- A prominent Washington attorney and Jewish communal leader
is calling for the execution of family members of suicide bombers.
- Nathan Lewin, an oft-mentioned candidate for a federal
judgeship and legal advisor to several Orthodox organizations, told the
Forward that such a policy would provide a much-needed deterrent against
- "If executing some suicide-bomber families saves
the lives of even an equal number of potential civilian victims, the exchange
is, I believe, ethically permissible," wrote Lewin, who served as
president of the International Association of Jewish Lawyers and Jurists
and is a vice president of the Orthodox Union. "It is a policy born
of necessity ,Äî the need to find a true deterrent when capital
punishment is demonstrably ineffective."
- Lewin argued that the biblical injunction to destroy
the ancient tribe of Amalek serves as a precedent in Judaism for taking
measures that are "ordinarily unacceptable" in the face of a
mortal threat. His proposal, however, was rejected by an Israeli diplomat
in New York, and discounted, in terms ranging from mild to condemnatory,
by a range of commentators, terrorism experts and Jewish communal leaders
from across the American political spectrum.
- "The State of Israel is determined to respond to
every Palestinian provocation," said Ido Aharoni, consul for media
and public affairs at Israel's New York consulate. "Israel's military
approach is to pursue the perpetrators and those who seek to carry out
acts of terrorism against innocent Israelis. Within that framework, Israel
is trying to minimize, if possible to eliminate, the number of innocent
- Several leading Jewish figures, including Harvard Law
School professor Alan Dershowitz, argued that the plan represented a legitimate
if flawed attempt to strike a balance between preventing terrorism and
preserving democratic norms. But the proposal was strongly condemned by
the head of the Reform movement, Rabbi Eric Yoffie, and the executive vice
chairwoman of the Jewish Council for Public Affairs, Hannah Rosenthal.
- "The opinion is utterly reprehensible and totally
contrary to the most fundamental principles of the Jewish religious tradition
and everything the State of Israel has been about since its founding,"
said Yoffie, president of the Union of American Hebrew Congregations. "I've
said it, and everyone realizes, that in a war all of our standards on civil
liberties may not apply. But to say that you need to make common-sense
compromises is a long way from saying we are going to kill innocent people
to bring about deterrence."
- Yoffie rejected Lewin's reference to Amalek as a possible
justification for killing innocents. He argued that for nearly 2,000 years
talmudic sages and other rabbinic commentators have argued that the lessons
of Amalek could not be applied to contemporary times. In an article that
appeared in the Sh'ma journal alongside Lewin's essay, Brandeis University
Jewish studies professor Arthur Green wrote, "I only wonder how long
it will take [Lewin], by the force of this proof-text, to go all the way
and suggest that the Palestinian nation as a whole has earned the fate
- Green, former president of the Reconstructionist Rabbinical
College, wrote that his first desire upon reading Lewin's essay was to
"tear my garments, as a sign of mourning on hearing the desecration
of God's name."
- The criticisms of Lewin: Burton argued, in his own name,
that the attorney should now be blackballed from organized Jewish life,
just as the late Rabbi Meir Kahane was ostracized for calling for the mass
deportation of Arabs from Israel.
- Rosenthal, whose organization serves the national network
of local Jewish community relations councils and a range of national organizations,
said that Jewish groups need to condemn any talk in their community of
justifying the killing of civilians. "I can't begin to tell you how
many meetings I've been in with colleagues across the country where the
words of spokespersons for various Muslim and Arab causes are being parsed,"
Rosenthal said. "We look at words and decide which side of the line
you are on."
- Dershowitz and Abraham Foxman, national director of the
Anti-Defamation League, rejected the notion that Lewin should be elbowed
out of communal life. They argued that his proposal represented a legitimate
attempt to forge a policy for stopping terrorism. Foxman declined to take
a stand on the actual proposal, citing his policy of deferring to Jerusalem
on Israeli security issues.
- Though they declined to endorse the controversial proposal,
top officials at the O.U. and Agudath Israel of America, for whom Lewin
has done legal work, expressed sympathy for Lewin's efforts to curb what
they described as an unprecedented wave of suicide attacks in Israel. "[Lewin]
is not a Kahanist; he is not a nut," said Richard Stone, chair of
the O.U.'s Institute of Public Affairs. Stone noted that Lewin, a member
of the institute's executive committee, was not advocating the mass deportation
of Arabs, rather a limited method of fighting terrorists.
- Rabbi William Altshul, headmaster of the Melvin J. Berman
Hebrew Academy, a Modern Orthodox Jewish day school in Washington, D.C.,
told the Forward that he did not regret the decision to honor Lewin this
week at the school's annu al dinner. "I haven't read the article,"
Altshul said. "But Nat has always been known for his outspoken opinions,
and I respect him for it."
- Even as several observers rejected the notion of blackballing
Lewin, they offered substantive critiques of his argument. Dershowitz,
author of "Why Terrorism Works" (Yale University Press, 2002),
and terrorism researcher Steven Emerson, who both favor the limited use
of torture to extract information about an impending terrorist attack,
said that they balked at the execution of innocent civilians.
- Dershowitz argued that the same level of deterrence could
be achieved by leveling the villages of suicide bombers after the residents
had been given a chance to evacuate (an idea Lewin disparagingly likened
to "using aspirin to treat brain cancer").
- Rabbi Steven Pruzansky of Orthodox Congregation Bnai
Yeshurun in Teaneck, N.J., a trained lawyer known for hawkish views on
Israeli security issues, argued that a policy of mass deportations, rather
than executions, could serve as an effective, but less deadly, deterrent
against future attacks.
- Several observers defended Lewin by noting that the United
States killed tens of thousands of civilians in Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
But Yoffie warned against such parallels. ___
- "Israel may have the right to put others on trial,
but certainly no one has the right to put the Jewish people and the State
of Israel on trial" -- Ariel Sharon Sunday, 25 March, 2001
- Source: http://news.bbc.co.uk/hi/english/world/middle_east/newsid_1241000/1241371.st