December 20, 2005

by Reb Yudel
Is the Republican Jewish Coalition the new Judenrat?

I only dare ask the question, of course, because the Republican Jewish Coaltion played the Holocaust analogy card first, in a defense of the Iraq war published online at Newsweek and forewarded me by a couple of people... one of whom elicited from me a fisking of the piece. Here goes:
The Union of Reform Judaism's vote to oppose the war in Iraq
was a mistake and embarrassment for my movement
By Marc Gellman

Dec. 16, 2005 - The movement of which I am a member has just voted against a war that I support. This vote by the Union of Reform Judaism was the first vote by a major national Jewish organization or religious movement opposing the war in Iraq.

This war was and is being fought for American reasons, not Jewish reasons.

What were those reasons? Why was it necessary to torture people into giving bogus evidence to launch the war? Why was the administration determined to fight the war in Iraq, even to the extant of letting bin Laden escape and nearly not fighting the Taliban at all?
However, to see this war that toppled one of Israel's fiercest enemies—an anti-Semitic dictator who sent $25,000 to the families of every jihadist who had been able to kill and maim Israeli children and other innocents
Let's not forget that the Saddam checks was a publicity stunt. It was Hammas who was the real supporters of jihadist terror -- Hammas and their Saudi backers. Is the Iraq war simply another effort to distract America from the Saudi-terror connection? Why would Bush want to do such a thing?
—opposed by Jews is more than an act of ingratitude to this country and this president. This vote was an act of stunning and incomprehensible historical blindness.

One argument raised in support of the antiwar resolution passed in Houston was that Saddam Hussein had nothing to do with 9/11 and was thus an illegal and inappropriate military target. This putative fact is both debatable and irrelevant. The idea that unless we have a credit-card receipt showing that Saddam Hussein paid for Muhammad Atta's plane tickets to New York, he must be presumed to be an innocent in the war on terror is ludicrous. He was a trainer, a protector and a funder of terrorists around the world.

So why weren't we going after Saudi Arabia? Or, more to the point, why didn't we go after Iran? Since 1990, Iran has been Israel's main strategic threat. Since 2003, Iran has been greatly strengthened. Iraq, once an enemy, is becoming an allied Shiite theocracy. As they say in the Middle East, Mazel Tov!
A far more compelling Jewish reason to support the war in Iraq comes from recent Jewish history in the clear and tragic records of the Holocaust. On Nov. 18, 1944, John McCloy, the assistant secretary of War, sent the following response on behalf of President Franklin D. Roosevelt to John Pehle of the War Refugee Board. Pehle had forwarded to the president on Nov. 8 the anguished and urgent request to bomb the railroad lines leading up to and the gas chambers at Auschwitz-Birkenau in order to disrupt the genocidal Nazi killing machine. McCloy wrote:Dear Mr. Pehle, I refer to your letter of November 8th in which you forwarded the report of two eye witnesses on the notorious German concentration and extermination camps of Auschwitz and Birkenau in Upper Silesia. The Operation Staff of the War Department has given careful consideration to your suggestion that the bombing of these camps be undertaken.

In consideration of this proposal the following points were brought out:

a. Positive destruction of these camps would necessitate precision bombing, employing heavy or medium bombardment, or attack by low flying or dive bombing aircraft, preferably the latter.

b. The target is beyond the maximum range of medium bombardment, dive bombers and fighter bombers located in United Kingdom, France or Italy.

c. Use of heavy bombardment from United Kingdom bases would necessitate a hazardous round trip flight unescorted of approximately 2,000 miles over enemy territory.

d. At the present critical stage of the war in Europe, our strategic air forces are engaged in the destruction of industrial target systems vital to the dwindling war potential of the enemy, from which they should not be diverted. The positive solution to this problem is the earliest possible victory over Germany, to which end we should exert our entire means. …

Based on the above, as well as the most uncertain, if not dangerous effect such a bombing would have on the object to be attained, the War Department has felt that it should not, at least for the present, undertake these operations.


John McCloy

Assistant Secretary of War

The Jews of Europe are now the Kurds of Iraq, and the Shiites, and the Marsh Arabs. The point of war is not only to defend one's own country from attack but also to free from the jaws of death millions of innocent human beings who lack the military means to secure their own freedom. This may not be a universally supported political or military view of war, but it is a religious view of war, and it is my view of this and other wars. I do not know a single Kurd or a single Marsh Arab or a single Iraqi Shiite, but I do know that they have been slaughtered by the thousands, and because of this war they are now free.

This would be comvincing... except the Marsh Arabs were slaughted in the 1980s, with the awareness of the American government. In fact, it was to restore ties after such unfortunate incidents that a delegation of Republican senators visited Hussein in the summer of 1990, a period of diplomatic-bridge-buidling whose apex -- or perhaps nadir -- was the impression given, presumably unwittingly, by the American ambassador that the U.S. would not object to the invasion of Kuwait.
The Iraqi killing machine has been destroyed. I also know, and every person of even moderate intelligence also knows, that if our troops withdraw now, before victory has been fully achieved they will be slaughtered again. When I say never again in memory of the Holocaust, I don't mean "never again Jews," I mean "never again anyone."

It matters not one wit to me that they are not Jewish nor even that they may not be grateful to America. All that matters to me is that they are made in God's image and their lives are no longer held tight in the bloody maw of a genocidal dictator. The Jews of Europe and the Kurds of Iraq may both have been outside the strictly delimited aims of the war in Europe or the war in Iraq, but their cries must reach some listening ears and sensitive souls. It is deeply disappointing to me to know that people in my movement of Judaism with whom I share a belief that my daughter deserves the same spiritual horizons as my son cannot feel the need for freedom of those victims of genocide whose cries reach God even if they often do not reach the front pages of the morning papers.

I also feel, and I know, that many of the good Reform Jews who went to Houston for our convention also feel deep solidarity and compassion for the black Muslim victims of genocide in Darfur, and about the Bosnian Muslims and about the Tutsis of Rwanda.

Apparently Gellman doesn't know many Jewish Republicans; the Republican party opposed American intervention in Bosnia, as well as in Rwanda. Under Republican leadership, America has beens so bold as to respond to the genocide in Darfur with... a day of prayer.
What I do not understand and cannot comprehend is why they cannot also feel a sacrificial solidarity with the suffering people of Iraq who because of this war are now free. I am thinking of Abraham Lincoln, and I am thinking of the Exodus and I am thinking of Isaiah. President Lincoln insisted on reading the numbers of Confederate dead at every cabinet meeting and one cabinet secretary protested this practice, "Who are they to us, Mr. President?" Lincoln answered, "Thank God, the world is larger than your heart."
While Bush clearly admires Lincoln for suspending Habeus Corpus, I'm not sure the comparison is apt. Whereas Lincoln insisted on reading the numbers of Conferedate dead, Bush not only hides the number of Iraqi dead, but does his most to make sure American know nothing of the more than two thousand Americans brought home in caskets.
The Bible describes the people who left Egypt in the Exodus as a "mixed multitude." This means that when my people went free out of the house of bondage, other people went free with us. I am uplifted and sustained by my faith in a God whose strong hand and outstretched arm, extended not only to the Jewish slaves in Egypt but to all the slaves in Egypt. I believe that promise of freedom is still God's will for all people in all times who sleep in the dust and despair of other houses of bondage and live in fear under the rule of other Pharaohs.
Perhaps this is the difference between God, and a president who looks to Jesus for political philosophy. Whereas Moses received -- and taught -- a law for a new society in the time between liberation and the creation of a new society, the Bush administration ignored all plans for the occuption, tossing aside details plans in favor of hiring young Republican Party activists with no experience or wisdom, but Administration-sized hubris. Whereas God has a plan for victory as soon as He contacted Moses -- note the prescient prediction of signs and wonders and terror -- our Administration has no plan for victory in Iraq, only a plan for victory in the opinion polls.
Isaiah (25:4), speaking for God, commands us, "You are a refuge to the poor, to the needy in distress, a shelter from the storm." This war, and the larger war of which it is a part, is not a war against terror for me. It is a war of refuge, a war of shelter.
If this was a war of shelter, why were the post-invasion plans trashed and ignored?

If this was a war against nuclear terror, why were the suspect arm sites not secured?

And if it was a war against terror, why were the weapons depot left unguarded?

A religious movement should feel that, and I am disconsolate that they do not. The Reform moment in Judaism has no official hierarchy and does not speak for all Reform Jews. Their resolutions bind no one and compel no one to do anything. Sometime anarchy is a good thing.
Heck, I think the Constitution is a good thing. That's why it's a bit embarrassing to see a rabbi support the war, as if it were the ideal war we were sold three years ago, not a war carried out by a president who believes that he is authorized on his sole say-so to decide, upon reading this response, that I am an enemy combatant, and should be tortured and imprisoned and perhaps killed.

Let me say this again: Based upon the Bush/Yoo/Gonzales reading of the Constitution, the President has been empowered by Congress to sign a document saying that you and your family are enemy combantants, are to be imprisoned in Cuba, tortured -- and that noone be informed as to your whereabouts.

Exporting Democracy woudl be wonderful -- but Bush has created a situation where we are like an African country where all the food grown is for export. I cannot take seriously claims that we are exporting freedom and democracy from a man who claims for himself untrammeled absolute powers over the life of every American citizen.

That we embarrassed ourselves before America means little to me. That we may have embarrassed ourselves before the survivors of the kingdom of night and before the commandment to freedom from our God is a matter of much more gravity.

I do not pretend that my interpretation of God's will that all oppressed people should go free is in fact God's will. What I do know is that I could not worship a God for whom this was not a sacred commandment. I do not pretend that the liberation of all oppressed people everywhere is either possible or politically or militarily realistic, but it is the only possible spiritual goal that can save our world, and it is my view and my reading of the mandates of my faith. I am sorry my coreligionists could not feel more clearly and more urgently this commandment of liberation for the suffering people of Iraq. I know they do not speak for me, and I can do no more than humbly presume that they do not speak for God. (c) 2005 Newsweek, Inc.

In my view, God no more prefers a dictatorial Islamic regime to a dictatorial Baathist regime; perhaps less, because the ayatollahs profane God's name in a way that the standard American-backed dictators do not. (And it is worth remembering, again that American didn't stand for freedom when we supported Hussein for most of his regime). The God of freedom would not approve of taking the man who oversaw death squads in El Salvador and made him ambassador in Iraq. My God dwells in the details. And while the rhetoric of the Bush administration is soaring and beautiful, in its details it is corrupt and sordid. The Union of Reform Judaism, by disassociating itself from Bush and his wars, made me proud to be, if not a Reform Jew, at least the grandson of Reform Jews. TrackBack

Thank you for taking on Rabbi Gellman's essay. I am not jewish, but I found his logic to be overly simplistic, factually-suspect and his overall tone to be rather condescending- not just towards Reform Jews who DONT support the war, but towards all of us who question the motives of this administration when it comes to Iraq.

It would be interesting to hear Gellman's rebuttal to some of the points you raised- most specifically that Saddam's genocidal tirade mattered little to us not only at the time, but for two decades afterward. To claim that invading and occupying Iraq was some sort of mercy mission is beyond naive. Gellman selectively ignores (as you point out), the horrific acts justified by this administration- the lies, the torture, the tens of thousands of civilian deaths (if not more) and the lawless usurpation of power by our President. He thinks saddam was antisemitic? Saddam was a secular dictator surrounded in that region by islamic fundamentalist regimes- much less of a threat to israel than Iran, Syria or even Saudi Arabia (who gives Hamas and Hezbollah a free pass in order to maintain their dynasty) and this weeks elections in Iraq were a victory for the radical elements not only in Iraq, but in Iran.

Rabbi Gellman paints this as the forces of good vs. the forces of evil and that he is dissapointed that Reform Judaism sided with evil. He needs to brush up on his facts and perhaps even some of his core values because while we send a country to the brink of civil war and more ultimately more suffering, the real evil has not been brought to justice- Osama Bin Laden is still out there and we have created a new terror network in Iraq and if Gellman thinks saddam was bad, just wait....

Posted by: Stacy at December 22, 2005 8:24 PM
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