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"How do you feel, being there?" my friend asked on the phone from
America. I thought a minute, looking out of my Haifa hotel window at the
moon rising over the sea. "Relaxed. I feel relaxed." This seemed to my
friend an improbable way to feel in Israel on May 28, 2002. And in one
sense, it obviously was. Many people urged me not to go--some out of
fear for my safety, some with a moralistic doubt as to whether I should
accept an honor associated with the state of Israel (an honorary degree
from the University of Haifa). About the first, I felt probably I was as
safe in Haifa as in Chicago. About the second, I was determined to
affirm the worth of scholarly cooperation in the face of the ugly
campaign, waged mostly in Europe, to boycott Israeli scholars and refuse
cooperation with them. (The campaign has led to the dismissal of Israeli
scholars from the editorial board of at least one major journal, and to
a general call to boycott Israeli scholars in publications and
conference invitations.) I was also planning to deliver a speech, with
the advance approval of the rector, that said the things I wanted to say
about the situation, in a polite, detached, but unequivocal way.
But relaxed, certainly, is not how I had expected to feel. On my one
previous trip to Israel, in the relatively good times of December 1995,
I had felt edgy all the time, skeptical as I am about muscular Zionism.
I converted to Judaism at the age of 21, and I felt then, as I do now,
that Judaism is above all a moral identity, connected to the love of
justice. I felt that I was dedicating myself to a program of moral
action aimed at realizing justice in the here-and-now rather than in
some dim Christian afterlife--that, as Moses Mendelssohn once wrote,
"The highest stage of wisdom is incontrovertibly doing that which is
good." More viscerally, I felt I was leaving an elitist WASP culture
that cared not one whit for social justice to join a liberal, socially
alert Jewish family that read I.F. Stone and The Nation.
For the sort of Jew I have ever since felt myself to be, Israel was a
source of much embarrassment. Reform Jews traditionally were
anti-Zionist on the ground that Israel is a moral idea, like Kant's
Kingdom of Ends, not a place. And even if the Holocaust has caused
Reform to moderate that position, it still explains a lot of the unease
many of us have with the idea that Jews would attach themselves to a
kind of nationalism that seems in tension, at least, with the
cosmopolitan goals of justice for all that (so I think) ought to be the
goal of a good Jewish life.
But in Haifa I felt relaxed. And the reason was not just the beauty of
the silvery beach, with the large moon above, or the high quality of the
philosophy department and the philosopher-rector, a man whose work on
emotions I have long admired. It was deeper, connected to the
ambivalence I have described. Haifa, and especially its university, were
simply a different Israel from any I had seen, an Israel that still
makes justice and peaceful cooperation its central goals and, to a
surprising degree, realizes those goals. The university enrolls about 20
percent Arab students (Muslim, Christian and Druse), and the faculty,
too, has many Arab members. The first priority of the philosophy
department, I was told, was to raise funds for an endowed chair for an
Arab faculty member to teach Islamic philosophy. We like to see
ourselves as an outpost of peace and reciprocity, people kept telling
me. And the rector, the dean of the law school and the board of
governors, holding their annual meeting the day of the ceremony, made me
feel that my own sentiments about peace and respect for all humanity
were theirs also, and real pragmatic goals of university policy rather
than just slogans. Campus life seemed remarkably peaceful, as Arab and
Jewish students continued to learn side by side and interact without
One great sorrow I heard repeatedly expressed: their feeling that as
Israelis they are being demonized by the world community, and their
efforts toward justice are simply not being recognized, their story not
being told. (Would the American Philosophical Association pass a
resolution opposing intellectual cooperation with Israeli philosophers?
I was asked, as a past president of the association and past chair of
its Committee on International Cooperation. I said I hoped not, and that
I thought it most unlikely, though I know that things are otherwise in
The city, too, seemed bent on something like peace. Its economy is
clearly suffering, and the Druse villages, dependent on tourism, are
particularly hard hit. (I had to get a jeweler's young daughter to go
find him so that he could open his shop--he had gone home because there
were no customers. I concluded that the purchase of a beautiful necklace
was a virtuous deed.) But once again, there is cooperation and even
amity. The Arab-owned restaurant that had been hit by a suicide bomber
has been rebuilt and is ready to reopen. Walkers stroll along the Louis
Promenade with their dogs, as if daily life still brings joy. Flowers
abound in the Bahai gardens below; perhaps Haifa was not such an
unreasonable choice for the worldwide headquarters of a religion
committed to peace and internationalism.
So, relaxed in my moralistic heart, I put on the academic gown for the
ceremony, and I added to it the little silver Star of David from
Tiffany's that a graduating PhD student gave me but that in my
anti-Zionistic frame of mind I never wear. I gave my speech about global
justice and the limits of nationalism, and then I sang "Hatikvah" like
everyone else. And for the first time that sort of speech and that song
did not seem to be so ill suited to each other.
For a long time now, we secular humanists and other skeptics have been denigrated as the apostles of decadence and social decay.
The attacks hardened the resolve of immigrant bashers and anti-Semites.
Belief in God is not the issue in the continuing brouhaha over the constitutionality of the Pledge of Allegiance. Rather, it's the government's endorsement of a monotheistic God.
Never did I expect to feel sorrow and pity for the Catholic Church, yet I confess that I do.
On May 2 the Senate, in a vote of 94 to 2, and the House, 352 to 21,
expressed unqualified support for Israel in its recent military actions
against the Palestinians. The resolutions were so strong that the Bush
Administration--hardly a slouch when it comes to supporting
Israel--attempted to soften its language so as to have more room in
getting peace talks going. But its pleas were rejected, and members of
Congress from Joe Lieberman to Tom DeLay competed to heap praise on
Ariel Sharon and disdain on Yasir Arafat. Reporting on the vote, the
New York Times noted that one of the few dissenters, Senator
Ernest Hollings of South Carolina, "suggested that many senators were
after campaign contributions."
Aside from that brief reference, however, the Times made no
mention of the role that money, or lobbying in general, may have played
in the lopsided vote. More specifically, the Times made no
mention of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee. It's a
remarkable oversight. AIPAC is widely regarded as the most powerful
foreign-policy lobby in Washington. Its 60,000 members shower millions
of dollars on hundreds of members of Congress on both sides of the
aisle. It also maintains a network of wealthy and influential citizens
around the country, whom it can regularly mobilize to support its main
goal, which is making sure there is "no daylight" between the policies
of Israel and of the United States.
So, when Congress votes so decisively in support of Israel, it's no
accident. Yet, surveying US newspaper coverage of the Middle East in
recent months, I found next to nothing about AIPAC and its influence.
The one account of any substance appeared in the Washington Post,
in late April. Reporting on AIPAC's annual conference, correspondent
Mike Allen noted that the attendees included half the Senate, ninety
members of the House and thirteen senior Administration officials,
including White House Chief of Staff Andrew Card, who drew a standing
ovation when he declared in Hebrew, "The people of Israel live." Showing
its "clout," Allen wrote, AIPAC held "a lively roll call of the hundreds
of dignitaries, with individual cheers for each." Even this article,
however, failed to probe beneath the surface and examine the lobbying
and fundraising techniques AIPAC uses to lock up support in Congress.
AIPAC is not the only pro-Israel organization to escape scrutiny. The
Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, though
little known to the general public, has tremendous influence in
Washington, especially with the executive branch. Based in New York, the
conference is supposed to give voice to the fifty-two Jewish
organizations that sit on its board, but in reality it tends to reflect
the views of its executive vice chairman, Malcolm Hoenlein. Hoenlein has
long had close ties to Israel's Likud Party. In the 1990s he helped
raise money for settlers' groups on the West Bank, and today he
regularly refers to that region as "Judea and Samaria," a biblically
inspired catch phrase used by conservatives to justify the presence of
Jewish settlers there. A skilled and articulate operative, Hoenlein uses
his access to the State Department, Pentagon and National Security
Council to push for a strong Israel. He's so effective at it that the
Jewish newspaper the Forward, in its annual list of the fifty
most important American Jews, has ranked Hoenlein first.
Hoenlein showed his organizing skills in April, when he helped convene
the large pro-Israel rally on Capitol Hill. While the event itself was
widely covered, Hoenlein, and the conference, remained invisible. An
informal survey of recent coverage turned up not a single in-depth piece
about Hoenlein and how he has used the Presidents Conference to keep the
Bush Administration from putting too much pressure on the Sharon
Why the blackout? For one thing, reporting on these groups is not easy.
AIPAC's power makes potential sources reluctant to discuss the
organization on the record, and employees who leave it usually sign
pledges of silence. AIPAC officials themselves rarely give interviews,
and the organization even resists divulging its board of directors.
Journalists, meanwhile, are often loath to write about the influence of
organized Jewry. Throughout the Arab world, the "Jewish lobby" is seen
as the root of all evil in the Middle East, and many reporters and
editors--especially Jewish ones--worry about feeding such stereotypes.
In the end, though, the main obstacle to covering these groups is fear.
Jewish organizations are quick to detect bias in the coverage of the
Middle East, and quick to complain about it. That's especially true of
late. As the Forward observed in late April, "rooting out
perceived anti-Israel bias in the media has become for many American
Jews the most direct and emotional outlet for connecting with the
conflict 6,000 miles away." Recently, an estimated 1,000 subscribers to
the Los Angeles Times suspended home delivery for a day to
protest what they considered the paper's pro-Palestinian coverage. The
Chicago Tribune, the Minneapolis Star Tribune, the
Philadelphia Inquirer and the Miami Herald have all been hit
by similar protests, and NPR has received thousands of e-mails
complaining about its reports from the Middle East.
Do such protests have an effect? Consider the recent experience of the
New York Times. On May 6 the paper ran two photographs of a
pro-Israel parade in Manhattan. Both showed the parade in the background
and anti-Israel protesters prominently in the foreground. The paper,
which for weeks has been threatened with a boycott by Jewish readers,
was deluged with protests. On May 7 the Times ran an abject
apology. That caused much consternation in the newsroom, with some
reporters and editors feeling that the paper had buckled before an
influential constituency. "It's very intimidating," said a correspondent
at another large daily who is familiar with the incident. Newspapers, he
added, are "afraid" of organizations like AIPAC and the Presidents
Conference. "The pressure from these groups is relentless. Editors would
just as soon not touch them."
Needless to say, US support for Israel is the product of many
factors--Israel's status as the sole democracy in the Middle East, its
value as a US strategic ally and widespread horror over Palestinian
suicide bombers. But the power of the pro-Israel lobby is an important
element as well. Indeed, it's impossible to understand the Bush
Administration's tender treatment of the Sharon government without
taking into account the influence of groups like AIPAC. Isn't it time
they were exposed to the daylight?
In anticipation of the Second Coming, evangelicals leap to Israel's
Extreme Solution I: Priests
The old movies used to feature a priest walking alongside the condemned
man toward the scaffold, offering last seconds of comfort,
plea-bargaining strategies with St. Peter, a bolstering hand under the
elbow. Sometime in the next decade the tableau may be reversed, with a
lay counselor assisting the condemned priest as he totters toward that
final rendezvous with the executioner.
The death penalty is being vigorously touted as the best way to deal
with child molesters. And as the world knows, the Roman Catholic Church
has sheltered many a child molester. On the cutting edge here are three
states noted for the moral refinement of their legislators: to wit,
Montana, Louisiana and Alabama. The first two states have already put
Death for Molesters into their statute books, and when Alabama lawmakers
convene again next year they will press forward into legislation, after
an overwhelming vote from the state's House of Representatives last year
in favor of molester executions.
The Montana law allows a person previously convicted of "sexual
intercourse without consent" with someone under 16 in any state to be
sentenced to death if convicted of the crime in Montana. The law was
passed in 1997, but no one has yet been charged under that provision.
Since 1995 Louisiana has had a law allowing the death penalty for people
convicted of raping a child under 12. Thus far, a few charges, no
Alabama's bill would authorize the death penalty for people convicted a
second time of having sex with someone under 12. No other states allow
capital punishment for a sex crime. ABC News quoted Marcel Black,
chairman of the Alabama House Judiciary Committee, as saying, "The very
serious meaning of this is to send a message to child molesters that it
is a bad thing to do."
Molesters can take comfort in the fact that these laws will probably not
survive challenges from higher courts. The US Supreme Court ruled in
1977 that the death penalty is excessive punishment for rape. But who
knows, in the current atmosphere anything is possible. Maybe that's why
Pope John Paul II, a far-seeing man, shifted the Church toward
opposition to the death penalty.
Extreme Solution II: Palestinians
Two years ago fewer than 8 percent of those who took part in a Gallup
poll among Jewish Israelis said they were in favor of what is politely
called "transfer"--that is, the expulsion of perhaps 2 million
Palestinians across the Jordan River. This month that figure reached 44
Professor Martin van Creveld is one of Israel's best-known military
historians. On April 28 Britain's conservative newspaper the Telegraph
published an article outlining what van Creveld believes is Sharon's
According to van Creveld, Sharon's plan is to drive 2 million
Palestinians across the Jordan using the pretext of a US attack on Iraq
or a terrorist strike in Israel. This could trigger a vast mobilization
to clear the occupied territories of Arabs. Van Creveld notes that in
the 1970 showdown between Jordan's King Hussein and the PLO, Sharon,
serving as commanding officer of Israel's southern front, argued that
Israel's assistance to the King was a mistake; instead it should have
tried to topple the Hashemite regime. Sharon has often said since that
Jordan, which has a Palestinian majority even now, is the Palestinian
state, and thus a suitable destination for Palestinians to be kicked out
of his Greater Israel.
A US attack on Iraq would offer appropriate cover. Sharon himself told
Secretary of State Colin Powell that nothing happening in Israel should
delay a US attack. Other pretexts could include an uprising in Jordan,
followed by the collapse of King Abdullah's regime.
Should such circumstances arise, according to van Creveld, Israel would
mobilize within hours. "First, the country's three ultra-modern
submarines would take up firing positions out at sea. Borders would be
closed, a news blackout imposed, and all foreign journalists rounded up
and confined to a hotel as guests of the Government. A force of 12
divisions, 11 of them armoured, plus various territorial units suitable
for occupation duties, would be deployed: five against Egypt, three
against Syria, and one opposite Lebanon. This would leave three to face
east as well as enough forces to put a tank inside every Arab-Israeli
village just in case their populations get any funny ideas."
In van Creveld's view (he does say that he is utterly opposed to any
form of "transfer"), "the expulsion of the Palestinians would require
only a few brigades. They would not drag people out of their houses but
use heavy artillery to drive them out; the damage caused to Jenin would
look like a pinprick in comparison." He discounts any effective response
from Egypt, Syria, Lebanon or Iraq.
But what about international reaction? Van Creveld thinks it would not
be an effective deterrent. "If Mr Sharon decides to go ahead, the only
country that can stop him is the United States. The US, however, regards
itself as being at war with parts of the Muslim world that have
supported Osama bin Laden. America will not necessarily object to that
world being taught a lesson--particularly if it could be as swift and
brutal as the 1967 campaign; and also particularly if it does not
disrupt the flow of oil for too long.
"Israeli military experts estimate that such a war could be over in just
eight days," van Creveld writes. "If the Arab states do not intervene,
it will end with the Palestinians expelled and Jordan in ruins. If they
do intervene, the result will be the same, with the main Arab armies
destroyed. Israel would, of course, take some casualties, especially in
the north, where its population would come under fire from Hizbollah.
However, their number would be limited and Israel would stand
triumphant, as it did in 1948, 1956, 1967 and 1973."
We've been warned.