Iraq War Not Just Means to Just End
Two profound teachings of Jewish tradition should be guiding
the actions of Jews today in regard to Iraq.
The first is, “Tzedek, tzedek, tirdof,” or “Justice,
justice, shall you pursue.” The ancient rabbis asked, “Why ‘justice’ twice?
They answered: “Seek just ends by just means; seek justice
for ourselves, justice for all others.”
Certainly it is a just goal to make certain that Iraq has no
weapons of mass destruction and cannot pour death upon Israel or the rest of
But war against Iraq is not the just means of accomplishing
this just end. Instead, it is likely to endanger many Iraqi, American, Israeli
and other lives. It is also likely to endanger Israel — bring on, as U.S.
intelligence experts have confirmed, the sharpest danger of a last-ditch
chemical-biological attack upon the people of Israel — and endanger the
moderate Arab governments that have made peace with Israel.
A war will also take hundreds of billions of dollars from America’s
own people — from health care for our seniors, schools for our children,
healing for the earth. An attack on Iraq will increase the unaccountable power
of the oil companies and regimes that have provided money to both the Al Qaeda
terrorists and the Bush administration, that have corrupted American politics
and robbed American stockholders, that befoul the seas and scorch the earth.
It will also worsen already deeply wounded human rights and
civil liberties, not only for Arabs and Muslims in America, but even for
Persian Jewish immigrants, who were recently rounded up along with Muslims, and
increase the use of torture of prisoners held overseas by the CIA, as it was
reported recently by The Washington Post.
So in good Jewish fashion, what is the practical alternative
to war? What would “just means” be?
American Jews could:
Support the Franco-German plan to intensify and prolong
the U.N. inspection regime in Iraq, for months or years if necessary, while a
totally different American and world approach to Iraq, the Middle East and
Islam takes hold.
Encourage a multilateral “Marshall Plan” for massive
relief and rebuilding in Iraq before war, not waiting until afterward, when
there will be hundreds of thousands more dead, perhaps millions more refugees
than are already suffering and dying under the misapplied sanctions.
The world Jewish, Christian and Muslim communities; the
European Union; and many nongovernmental organizations should supply food,
medicines and clothing to desperate Iraqis — and do this actually on the
ground, to make sure both that the effort does not just feed the ruling
dictatorship and that it is not just used as a tool by the United States or
other hostile powers.
Urge a worldwide treaty to eliminate weapons of mass
destruction held by all nations.
Urge the United States to insist on all-Arab peace treaties
with Israel, plus a peace settlement between a secure Israel and a viable
Call a world conference of religious leaders to face and
end the use of traditional texts and contemporary fears to justify violence
against other religions, like the effort in some Christian communities during
the past generation to eliminate anti-Semitic interpretations of Christianity.
Urge the United States to join the International Criminal
Court and broaden its jurisdiction to include international terrorism, as well
as governmental war crimes.
Urge the United States to adhere to the Kyoto treaties and
begin an all-out effort to conserve energy and bring renewable energy sources
on line, minimizing use of oil and coal.
These specifics are strands in a larger weave of planetary
community, and we need to be imagining that weave in all its wholeness. Then we
can choose what aspects of this future we can begin to embody in the present.
The second crucial Jewish teaching for this hour comes from
Psalm 34: “Bakeysh shalom radfeyhu,” or “seek peace and pursue it.” Again, the
rabbis asked, “Why both ‘seek’ and ‘pursue?'”
They answered: Most mitzvot can be done by sitting (to eat)
or standing (to pray) or even walking (to converse). But for the sake of peace,
we must not only seek it, but if it is running away, we must chase after it.
Most of the official American Jewish leadership has sat
paralyzed, while peace runs away from us all. They should join those
peace-seekers of the anti-war movement who take Jewish concerns seriously.
To do this, the mainstream Jewish community should learn to
distinguish between anti-Israel and “pro-Israel-pro-peace” strands of the
The United for Peace & Justice coalition, which
sponsored the New York rally on Feb. 15, is in the second strand of antiwar
energy. Its first Jewish member was The Shalom Center. Since then, Tikkun, New
York’s Jews for Racial and Economic Justice, and various smaller local groups
Mainstream Jewish groups should support the efforts of such
affirmatively Jewish antiwar groups, and should be making sure that their own
staff and leaders get to meet and talk with the Jewish anti-war organizers.
But this is only “seeking” peace. To “pursue” it as well,
the larger liberal and progressive parts of the mainstream Jewish community
should join such natural allies as the National Council of Churches, Sojourners
magazine, the NAACP and the Sierra Club, which have already formed a third
antiwar coalition: Win Without War.
For Jews like the Reform movement and the Jewish Community
Relations Committee/Jewish Council for Public Affairs network to be absent from
this table not only betrays Jewish values and interests but also fails to
represent Jewish concerns, when some of the most important American public
groups are creating a new center of moral and political energy.
It is as if mainstream Jewish organizations had refused to
take part in the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights in the 1950s and 1960s,
because some black groups were anti-Semitic.
During the late 1960s and early 1970s, the havurot,
progressive Jewish political groups, Jewish feminists and neo-Chasidic
teachers, like Rabbis Abraham Joshua Heschel, Shlomo Carlebach and Zalman
Schachter-Shalomi seeded change that sprouted in the mainstream Jewish
community during the 1990s.
In much the same way, anti-war Jews today are seeding change
that mainstream Jewry needs to learn from. As we now face the dangers to
humanity and earth from reckless, unaccountable economic greed and reckless,
unaccountable military power, they are drawing on and appealing to Jewish
These values are not just empty rhetoric. They are embodied
in the practical needs of Jews who are suffering from environmentally caused
cancer and asthma, from overwork to the point of emotional and spiritual
exhaustion, from robbery of their pensions by Enronic pirates, from health care
diminished and schooling worsened to pay for war, from bottom-line downsizing —
even of academic, professional and high-tech jobs — from attacks on their
privacy and civil liberties and perhaps even from death as victims of terrorism
in an endless war that could have been averted.
Only at deep peril to itself will mainstream Jewry fail to
hear these prophetic voices.
Rabbi Arthur Waskow is director of The Shalom Center. He is the author of “Godwrestling — Round 2” and co-author of “A Time for Every Purpose Under Heaven.”