Top Jewish Lawyer Urges Death For
Families Of Suicide Bombers
By Ami Eden
Staff Writer Edited by

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 suicide attacks.
"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 lives lost."
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 of Amalek."
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


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