Tuesday, June 22, 2004

A new letter in the Jewish Star

I've gotten a long letter into the Jewish Star, a Jewish newspaper in
the Five Towns on Long Island. It is in response to a column by Barry
Freedman.

I am disturbed that The Jewish Star continues to publish the columns
of Barry Freedman. Many of Israel's detractors attempt to smear the
Jewish state by casting the Jewish residents of Judea, Samaria, and
Gaza as fascistic racists and religious fanatics who wish death to
Arabs and the replacement of the state of Israel with a theocratic
dictatorship. I often have to remind these misinformed critics that
most settlers are normal people who moved into these suburban
communities to raise their families away from the rat race of the
city, the same reason many of our own families moved to Long Island
from New York City.

Unfortunately, Barry Freedman's latest column suggests that he fits
the negative stereotype of the settler fanatic. He freely admits to
being a follower of Meir Kahane, a person who advocated the violent
expulsion of Arabs from Israel and whose party was outlawed for
inciting hatred, even as he admits that Kahane's platform and party
were anti-democratic. He even criticizes Benny Elon, who is himself
on the far-right of the Israeli spectrum and also believes the Arabs
should be expelled, for believing too strongly in the power of Israeli
democracy.

The argument that Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon acted
undemocratically by ignoring the Likud referendum and firing the
far-right ministers in his cabinet is specious. Disengagement from
Gaza is a policy supported by roughly two-thirds of all Israelis, as
poll after poll has suggested. Likud holds one-third of the seats in
the Knesset. About three-fifths of those who voted in the referendum
voted, after an intensive campaign led by yet another extremist, Moshe
Feiglin, against the disengagement plan. Three-fifths of one-third
equals one-fifth, around twenty percent. Barry Freedman would have us
believe that it is democratic for twenty percent of the electorate to
dictate policy to the other eighty percent. He would further have us
believe that it is the Prime Minister's duty not only to provide
cabinet positions to tiny parties with minimal Knesset representation
(National Union holds seven seats, less than six percent of the
Knesset), but to allow these parties to do what they please once they
are there and act as an albatross around the neck of the country and
the vast majority of its citizens. Freedman seems to think that
Sharon owes his job to Elon and Avigdor Lieberman, who once advocated
bombing Arab marketplaces. It is the other way around. And the fact
of the matter is that in the end, a compromise plan was approved 14 to
7, which would have made Elon and Lieberman's vote completely
irrelevant to the final result.

I have sympathy for those who are demoralized and dejected at the
prospect of leaving their homes. Though it may be a necessary evil to
bring about peace, it is an evil nonetheless that Jews should not be
permitted to live in a future Palestinian democracy just as Arabs
rightfully live in Israel's democracy today. I do not, however, have
sympathy for those racists and fanatics who would hold the rest of
Israel hostage to an extremist agenda and undermine the moral
foundation of a democratic Jewish state by advocating policies and
tactics that resemble those of our enemies. I do not say this because
of what the international community might think; I say this because we
Jews ought to uphold the ideals of democracy and basic human rights,
which for us means respecting the will and legitimacy of Israel's
government and Israel's people and understanding why the expulsion of
Israeli Arabs or the purposeful killing of Arab civilians advocated by
Kahanists like Barry Freedman should be instantly repulsive to us as
Jews, no matter how we stand on the issue of the settlements. Our own
wellbeing as a people depends on our ability to distinguish moral acts
of self-defense to pursue terrorists from immoral acts of
self-destructive revenge which would needlessly kill innocent people
in our name. We do not need to take these cues from the United
Nations. We need to take them from our own traditions and history and
our mandate to serve as a light unto nations instead of just another
people who convinced themselves that the only path to survival is the
death and destruction of enemies real and imaginary.

Michael Brenner

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