Why do Jews oppose wars against evil?

One of the deepest disappointments in my life has been Jews’ opposition to wars against evil. I had always assumed that, as the victims of so much evil throughout history, and as heirs to the great moral teachings of the Bible and Judaism, Jews, of all people, would support fighting on behalf of victims of the greatest evils.

Take fighting Communism, for example. Along with Nazism, Communism was the most genocidal movement in human history; it actually enslaved and murdered considerably more people than Nazism. Yet, most Jews didn’t support anti-Communism in general nor anti-Communist wars in particular. Even worse, Jews were disproportionately pro-Communist. In Stalin’s time, the Yiddish press was the most pro-Communist press in the Western world. And among those in the West who gave Stalin the secrets to the atomic bomb, nearly every one was a Jew.

How could that be? How could so many people who see themselves as bearers of a great moral legacy, or who simply see themselves as highly moral, have either been supportive of the greatest mass murder machine ever devised; or, as was more often the case, opposed fighting the greatest mass murder machine ever devised?

On what moral grounds did Jews oppose supplying the South Vietnamese government with arms to help save itself from being taken over by Communist North Vietnam? Most American Jews not only opposed fighting the Communist regime of North Vietnam, they even opposed merely supplying the South Vietnamese government with military hardware so that it could defend itself when, in violation of the 1973 Paris Peace Accords, North Vietnam attacked South Vietnam. And in those very same accords, America had promised to replace every South Vietnamese bullet and tank lost in defending itself. 

After all, American Jews hadn’t opposed the Korean War, in which nearly 37,000 Americans and more than two million Koreans died. That war was a mirror of the Vietnam War. The southern half of the Korean peninsula — just like the southern half of Vietnam — was pro-West and anti-Communist; and the Communist North, backed by China and the Soviet Union, sought — in both Korea and Vietnam — to forcefully impose Communism on the south. 

Nothing has changed today. Most American Jews vigorously supported President Barack Obama’s plan to remove all American troops from Iraq. The consequences, which everyone who opposed this plan knew would happen, were that Iraq would go from relative stability to mayhem and bloodbath. Why hasn’t this mattered to most American Jews? 

The usual arguments are that America cannot be the world’s policeman, that we cannot stay in a country forever, and/or that it was all George W. Bush’s fault for invading Iraq in the first place.

Of course none of these answer the moral question: How could people who think of themselves as caring, compassionate, progressive, moral and preoccupied with tikkun olam not give a damn about what happens to a whole country the day after Americans leave?

Whatever one thinks of the original American invasion of Iraq to depose Saddam Hussein, one of the cruelest tyrants of the late 20th century — and, it should be noted, one who paid $25,000 to families of Palestinian suicide bombers — what matters is that Iraq was relatively peaceful when American troops were removed. 

The takeover of much of Iraq by the Islamic State, also known as ISIL or ISIS, was made possible by the withdrawal of all American troops from Iraq. The annihilation of every Christian community in Iraq was made possible by the withdrawal of American troops, as was the slaughter of Yazidis and the enslavement of women and even young girls under the control of ISIS. Yes, a continued American military presence might very well have been necessary for generations. So what? America has had troops in Germany and Japan since 1945 and in South Korea since the early 1950s. Thanks to American troops, those three countries have flourished as free and prosperous countries. 

Abandoning South Vietnam and Iraq — policies immensely popular among American Jews — vastly increased human suffering.

Blaming George W. Bush for invading Iraq in no way shifts the blame. Whether the invasion was a good or bad idea, the fact is that Iraq was far freer after the invasion and within five years of “the surge” increasingly at peace — thanks to the American and Iraqi sacrifices in the war against violent Islamism and thanks to American troops remaining in Iraq for as long as they did.

So why have so many Jews, who should be the first to want to fight evil, opposed aiding South Vietnam and opposed keeping American troops in Iraq?

The answer lies in what happened after the Korean War, which, as noted above, most American Jews supported. Beginning in the 1960s, the left’s influence on American Jews overwhelmed normative Jewish moral instincts. 

In short, as Judaism faded as the morally formative influence on Jews’ lives, another religion, secular progressivism, or leftism, became most American Jews’ moral compass. And for leftism, evil is not primarily defined as mass murder or totalitarian regimes. Evil is capitalism, economic inequality, big corporations, fundamentalist Christians, opposition to abortion and same-sex marriage, fossil fuels and other things that preoccupy the left.

In the Psalms we read this command each Friday night: “Hate evil, those of you love God.” As Jews stopped loving God, they also stopped hating evil.

Reflections on the first mourner’s daddish in honor of Memorial Day

Kaddish – The origins of this most famous Jewish prayer are shrouded in history.  Most agree that it began with the central words, “Y’hei Sh’mei Rabbah Mevorach L’Olam u’l’Almei Almaya,” or “May God’s Name be praised now and forever.” One source suggests that the Kaddish was originally recited at the conclusion of a learning session in the study halls of ancient Israel.  After engaging in the sacred task of study, these words were recited to show honor and reverence for the learning and to pay respect to the teacher. 

One legend originates the Kaddish as a memorial prayer when the great teacher of his generation died and his students carried him from the Beit Midrash to the grave. There they recited the words, “Y’hei Sh’mei Rabbah Mevorach L’Olam u’l’Almei Almaya,” to express their profound sadness and gratitude.  It is to say that the greatness of God’s Name is borne out of a teacher’s influence.  Anytime we recite the Mourner’s Kaddish; the words are manifest not only in sadness, but in appreciation for a shared wisdom.     

In honor of Memorial Day, I’d like to introduce you to my newest teacher, US Army Veteran SSGT Stephen E. Sherman.  At 92 years old, Stephen is one of the few living African American serviceman.  He now dedicates his time helping homeless veterans.  We met waiting in a line one morning, and in the midst of light conversation, he drew closer, looked me deeply in the eyes and shared, “I have seen what your people went through when I was in the war.  I was there when they liberated a camp in western Germany.  I will never forget the look on those people’s faces when we told them they were free.”  It was a powerful and brief moment that honestly took me aback.  We shared an understanding from an intensely significant time in his life of the burden and responsibility of memory.  Searching for a response, I returned with words of gratitude for him and his service to our country.  Our chance encounter changed the outlook of my day, and now, even several weeks later, my appreciation for the power memory holds in binding the living together.  

This man, who so proudly served his country in World War II, is spending the twilight years of his life serving those who survive. For that he is an inspiration.  But he became my teacher when he reminded me that when we are carriers of memory and respect between us; we too lived out these words, “Y’hei Sh’mei Rabbah Mevorach L’Olam u’l’Almei Almaya,” God’s great Name is praised when we recognized the collective responsibility to remember.

On Memorial Day we will take moments to activate the memory for those who fought to preserve and protect our ideals.   On Memorial Day, we are reminded just how important it is to remember the bravery and heroism of those who gave their lives to defend our freedom as Americans and as Jews.  And more than words of honor and reverence, on Memorial Day the Mourner’s Kaddish should be recited for them too.  Kaddish breathes meaning into the words we wish to express in gratitude for a lesson learned.

For me, SSGT Sherman gave life and being to the countless men and women who died in service this country.  Our shared moment opened up worlds of meaning to connect the Memorial Day of this country with the memorial days of the Jewish lifecycle and calendar.  It is precisely those worlds of meaning that make God’s Name great now and forever.

IDF official: Nuclear Iran may curb Israeli border wars

A nuclear-armed Iran could deter Israel from going to war against Tehran’s guerrilla allies in Lebanon and the Gaza Strip, a senior Israeli general said on Tuesday.

The Jewish state sees the makings of a mortal threat in Iran’s uranium enrichment and missile programs, and has lobbied world powers to roll them back through sanctions while hinting it could resort to pre-emptive military strikes.

Major-General Amir Eshel, head of strategic planning for the armed forces, echoed Israeli government leaders who argue that Iran, which denies wrongdoing but rejects international censure over its secretive projects, could create a “global nuclear jungle” and fuel arms races in an already volatile Middle East.

Eshel made clear that Israel – widely reputed to have the region’s only atomic arsenal – worries that Syria and Lebanon’s Hezbollah militia as well as Palestinian Hamas Islamists who rule Gaza could one day find reassurance in an Iranian bomb.

“They will be more aggressive. They will dare to do things that right now they would not dare to do,” he said in a briefing to foreign journalists and diplomats.

“So this is going to create a dramatic change in Israel’s strategic posture, because if we are forced to do things in Gaza or Lebanon under an Iranian nuclear umbrella , it might be different.”

Eshel, who spoke at the conservative Jerusalem Centre for Public Affairs think-tank, quoted an unnamed Indian officer who, he said, had described the Asian power’s friction with nuclear-armed rival and neighbour Pakistan in terms of self-restraint.

“When the other side has a nuclear capability and are willing to use it, you think twice,” Eshel said. “You are more restrained because you don’t want to get into that ball game.”

Israel waged offensives in Lebanon and the Gaza Strip in 2006 and 2008-2009, coming under short-range rocket attacks by Hezbollah and Hamas, both of which are supported by Iran.

Eshel said there are now some 100,000 rockets and missiles that could be fired at Israel by the guerrillas, Iran and its ally Syria.

Despite seeing its resources strained by a 10-month-old popular uprising, Syria’s government has invested $2 billion in air defences over the last two years, and more on counter-measures against any ground invasion, Eshel said, linking both efforts to Syrian wariness of Israel.

He declined to be drawn on whether Israel might try to attack Iran’s distant, dispersed and well-defended nuclear facilities alone – or, conversely, whether it could decide to accept a nuclear-armed Iran as an inevitability to be contained through superior firepower and fortifications.

Those decisions, Eshel said, were up to the government and the armed forces would provide it with a “tool box” of options.

“We have the ability to hit very, very hard, any adversary,” said Eshel, a former senior air force officer and fighter pilot. But he cautioned against expecting any decisive “knock-out” blow against Israel’s enemies.

Writing by Dan Williams

Israel Faces Challenges on Anniversary

Fifty-five years is not a very long time in historical terms, especially when talking about a people who have been around for thousands of years.

But the balance sheet of those 55 years has certainly been impressive.

Not everything went the way our founding fathers had hoped for. They believed in peace, but Israel was invaded by seven Arab armies the day it was founded, and there have been six wars since then — the latest being Yasser Arafat’s "Al-Aksa intifada."

The basic reason for all those wars was that the Arab world refused to recognize the Jewish people’s right to a national homeland in an area they consider to be exclusively their own. But as we look back, the drama of the Jewish people has made the rebirth of the State of Israel — in spite of all the obstacles — an epic poem without precedent or comparison in the annals of history.

Some things were obviously lost on the way — though not altogether: the spirit of egalitarianism, for instance. And some would say that there is insufficient concern these days for social justice, though others would reply, correctly, that Israel allocates proportionately more for social and welfare payments than any country in the West.

So, why are there still so many poor people?

Which brings me to the first challenge that Israel faces on its 55th anniversary: How to reform its economy and do away with its historical and often politically motivated baggage of bureaucracy so as to make the economy grow and at the same time improve the lot of the underprivileged?

Finance Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is currently trying to do just that. But his — actually our — chances of success will depend first on the determination of the government as a whole to overcome the opposition of vested interests and second on two factors that are largely beyond our control: ending the international economic recession and changing the political and security situation.

Which brings us to the other major challenge facing Israel today: peace and security.

America’s important victory in Iraq has removed a major threat to the peace of the world — not least, of course, to Israel. If, indeed, the United States will pursue President Bush’s declared aim of fighting all those who engage in or support terror — Syria, Iran and Libya rank first and foremost among those — the Middle East may actually become a less-dangerous neighborhood.

But we are not yet there, and lest one forgets, Arab Islamist terror, like fascism and communism before it, is not out to reform but to destroy. Therefore, for the world to breathe more easily, those who preach and perpetuate terror must be destroyed.

Next to America, Israel is one of the terrorists’ most hated targets, because it represents the values and principles most obnoxious to them, including democracy, human rights and equality for women.

Major parts of the Palestinian national movement still are an integral part of the international brotherhood of evil and violence, though, hopefully, the United States victory over Saddam Hussein will persuade them to abandon violence and give peace a chance.

There is a lot of talk these days about the "road map." Will it work? Won’t it work? It’s too early to tell.

There are some parts in this road map that suggest that more than one cook had a hand in it. And surely the non-American members of the "Quartet" (the European Union, Russia and the United Nations) not only have their own political and economic interests in the Middle East, but the way they behaved in connection with Iraq should make one wonder about the role they should play in the peace process.

At the heart of the road map lies the expectation that in a few short years from now, there would arise a "democratic, viable Palestinian state living in peace alongside Israel." But what if it will turn out to be just another undemocratic, brutal, aggressive rogue state like so many others in the region?

Indeed, one of Israel’s most urgent diplomatic and strategic challenges will be to persuade Israel’s American friend and ally that while Israel is willing to make major sacrifices for peace, it will never agree to endanger the physical security of its citizens or compromise the 2,000-year-old dream of the Jewish people.

In other words, before there can be any movement on the largely uncharted terrain of the road map, there will have to be a real change in the Palestinian leadership. New names are not enough. New deeds are required. And there must be an absolute end — "forever," as Bush has said — to Palestinian terror, violence and incitement.

No less important, Israel should not be required to agree a priori, even in principle, to Palestinian statehood unless the Palestinians abandon once and for all the "right of return," which is another term for annihilating Israel by flooding it with hundreds of thousands of "refugees."

All of the above aren’t just political preconditions. They are natural prerequisites to give the road map any realistic chance of success.

Basically, the United States and Israel have the same strategic interests and the same aims — though there could be differing attitudes on one or more issues. Considering the vast amount of mutual goodwill and the understanding that Israel enjoys as to its vital interests with so many parts of American public opinion, not least the administration itself and Congress, such differences should not be allowed to develop into unnecessary and unhelpful disagreements.

All said, and in spite of the fact that the chances for peace may be more propitious than they have been since before the Oslo debacle, for a long time to come Israel’s security will still depend on its ability to defend itself and on its close strategic alliance with the United States.

Indeed, the close ties between the United States and Israel may be deemed an important American strategic interest as well, especially in light of the unstable internal situation in some of America’s traditional Arab allies — not a few of them, as recent events proved, being fair-weather friends at best.

Zalman Shoval was twice Israel’s
ambassador to the United States from 1990-1993 and 1998-2000. He is a former Likud Knesset member and currently serves as a part-time diplomatic adviser to Prime Minister Ariel Sharon.

Two Wars; One Just One

Two Palestinian-Israeli wars have erupted in the Middle East. One is the Palestinian nation’s war for its freedom from occupation and for its right to independent statehood. Any decent person ought to support this cause. The second war is waged by fanatical Islam, from Iran to Gaza and from Lebanon to Ramallah, to destroy Israel and drive the Jews out of their land. Any decent person ought to abhor this cause.

Yasser Arafat and his men are running both wars simultaneously, pretending they are one. The suicide killers evidently make no distinction. Much of the worldwide bafflement about the Middle East, much of the confusion among the Israelis themselves, stems from the overlap between these two wars.

Decent peace seekers, in Israel and elsewhere, are often drawn into simplistic positions. They either defend Israel’s continued occupation of the West Bank and Gaza by claiming that Israel has been targeted by the Muslim holy war ever since its foundation in 1948, or else they vilify Israel on the grounds that nothing but the occupation prevents a just and lasting peace.

One simplistic argument allows Palestinians to kill all Israelis on the basis of their natural right to resist occupation. An equally simplistic counterargument allows Israelis to oppress all Palestinians because an all-out Islamic jihad has been launched against them.

Two wars are being fought in this region. One is a just war, and the other is both unjust and futile.

Israel must step down from the war on the Palestinian territories. It must begin to end occupation and evacuate the Jewish settlements that were deliberately thrust into the depth of Palestinian lands. Its borders must be drawn, unilaterally if need be, upon the logic of demography and the moral imperative to withdraw from governing a hostile population.

But would an end to occupation terminate the Muslim holy war against Israel? This is hard to predict. If jihad comes to an end, both sides would be able to sit down and negotiate peace. If it does not, we Israelis would have to seal and fortify Israel’s logical border, the demographic border, and keep fighting for our lives against fanatical Islam.

If, despite simplistic visions, the end of occupation will not result in peace, at least we will have one war to fight rather than two. Not a war for our full occupancy of the holy land, but a war for our right to live in a free and sovereign Jewish state in part of that land. A just war, a no-alternative war. A war we will win — like any people who were ever forced to fight for their very homes and freedom and lives.

Fund for Survivors

A foundation to aid needy Holocaust survivors in California, funded through a $4.2-million check from three Dutch insurance companies, was formally established last week by state officials, Jewish organizations and survivors.

The California Humanitarian Foundation for Holocaust Survivors is believed to be the first of its kind funded by European insurers, who have generally dragged their feet in meeting their obligations to Jews who took out policies between the two world wars.

In presenting the check, representing contributions by Aegon USA, ING America Insurance Holdings and Fortis, Inc., California Attorney General Bill Lockyer said he hoped the action by the three Dutch affiliates "will unleash efforts all over the world by insurance companies to overcome interminable delays."

He urged other European insurance carriers to step forward in meeting their obligations to Jewish and other victims of the Holocaust "as a matter of conscience."

Arthur Stern described establishment of the new foundation, which he chairs, as "a significant milestone for all survivors." Stern, like eight of the foundation’s 12 board members, is himself a Holocaust survivor.

He estimated that 1,000 to 2,000 out of 22,000 survivors in California are indigent and should receive payments "equitably, speedily" and with a minimum of red tape. The primary California survivor communities are in Los Angeles, the San Francisco Bay Area and San Diego.

Though appreciative of the Dutch gesture, survivor Jona Goldrich, who serves as Gov. Gray Davis’ liaison for Holocaust issues, commented that the $4.2 million represented "just a token of the money owed." He estimated that European insurers owe as much as $1 billion to survivors and their heirs.

The action by the Dutch companies is a humanitarian gesture and does not affect any insurance claims against them. Lockyer praised the three as "the best corporate citizens" among European insurers, in contrast to insurance giants Allianz of Germany and Assicurazioni Generali of Italy, which owe hundreds of millions, if not billions, of dollars to their former policyholders, he said.

Initial announcement of the companies’ $4.2-million offer was made as long ago as November 1999 by then-state Insurance Commissioner Chuck Quackenbush. However, he failed to collect the money, and some months afterward he became embroiled in corruption charges and eventually resigned.

Quackenbush’s interim successor, Harry Low, said he hoped to have all the money distributed to needy survivors by 2002, and Stern said he expected to send out the first checks this year by Labor Day.

The Jewish Community Foundation in Los Angeles will administer and distribute the funds without cost so that all the money will go directly to survivors in need.

Among those applauding the new humanitarian fund was survivor Fred Diament, 77, who lost his parents and three brothers in the Final Solution.

"After all the suffering, and now in the last years of their lives, [survivors] should live in a garage? That’s unacceptable and intolerable," he said.

Richard Mahan, the foundation’s executive director, advised those wishing further information to phone (888) 890-9911.

Staff Writer Michael Aushenker contributed to this article.