question Israel’s commitment to the road map. President Bush is doing Israel no favors in either explicitly or implicitly allowing it to continue to expand settlements and deepen its entanglement with the Palestinian population in the West Bank.

Lewis Roth

Assistant Executive Director

Americans for Peace Now

Washington, D.C.

Enter ‘Passion’ for Oscar

Opinion writer Kevin Doyle suggests that Mel Gibson withdraw “The Passion of the Christ” from Oscar consideration to preempt a new round of acrimony (“And the Oscar Doesn’t Go To…”, August 27). Doyle rightly points out the many ways in which the film itself is its own refutation of charges that it is antisemitic. But to suggest that the film will “win a rehearing” if Gibson withdraws it is Pollyannaish. Most of those who condemned the film did so sight unseen and did not change their criticism much after seeing it; it is hard to imagine them giving it a rehearing, let along changing their minds.

Furthermore, withdrawing the film would only be viewed as a concession to its harshest critics. Could anyone ask that Michael Moore’s controversial “Fahrenheit 9/11” be withdrawn from Oscar consideration without being accused of censorship or partisanship? Probably not. The same goes for “The Passion.”

Joseph De Feo

Associate Director of Communications

Catholic League for Religious and Civil Rights

New York, N.Y.

In his well-written August 27 opinion article, Kevin Doyle, whose moral purpose is unquestionable, argues that Mel Gibson should withdraw “The Passion of the Christ” from Oscar consideration for the sake of interfaith peace. By so doing, Doyle says, Gibson will give “witness to three truths that he and every other serious Catholic must cherish.”

How Gibson — whose bottomless pockets are now stuffed with “Passion” money and will likely be further stuffed from the sale of millions of “Passion” DVDs — can be a picture of detachment while turning the other cheek, and thus acknowledge an imagined “theological debt to Judaism,” is hard to grasp. Indeed, for Gibson to do so for those reasons would be the ultimate in hypocrisy in the eyes of the many who believe the “Passion” to have been a wounding of Jews, a wounding so foreseeable and so unjustified by any reason — except the corrupt one of money.

Though I am neither Christian nor Jew, and at best can claim to be a shabbes goy who retired at the age of 12, there is for me a supervening principle of conduct in matters of belief, well expressed in a Yiddish proverb that somehow worked itself into my memory: “Better to die upright than to live on your knees.”

Better for Gibson to enter the hell he has righteously created and there stand upright for judgment. Better to live that way than to play with triumphant fantasies of turning one’s cheek in the presence of those whom one has wounded, of pretending to a detachment from money while drowning in it, and of desiring the avoidance of inter-religious frictions while inflaming the many who will buy those millions of DVDs.

Harry Reynolds

Scarsdale, N.Y.

Story of Hope in Hebron

The Forward appropriately recalls the horrifying events in Hebron 75 years ago (“Remembering the Hebron Riots, 1929,” August 20). But through choice of language and through omission, the Forward perpetuates a reading of the riots by which we Jews have long distorted our memory of Hebron — and therefore our outlook on Jewish-Arab coexistence in the Land of Israel.

The crimes against the Jews of Hebron were ghastly. Yet, as author Tom Segev documents in his meticulous history, “One Palestine, Complete,” this was no pogrom, no government-manipulated attack. Ineffectual though they were, the British Palestinian authorities did what they could to protect Hebron’s Jewish population.

But it wasn’t just the British. The Forward, like so many, neglects to report the astonishing way in which more than two-thirds of Hebron’s Jews survived: They were sheltered by their Arab neighbors. Segev cites evidence from the Zionist Archives that 435 Hebron Jews were protected in 28 Arab homes. “Jewish history,” he notes, “records very few cases of a mass rescue of this dimension.”

Of course we must never forget. But the Hebron riots are a story of hope, as much as they were one more nightmare for the Jews.

Russell Miller

New York, N.Y.

Justice by Just Means

No one is better at defining the ethical and moral issues of war than Michael Walzer, and he is right to say that these issues can never be fully resolved (“To War or Not To War,” August 13). Nonetheless I would like to suggest a way in which the questions of warmaking, and its causes, conduct and aftermath, could be expanded.

Jewish law does not know about “just wars.” Obligatory wars are pretty much confined to wars of defense, in the case where invasion or attack is imminent or has already taken place. All other wars are at the discretion of the ruling power with the consent of a legislature. In other words, almost all wars are regarded as being conducted for reasons of state. The question of justice is not a factor in deciding to make war. One can only ask whether a war is necessary.

Let’s face it, most wars are fought for political reasons. The reasons almost always involve a benefit to the state or to economic interests in that state. War is very profitable for some. That young men, and now women as well, are sent to kill and die for political advantage or profit for those who send them is an ancient and ongoing reality.

In considering the evils of tyranny, genocide and civil war, the calculation is always made on the efficacy of military action — and only military action. I think it was George Bernard Shaw who wrote that in the art of peace humanity shows all the intelligence of a starving dog, while in the art of war we show our greatest vigor and creativity. There are peace activists in every part of the world who stand up to the evils in their societies. Sometimes they succeed where men with guns cannot. Consider the cases of the Philippines, Poland, Chile, Czechoslovakia and even the Soviet Union, among others.

Walzer writes about the need for occupations and trusteeships to win the peace. This was the logic of European colonialism, especially in the form it took during the 20th century. The results have included the genocide in Rwanda, as well as the conflicts throughout the Middle East. Also, we should not forget that it was American foreign policy that created and armed such tyrants as the Shah of Iran, Somoza, Noriega and Saddam Hussein. They were supported as anti-communists and given the best we could provide in arms and training. We had a hand in creating the monstrous regimes that created the instability and radicalism throughout the world. We have often found ourselves fighting against forces we trained and supplied.

Afghanistan is in chaos and Iraq is a quagmire. The claim that we have made the lives of people in those countries better is mostly spin. In the end, both states will probably revert to tyranny, if they aren’t doing so already.

It should be much harder to justify wars than it is in practice. Justice and peace cannot come from the barrel of a gun, except in comic books and action movies. In the real world, justice can only be pursued by just means and peace can only be won by peaceful means.

Rabbi Philip Bentley

Honorary President

Jewish Peace Fellowship

Chicago, Ill.

Golden Gal a True Hero

I was thrilled by windsurfer Gal Fridman’s triumph in bringing home Israel’s first Olympic gold medal (“Windsurfer Strikes Gold For Israel,” August 27). To hear Hatikvah played in Athens is not only an immense source of pride for Israelis who have grown accustomed to making headlines for tragic news, it is inspiring to Jews around the world. If you remember, the last time Israeli Olympic athletes grabbed the headlines was when 11 of the country’s top competitors were massacred by the PLO simply because they hailed from the Jewish homeland in Munich in 1972.

As national president of Women’s American ORT, I was particularly heartened to learn that Fridman is a 1993 graduate of ORT HaShomron High School in Binyamina, where his passion for the sea was well known. His math teacher, Sonia Gram, jokingly admitted that he did sometimes arrive late for lessons when there were good waves.

On his return to Israel, Fridman said he planned to stop at the memorial in Tel Aviv for the 11 Israeli athletes murdered by the PLO. Despite winning the top honor an athlete can dream of, Fridman, like all Israelis, also dreams of a better future, a future of peace. The international games are certainly a wonderful arena at which to start.

Judy Menikoff

National President

Women’s American ORT

New York, N.Y.

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