Jews must fight Israeli atrocities

April 21, 2002|By Fran Buntman

WASHINGTON - When Jews say "never again," do we mean only Auschwitz and gas ovens? Or do we mean only 6 million? Or do we mean only anti-Semitism and Jews?

What is the bar or the frame of abuse and atrocity that we must witness to recognize great wrong? Surely the torment need not reach the hideous bar of the Holocaust or other genocide for us to say "never again"?

Israel is now waging a war of aggression on the Palestinian people, and the world is watching. Defense is legitimate, but what we are witnessing is not primarily defensive.

One of the world's most powerful armies is besieging a ghettoized civilian population. Even some of apartheid's terrorizing of South Africa's black civilian population is being eclipsed by Israeli action in West Bank cities and towns. It is time for Jews, Israelis and all people of conscience to say, and mean, "Enough! Never again! Not for Jews, not for Palestinians, not for any people."

I have opposed anti-Semitism and racism and fought for equality and justice for all people all my life. All people are worthy of dignity, equal rights, self-determination and justice. All life is sacred. Now I must speak out, as must other Jews and all people of conscience, to say to Israel: "Stop! End the terror against civilians. End the occupation. Choose political representatives committed to peace, not war."

For me, Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and his supporters are damaging the Jewish people, the Jewish state and the great Jewish legacy of commitments to justice. Israel claims to act in the name of Jews everywhere, but it does not. More and more Jews, from the growing number of soldiers refusing to serve in the Israeli military to actively Jewish-identified Jews like myself, are saying, "Not in my name."

Israel's actions are also not made legitimate by anti-Semitism, sadly a continuing and real threat. During last year's World Conference Against Racism and Discrimination in South Africa, many Palestinians and some of their supporters were openly, virulently anti-Semitic. Not just critical of Israel's policies, but denigrating of Jewish people, dismissive of the Holocaust and denying of our history of being persecuted. Frighteningly, many in the Muslim world believe that Jews and Israel, not Muslim fundamentalists, were behind the terrorist travesty of Sept. 11.

But denying Palestinian rights will not end anti-Semitism. Ironically, Saudi Arabia's proposal for full Arab recognition of Israel as the Jewish state and normalization of Arab-Israeli relations is something Israel and most Jews have dreamed of since 1948, and yet it was all but ignored.

Such recognition is a necessary if woefully insufficient step to protect the future of the Jewish state and the Jewish people. Many other steps are also required, such as Arab and Muslim countries ending state-sponsored anti-Semitism. Further, as with Israelis, Palestinians must choose political representatives who are committed to peace, not war.

It is not enough to decry suicide bombers and those who facilitate their work of mass murder. Nor is it enough to demand that Arabs, Muslims and Palestinians denounce this terror. Suicide bombers are created by fanatical anti-Semitism and anti-Zionism, by fundamentalist Islamic clerics and by failures of Palestinian, Arab and U.S. leadership.

But the failures of Israel and Jewish leadership have also enabled Palestinian suicide bombers. How outrageous, how willfully blind and ignorant, then, for the Jewish Federation of Greater Washington to, in fund-raising advertisements, say that "the horrifying violent terrorist acts come without warning."

Horrifying, violent, terrorist - yes. But without warning? No. Desperate people will often do desperate and awful things. Palestinians, pro-peace Israelis and Jews, human rights groups, journalists and political commentators have long warned that the tightening siege, worsening deprivations, declining prospects of statehood and expansion of Israeli settlements would exacerbate desperation. Where Palestinians feel death promises more hope than life, worsening anti-Israel violence is not a surprise.

Israel's offensive retaliation, its ghettoization of ordinary Palestinians, is not the solution to suicide bombers. The Israeli military's attack on civilians and their political leaders must end. Now. It will not help Israel achieve security, and it is poisoning the Jewish soul and the great history and teachings of the Jewish people.

Fran Buntman, who was born in South Africa, is a visiting researcher at George Mason University and taught criminal justice and law at the University of Akron in Ohio.

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