A cry of pain over massacre reaches computers worldwide

March 05, 1994|By Michael Dresser | Michael Dresser,Sun Staff Writer Sun staff member Steve Auerweck contributed to this article.

When a Jewish settler in the West Bank city of Hebron slaughtered an estimated 40 Muslim worshipers at prayer last week, Eliot Shimoff was outraged and offended as a man, a Jew and a Zionist.

So last Monday he turned to his computer.

Dr. Shimoff, a psychology professor at the University of Maryland Baltimore County, posted a statement on a worldwide computer bulletin board on Jewish culture condemning the attack in the Tomb of the Patriarchs.

He proposed that other users of the Internet system's "soc.culture.jewish" bulletin board join him in a passionate disavowal of Baruch Goldstein's massacre in the name of Judaism.

As of yesterday, Dr. Shimoff said, about 100 users of the Jewish bulletin board had added their names to the statement, which will be posted on three bulletin boards serving Arabs and Muslims this Monday.

The signatories came from all over the United States, and from Israel, France, Germany, Australia and other countries.

Dr. Shimoff's cry of conscience and the worldwide response it sparked illustrate vividly how the Internet has become an international version of the village square, the coffee shop and the radio call-in show all wrapped up in one. From a government-sponsored forum for defense researchers, the Internet has evolved into a new mass medium and a place to debate politics and morality and to mobilize world opinion.

Hardly had the shooting stopped before the debate began over the sprawling network of computer networks, which serves an estimated 12 million to 20 million users worldwide.

"The thing that's wonderful about the Internet is you are constantly in touch with people all over the world," said Dr. Shimoff, a resident of Mount Washington who has used the network for six or seven years.

Dr. Shimoff, a member of the Shomrei Emunah Orthodox congregation in Baltimore, said he was surprised with the near-unanimous support he had received from the people who replied to his posting.

"I got only one or two critical comments," he said.

The statement will read, in part:

"All of us join in condemning the murder of innocent Moslem victims of the recent attack in Hebron. We find it completely antithetical to our understanding of Judaism and Zionism.

"We cannot excuse it, or justify it, or find any redeeming value in it. The act was, in the final analysis, simply murder."

At first glance, Dr. Shimoff would seem to be an unlikely candidate to take the lead in such a gesture.

An avid Zionist who objects to the term "settlers" for Jewish residents of the Israeli-occupied West Bank, he actively supports a Jewish presence in the largely Arab city of Hebron. His son recently moved to Israel.

But after the massacre, Dr. Shimoff said he felt the need to make a statement of conscience.

"It was done by a Jew in the name of Judaism, and I felt it was important to disassociate ourselves from it," he said.

The statement, along with the names and electronic mail addresses of the signers, will be posted on the boards "soc.culture.palestine," "soc.culture.arabic" and "soc.religion.islam."

Dr. Shimoff said he expects a mixed reaction from their readers. He expects a few will say thank you and some will be too outraged to accept a conciliatory gesture. He hopes that some Muslims and Arabs will ask themselves why they haven't forcefully condemned attacks on Jews in the past.

But that's not really the point, he said.

"Islamic ethics are not my concern. I worry about Jewish ethics and Jewish morality."

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