Two people wearing Israeli flags are told to leave by a protest organizer during a pro-Palestinian demonstration against Israel's military action in the Gaza Strip, in Ottawa (Photo by Reuters)

The All the Rivers exchange, part 3: On tribalism


Dorit Rabinyan was born in Kefar-Saba, Israel and wrote her first novel, Persian Brides, at age twenty one. An award-winning international bestseller translated into ten languages, Persian Brides established her as the voice of a new generation in Israel. Rabinyan won the Israeli Film Academy Award for best television drama of 1997 for Shuli’s Fiancé, and the Eshkol Prize for her second novel, Strand of a Thousand Pearls. She lives in Tel Aviv.

This exchange focuses on Rabinyan’s book All the Rivers (Random House, 2017), a controversial novel that tells the story of an affair between an Israeli woman and a Palestinian man. Parts one and two can be found here and here.

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Dear Dorit,

Your previous response mentioned the “suffocating sack of multitude…” in a way that doesn’t quite clarify if you see such suffocation negatively or positively. You tend to use passive language: “We are programmed”, “We prove loyalty to our tribe by…”. Well, should we strive to change this? Should we attempt to escape this programmed tribal affiliation?

Of course, this question goes back to the core of your book, and also to the question raised by its Israeli opponents (many of them, it should be said, did not bother to read it first). Put simplistically: do you approve of interfaith, intertribal, and international romantic relations? Or maybe you surrender to a programmed culture that views such relations negatively?

***

Dear Shmuel,

I’ll answer your question in two parts, starting with the tribal affiliation question:

Not only am I not alienated from our tribal feelings as Israelis and Jews – in the love story between Liat and Hilmi I actually give expression to these forces. The forces that shape our desires and fears – and form the nature of the most personal decisions we do or don’t make – are, in fact, the subject at the heart of the novel: the books asks to what extent a person is nothing but the image of his native landscape or, if you like, the image of a conflict tearing his native land apart. Maybe it was the telescopic view from New York – this distance and estrangement that exile enables – through which the tribal code of Israeliness felt especially transparent and harsh while writing the book. This Jewish-Arab intimacy – which undermines the Jewish command to not mix with goyim and which runs again the Zionist command to remain separate in the Middle Eastern space – actually gives special validity to the strong pulse of our community’s isolationist DNA. These tribal forces are active in Hilmi as well, and at the moment of truth he does turn his back on Liat and show his loyalty to the Palestinan collective; but in Liat’s case it seems that the collective instinct ingrained in her is stronger than her free will and that this is due to deep historical education and heritage.

I think that the conclusion that arises from the novel is that the tribal feeling is almost a force of nature. Even when we think that we are free of it, that we are independent individuals, masters of our own destiny; even when we would like to believe that we have crossed oceans and escaped the land we were raised in and that we are far away from the group that programmed our identity and loyalty to fit its own needs; even then we will see how strong this pulse, for better and worse, beats in our subconscious. This goes for our excellent humanistic values as well as for our racist consciousness, stereotypes, and anxieties. Not only do I not think that the tribal instinct is bad – through Liat and Hilmi I reflect how natural, human, and organic to their national identity it is.  Moreover, I believe that the liberal ethos whose crisis the world is currently witnessing – with the rise of Trump, Brexit, etc’ – is a reaction to the contempt that liberalism has showed toward the deep need for, and the solace found in, tribalism. Human beings need boundaries like other animals need it: a framework that gives order to the place you belong to, that delineates your sense of home. Nationhood is not at all foul in my view;  it is the nationalists who use this deep feeling – and the need for acceptance, for self-definition – that give it a bad name.

Now to the question regarding my approval of intertribal relations:

My immediate response? Every man or woman need to do what seems right to them. You didn’t expect me to answer this question with a “yes, I’m in favor” or a “no, I’m against,” right? While there is a stinking political scandal linked to me and my novel, I’m still a writer and not a politician. What interests me is the world of the soul, the complexity, the emotional dilemma, the endless shades between the black and the white.

That being said, since we already mentioned the scandal, I’ll tell you something curious – In the early days of 2016, when Israeli public discourse was feverishly obsessed with Borderlife and with the reasons given by the pedagogical committee that banned it from the school curriculum, the news desk of the IDF radio [one of Israel’s largest radio stations] asked Israel’s Central Bureau of Statistics  for data on the magnitude of the phenomenon of interfaith Jewish-Arab marriage. They wanted to examine the immediacy and severity of the “threat of assimilation” that my book –Which was accused of “encouraging teenagers to engage in romantic relations between Jews and non-Jews” and “threatening separate identity” (quotes from the notorious education ministry report) – was associated with. Do you have any guess what the number was? Well, in the last twenty years there was an annual average of 18 Jewish-Arab couples who registered to get married or to receive ‘known in public’ status. I think that this negligible number shows how utterly ridiculous the whole affair surrounding the banning of the book actually was. I believe that this statistic is enough to show us how far the tribal code ingrained in Liat’s soul – the isolationist mentality pre-programmed in her by the Israeli-Zionist education system – is from being threatened by any work of art. An Israeli-Palestinian love story – beautiful, gentle, and moving as it may be – and Hebrew literature in general cannot change the demographic balance between the Jordan river and the sea, and not even within the 67 borders.

 

 

Poland proposes to jail users of term ‘Polish death camps’


The Polish government proposed a bill that would make the use of terms like “Polish death camps” a crime punishable by jail time.

The bill, which the government put forward Tuesday, would prohibit assigning blame to Poland for the actions of Nazi Germany. Historians and artists would be exempt in their work.

Drafted by the Justice Ministry, the measure also would criminalize accusing Poland of international war crimes or crimes against peace or humanity. The punishment would be a fine or up to three years in jail.

“Diplomatic actions to counteract the falsification of our history and protect the good name of Poland and the Polish people have proved ineffective,” the government said in a statement Tuesday. “There are still comments, especially in the foreign media, suggesting the participation of Poland and Poles in the crimes of World War II.”

Anti-Russian sentiment is fueling a nationalist revival in Poland, where some historians, politicians and activists are engaged in a campaign to absolve their countrymen of any wrongdoing during World War II and the Holocaust, which at time shades into revisionist history. In March, the Auschwitz-Birkenau State Museum created software that lets journalists know when they have used the offending term “Polish death camp” and corrects it to read “Nazi death camp in Poland.”

Officials of the Law and Justice Party, which rose to power last year, have honored Poles who saved their Jewish neighbors during the Holocaust. But historians who have looked into Polish complicity have been branded traitors by far-right activists.

Jan Gross, a Polish-American historian who wrote about the slaying of Jews by Poles in Jedwabne in 1941, is the subject of a criminal investigation in Poland opened earlier this year for “insulting the Polish nation.” Gross wrote that Poles killed more Jews during the Holocaust than they did Germans.

In Japan, the Holocaust provides a lesson in dangers of nationalism


In the auditorium of this country’s main Holocaust education center, a teenage actor explains the dilemma that faced a Japanese diplomat during World War II.

“My conscience tells me I must act a certain way, but doing so means defying my commanders,” says the actor portraying Chiune Sugihara, the Empire of Japan’s wartime vice consul in Lithuania. In 1940, Sugihara rescued 6,000 people by granting them transit visas to Japan in defiance of Tokyo’s orders. Some of them survived the war.

To Western ears, the play’s message of placing independent thought above blind obedience may seem banal. But in an increasingly militaristic Japan, Sugihara’s story is instructive — a tool for sensitizing children to the dangers of nationalism not only in Europe, but also in Japan.

“It’s a bold position to take in a society that has remained ultra-conservative and extremely hierarchical,” said Alain Lewkowicz, a French Jewish journalist who has studied Japanese society’s attitudes toward the Holocaust.

Since it opened in 1995, the Fukuyama Holocaust Education Center — situated just outside Fukuyama and about 60 miles from Hiroshima, the site of an atomic bomb in 1945 — has welcomed tens of thousands of Japanese schoolchildren. Founded by Beit Shalom, a Kyoto-based Christian pro-Israel organization, the center relocated in 2007 to a larger, donor-funded 20,000-square-foot facility.

(Beit Shalom’s theater troupe’s is now preparing for its first international tour in nine years. The group, which will perform in the United States this spring, is composed of 20 Japanese girls who sing in Yiddish and Hebrew about such themes as life in wartime Jewish ghettos.)

At the heart of the building is a Holocaust museum with a display about the buildup of hate against Jews in Germany and replicas of the infamous Arbeit Macht Frei sign at the Auschwitz gate. The center also features a replica of the Amsterdam room inside the annex where Anne Frank hid from the Nazis, as well as objects that belonged to her family. The garden is home to a statue of the teenage diarist and a sapling that is actually a cutting from the tree that once grew outside the building where the Frank family hid.

While Anne Frank is well known in Japan, the strong alliance and similarities that connected the island nation to Nazi Germany — during World War II, Japan, Germany and Italy made up the Axis alliance — are rarely taught in schools here. Similarly, speaking about Japanese war crimes of the 1930s and ’40s — including mass murder in Nanking, China, and the forced sexual slavery of tens of thousands of Korean women — is largely taboo in a country whose right-wing prime minister, Shinzo Abe, has repeatedly visited a shrine that was built for some of the perpetrators.

Abe’s visits to the Yasukuni shrine remains a major point of contention between Tokyo and the capital cities of Beijing and Seoul. China and Korea have warned Abe not to backtrack on his partial admission to Japan’s wartime atrocities when he delivers a speech later this year on the occasion of the 70th anniversary of the war’s end.

Abe has promised “a departure from the postwar regime” and said he regretted that he had not visited Yasukuni sooner. Meanwhile, he has been expanding Japan’s military capabilities to unprecedented levels after ending in July a ban on operations abroad that had been established soon after World War II ended. His government is also encouraging military recruitment and exploring for the first time in decades the possibility of acquiring offensive weapons.

Against this backdrop, independent NGOs like the Holocaust Education Center are “taking up the educational task that the government is neglecting on purpose because it wants to promote a more nationalistic agenda,” said Naoki Maruyama, a professor of history at Japan’s Meiji Gakuin University.

The passage in 2003 of controversial education reforms that reintroduced such nationalistic elements as obligatory anthem singing, patriotism lessons and the flying of the national flag in schools, he added, suggests that it might be a while before schools tackle any of these divisive issues in a manner comparable to what has been done in postwar Germany.

“We have not given much attention to educating children to think about why the war happened and how to prevent a reoccurrence,” said Makoto Otsuka, a reverend at Beit Shalom and the center’s director. “More than anything else, this is what the Holocaust Education Center tries to do.”

Japanese educators, he added, typically teach about the use by the United States of atomic weapons in Japan to “show how much Japan suffered as the victim,” but have failed to follow the example of Germany, where “it is now required to look back objectively at the facts of history.”

Neither the Holocaust nor Japan’s wartime occupation of Asian countries and human rights abuses against prisoners of war are mandatory subjects in the national history curriculum of schools.

And the Holocaust Education Center here does not deal directly with Japan’s war crimes either, said Akio Yoshida, the museum’s deputy director, citing the “need to focus on that uniqueness of the Holocaust to prevent it from blurring with other events that were war-related, including the actions of Japanese troops in Korea and China, or the atomic bomb.”

Instead, Yoshida said he hopes that teaching the Holocaust in Japan “will expose children to the process of indoctrination that preceded the murders, and leave it to them to make the final conclusion about which path they want their society to take.”

Call for ‘new’ spiritual Zionism stirs debate


Zionism has meant many things to many people over the past century. To Theodor Herzl and the founders of the Zionist movement, it meant creating a national home to gather in the Jewish people — to some minds, as a refuge from anti-Semitism, for others, as a fulfillment of an ancient promise.

To Herzl’s great critic, the essayist Asher Ginsberg, better known as Ahad Ha’am, Zionism meant building a cultural and spiritual center in Israel to enrich the lives of Jews wherever they live.

To David Ben-Gurion and generations of Israelis after him, it meant the act of settling in Israel and building it brick by brick. To millions of Jews around the world, it meant providing material and moral backing for that effort. To Palestinians and other Arabs, it meant assault and dispossession. To much of the outside world, it has come to mean the seed of seemingly endless conflict.

To Avraham Burg, former Knesset speaker, former chairman of the World Zionist Organization and son of one of Israel’s founding fathers, it is all of those things and more. In a new book, “Defeating Hitler,” and in a much-discussed recent interview in Ha’aretz, Burg argues that the time for Herzl’s Zionism is past. Now it is time for Ahad Ha’am’s Zionism, for Israel as a spiritual beacon.

Israel has lived long enough in the shadow of trauma and fear, he argues. Now is the time for trust — trust in Israel’s place in the world, in the possibility of coexistence, in the moral legacy of Judaism.

That, at least, is how Burg describes his message. You’d hardly know it, though, from the Ha’aretz interview and the response it’s gotten in Israel and the broader Jewish world. The interviewer, Ari Shavit, read the book and admits he detested it.

As Shavit reads it, Burg’s book rejects the very notion of a Jewish state, claims that Israel has no moral core and has become a brutal Sparta fast sliding toward Nazism. In the interview, Burg tries gamely to answer Shavit’s objections, to explain what he meant, but Shavit won’t have it. Burg is talking spiritual philosophy, and Shavit is tasting red meat.

They go at each other for 4,500 words (2,800 in the abridged English translation), but the casual reader needn’t wade through it all. Shavit and his editors sum up the main points — abandoning Zionism, rejecting Israel — in the headlines and bold print.

“He did something I’ve never experienced before in journalism,” Burg said in a telephone interview recently. “He read my book and got angry and then sat with me for what was supposed to be an interview and argued with me.”

Reading the interview, after hearing it discussed endlessly online and in synagogues, is an almost psychedelic experience. Shavit starts out by telling Burg that he saw the book as a “farewell to Zionism” and asks, “Are you still a Zionist?”

Burg explains his belief that it’s time to move from Herzl to Ahad Ha’am.

Shavit promptly informs Burg that Zionism “means belief in a Jewish national state” and that he, Burg, no longer believes in that.

Burg: “Not in its current definition. A state in my eyes is a tool,” not a spiritual or religious value. “To define Israel as a Jewish state and then to add the words ‘the first dawning of our redemption'” — a quote from the chief rabbis’ prayer for the State of Israel and the core principle of settler messianism — “is explosive. And to add to that the attempt to embrace democracy, it’s just impossible.”

Shavit: “Then you no longer accept the notion of a Jewish state?”

Burg: “It can’t work.” (The English version, by the way, skips over Burg’s warning about messianism and the state as a tool and cuts straight to “explosive” and “can’t work.”)

I phoned Burg because the interview looked fishy to me. I hadn’t read his new book, but I know Burg.

Is it true, I asked, that he believes Israel can no longer be a Jewish state?

“I think Israel should be defined not as a Jewish state but as a state of the Jewish people,” Burg said.

“What I mean is that the significance of the state’s content, its culture and ethos and so on should be placed on the shoulders of every one of us. We shouldn’t be on automatic pilot. I see Israel as a state that was created by the Jewish people, as the expression of thousands of years of yearning,” he said. “Its governing structures should be democratic. Its content should be created by its people. When you create something called a Jewish state and then leave it on automatic pilot, the individual bears no responsibility for its content and character.”

Burg has harsh words for Israel’s current character. He believes that years of confrontation and fear have spawned a militaristic spirit and a widespread contempt for universal norms like human rights. In one of his most controversial assertions, he compares Israel today to Germany in the years before the Nazi takeover. Shavit hammers him on that one.

Is Shavit exaggerating the point?

“Yes and no,” Burg said. “Not every comparison to Germany means gas chambers. There is a long history to the rise of German nationalism, beginning with Bismarck.”

It’s also true, Burg said, that important elements of Israeli society and culture are drawn from German culture: “From the beginning, Max Nordau and Theodor Herzl were deeply influenced by the awakening of German nationalism.”

Still, he said, “It’s important to recognize that there are some difficult processes under way in Israel. What I’m saying is that we’re living in a society that is becoming more militaristic, and it’s important to pay attention to the process. That means looking at similarities elsewhere.”

Burg, 52, is used to raising eyebrows and stirring outrage, and he seems to get a kick out of it. The son of Yosef Burg, the longtime leader of Israel’s National Religious Party, he gained almost instant notoriety in 1982, when he helped lead a soldiers’ protest against the first Lebanon War. He quickly entered politics, serving as an aide to Labor Party leader Shimon Peres, while also hosting an improbably popular weekly biblical portion show on television.

For German Teens, Shame Stirred Action


When six German teenagers entered the beit midrash at YULA boys high school, there was an indescribable sense of tension in the air. The four girls and two boys seemed hesitant and slightly anxious as they faced 60 Jewish boys eager for discussion. As a natural skeptic, my personal attitude toward conversing with people of possible Nazi ancestry was not very optimistic.

But within a few moments, the Germans’ anxiety visibly disappeared due to our welcoming disposition. And I must admit that by the end of the program I learned a beneficial lesson, which applies to every single Jew alive today.

Along with other German students, these visitors had participated in translating a German book, “Never Tell Anybody your Name is Rachmiel,” by Rosine De Dijn. The book tells the story of a Polish Jewish single mother who managed to hide her son with a family in Belgium before she was deported to Auschwitz and killed.

Inspired by a visit from De Dijn, the teens began a project to translate the book into English so that the descendants of the rescuers and of the Holocaust survivor, two of whom live in California, could learn of their ancestors’ story.

When the school contacted the Museum of Tolerance at the Simon Wiesenthal Center, the museum extended an invitation to the students, a teacher and the author. The trip was funded by a German foundation called Remembrance, Responsibility and the Future.

As I learned of their story, my admiration for the noble actions of these students grew, and my pessimism began to slowly decline. However, the images of the atrocities of the Holocaust — and the voices of my Holocaust-survivor grandparents — constantly reverberated in my mind.

Following a brief description of the book, a question-and-answer session opened. With many grandchildren of Holocaust survivors in the audience, myself included, an array of hands propelled into the air. One of the many interesting questions posed to the German teens was, “Do you feel guilty?”

German student Hagen Verleger answered: “I do not feel guilty, however I feel greatly ashamed.”

I was fascinated with that answer, because I realized that shame and guilt are directly connected, but they are far from synonymous.

While the Nazi story ends with shame, it began with an excess of pride. Hitler and the Nazi party exemplified the utmost arrogance in their stride to conquer the world and “ethnically cleanse” society. But after their defeat, surviving members of the Nazi party and the generation of Germans to follow them were internationally blacklisted.

The students explained to us that for a very long period of time not many people would openly admit to being “German” due to the stigma attached to the nationality. Germany went from being the superior race and nation to bearing a universal mark of Cain.

But things have changed for this generation. The students pointed out that the 2006 World Cup competition in Germany saw the German flag flown with pride at this international event, with black, red, gold and the eagle emblem appearing on shirts, signs and venues all over the country. Clearly, this generation of Germans has found a way to deal with their infamous past and appropriately display national pride once again.

Exemplifying this revolution in Germany’s national attitude, the six visitors from Germany commendably presented a translated book — a product of their stirring shame. Although Germany’s actions cannot and will never be atoned for, the German students of my generation took ownership of this inherent guilt and utilized shame to spark a contribution to society.

By willingly encountering Jews, these German teens have exposed the wrongdoings of their fathers with the intent of setting the ethical standards for the generations to follow. It is their version of our “Never Again” slogan.

Hearing all of this, I started to think about what we, direct descendants of Holocaust survivors, can learn from the grandchildren of pre-1945 Germany. After recapping the issues discussed, I realized that what my generation and the German teens have in common is that we are the youth of our nations.

Obviously, nothing previous generations of Jews have done can be equated to the crimes of Nazi Germany on any level whatsoever. But every generation does have its faults. Moreover, it is every generation’s responsibility to recognize and remedy the faults of their predecessors.

As a teen, I find it essential to look at our past and scrutinize Jewish history in order to improve or even attempt to improve my generation and set the tracks for future generations.

One issue that has always vexed me and continues to haunt the Jewish people is that of our lack of unity. Whether the issues are political, religious or moral, they cause serious divisions within our nation, which have devastating effects on our chances for success. Political differences, which resulted in the assassination of former Prime Minister Yitzchak Rabin by a fellow Jew, and religious differences between secular and ultra-Orthodox Jews in Israel not only split us internally but destroy our reputation in the eyes of the outside world.

Will we look back on our ancestors’ mistakes with futile guilt, unproductively blaming ourselves? Or will we be stimulated by our shame and become motivated to possibly rectify those faults? Will we unify or continue to be fragmented and suffer our demise?

Adam Deustsch is a junior at YULA High School for boys.

Why Are We in Kosovo?


I always thought that historical perspective helped sharpen the mind by illuminating the choices that loomed ahead. But when I look at the awful state of affairs in Kosovo, I am not so certain that history offers much guidance. Maybe, though, if we try to look at the past freshly and innovatively, we might just find a better solution for Kosovo and its moslem victims than the one President Clinton is offering. More about that later.

Of course, we know from history that the relations between Serbs and Kosovar Albanians are bitterly divided along lines of religion, ethnicity and nationalism. We know as well that the Serbs of Yugoslavia, who comprise only 10 percent of Kosovo’s 2 million population, have mythological feelings about Kosovo: It is their Jerusalem. Not auspicious.

Also, if we look back to the eve of World War I, we can discover a curtain raiser for today’s atrocities. In 1912, the Serbs overthrew their Turkish rulers (for more than 500 years) and set about gaining revenge on a population self-identified as Turks or Albanians, nearly all of them moslems. Their villages were burned; about 20,000 were killed; and some moslems were forced to convert. We can hazard a guess as to what had occurred during the 500 years of Turkish rule.

Now we have new players: President Clinton, the United States and NATO…. Having brokered a peace with Yugoslav strongman Slobodan Milosevic four years earlier in Bosnia (which is holding up, albeit with the presence of NATO troops), Clinton is trying again with Kosovo. His hope is to secure autonomy for the Albanians within Yugoslavia, with NATO troops present to enforce the peace over a three-year period.

At first, the Kosovo Liberation Army was an unwilling participant. Although clearly on the defensive, the rebels held out for independence. The KLA at various times has been described as a state of mind, and on other occasions as a ragtag band of guerrilla fighters spread throughout Kosovo’s villages. Today, they number about 30,000, hiding in the mountains and beyond the reach of Milosevic’s security forces. They were pressured to accept Clinton’s terms about a month ago.

Not so, Milosevic. NATO troops on his territory were too much for him to swallow. They could lead to his political downfall, and so he stalled. In the interim, his security forces began to seize Albanian homes and drive out Albanian villagers. When NATO moved in with planes and bombs about 10 days ago, he stepped up the pace. It now looks as though he is intent on purging Kosovo of its Albanian population.

In the face of his aggression, the United States and NATO are now clearly embarked on a humanitarian mission — save the Kosovar Albanians, whose tragic situation may have been accelerated, ironically, by our own course of action. Our policy is to bomb Yugoslav forces and not send in ground troops. The premise is that, in the long run, bombing will cost the Serbs more than they are willing to tolerate for the sake of a bleak stretch of land. That approach has thus far proved unsuccessful in Iraq.

In Yugoslavia, however, even the bombing is restricted and is almost “humanitarian” in scope. It is aimed mainly at air defenses and military units. We are avoiding civilian targets, refraining from any devastation to cities, transportation systems or the Yugoslav economy. It is a tactic that is calculated precisely not to bring the Serbs to their knees…or quickly to the bargaining table. But it is humane — or as humane as bombs raining on a populace can be.

Meanwhile, Milosevic’s security forces are changing the conditions on the ground in Kosovo. They are murdering Albanian leaders; sending vast numbers into refugees camps outside of Kosovo, minus papers, money, belongings; and, in short, creating a stateless people.

What is our goal? And, if uncertain, as I think it is, what should it be? Perhaps we are moved by the fact this is taking place in Europe. Perhaps we are shamed by our ignoble behavior with regard to the Jews in this self-same Europe 60 years ago. We are following a Churchillian path and avoiding the appeasement road taken by Britain’s Neville Chamberlain in the 1930s. We can congratulate ourselves that we have embarked on a morally correct policy. Why, then, am I uneasy about that policy and its possible/probable outcome?

In part, I suppose I am dubious about the effectiveness of our air campaign. It is designed to prevent — or at least limit — the devastation of Kosovo and the elimination of its population. That seems to be failing, and time looks as though it favors the Serbs rather than our humanitarian bombing policy.

I also have difficulty imagining that day down the road when some face-saving rapprochement is finally arranged. We have demonized Milosevic — who is perfectly cast for the role — so that it will be difficult not to try him as a war criminal. In which case, why should he negotiate with us? And even if we all swallow our wounded pride and end this callous struggle by feigning ignorance, what will follow? Written agreements aside, what will become of the Kosovo Liberation Army? Taking the past as prologue, either the KLA or some new Albanian nationalist group will soon search for ways to even the score. And who then will we support?

Most likely, we will edge silently away, as we did in Somalia. Our dilemma is that in order to prevail, we need to ignore domestic politics and humanitarianism, and, for obvious reasons, we cannot take those necessary steps. We are engaged in a war, no matter what we call it, and if we are to win, we have to be willing to do the unpalatable: to send in ground troops; to be hardhearted and bomb Yugoslavia into the early stages of ruin. Who among us is willing to embrace such policies? Certainly, not I.

What then? Perhaps some imaginative replay of history. We could have accepted the Jews from Germany in the 1930s, but did not. Today, there are all the NATO countries, including the United States, whose immigration policies might expand to accept refugees from Kosovo, and support them until they are on their feet economically. Even 1.5 million refugees. After all, tiny Israel has taken in more than half that number of Russians. Would the budgetary cost be that much more than our bombers and the lives of troops on all sides of the battle?

And we could demand that Yugoslavia pay settlement costs. If Milosevic refuses, there is still the option of sanctions on everything from his economy to the exclusion of Yugoslavia from the Olympic Games. No nation is comfortable in the role of pariah — we saw that with South Africa.

The fact remains that Yugoslavia’s policy toward Albanians in Kosovo, while reprehensible, even genocidal, is, nevertheless, national policy. Unfortunately, we still live in a world where tyranny exists, where nation states treat some of its citizens abominably, and where collective action is probably still best exerted in a nonviolent manner. By all means, let’s save those Kosovar Albanians who wish to be rescued — in precisely the way we could have, and failed to, rescued the Jews of Europe: Accept them as new citizens in our new NATO world. And, until the Yugoslavs shape up, ban them from joining the civilized world in which we are struggling to live. — Gene Lichtenstein