Monday, December 14, 2009

Just War Theory & Flirting with Treason

[Obama in Oslo. A disturbing aside about Israel.]



The real price tag


The motive behind the torching of a West Bank mosque early Friday morning was, as the graffiti left behind attested, "To exact a price."

But the vandals who targeted the house of worship in Yasuf struck simultaneously at the sovereign authority of the state. The Netanyahu government's imperfections notwithstanding, the establishment of the Third Commonwealth in 1948 created an overarching Zionist authority. Those who reject it and turn to violence are flirting with treason.

The assailants took it upon themselves to decide when and under what circumstances "the Arabs won't have quiet." To our fanatics, not only do the ends justify the means, but we suspect the means deliver a sick sense of primitive gratification. They have no compunctions about igniting a third intifada - or worse - in order to derail the settlement freeze. Their apocalyptic theology and political hubris tempts them to force the hand of God.

They are men without doubts.

As you would expect, Israeli politicians and clergy from across the political spectrum, including settler leaders, have denounced the attack. Yesterday, a group of religious kibbutz movement rabbis sought to reach the scene of the outrage to express remorse, as did middle-of-the-road settlers from Efrat.

Yet there were also those who either refused to condemn the attack or did so with the kind of equivocation and verbal acrobatics we've come to expect from Palestinian "moderates" reacting to attacks on Jews.

We want to hear more settler leaders and rabbis say - plainly, explicitly and without prevarication - that the Yasuf attack, and the perfidious disregard it symbolizes for the authority of Israel's democratic government, is despicable. Let settler spiritual leaders acknowledge that such vandalism amounts to a desecration of God's name and ostracize those who propagate ideas that encourage such behavior.

IT'S A safe bet that those who perpetuated the mosque attack have little tolerance for anything US President Barack Obama says or does. They've written him off as an enemy of Israel, and the members of Israel's security cabinet as his stooges. The mosque assailants were probably savoring - clandestinely - their moment in the limelight as Obama was delivering his Nobel Peace Prize acceptance speech in Oslo's City Hall on Friday.

An eloquent address by an eloquent man is easily taken for granted. It was delivered just as Israelis were ushering in Shabbat, so not many here heard the president outline his worldview. That's too bad, because the speech grappled with how a country can wield power without being corrupted by it; how human behavior can be elevated while accepting the reality of human nature.

Obama drew no applause when he declared that evil was real and pacifism was not the way to confront it. He resurrected a Kennedy-esque Democratic defense of the use of force, making no apologies for US behavior.

He declared that Islam had been defiled by those who kill innocents in the name of God. Adding, "No Holy War can ever be a just war. For if you truly believe that you are carrying out divine will, then there is no need for restraint."

We found ourselves thinking how tragic it would be if Jews fell into the trap that has ensnared Muslims and if ours became a mirror image of violence-ridden Palestinian society.

Obama took his European audience to task for

rejecting the use of force under virtually any circumstances. He discussed the theory of just war, summarizing it as "waged as a last resort or in self-defense; if the force used is proportional; and if, whenever possible, civilians are spared from violence."

Except for the doctrine of proportionality, which may make sense for a global superpower but could bleed our small country to death, the other principles seem worthy. He also said that America reserved the right to act unilaterally - also a tenet of Israel's security doctrine.

We were discomfited by the president's oblique implication, in referencing the Arab-Israel conflict, that Jews and Arabs fell back in the same manner on "tribe" and "religion" in confronting modernity. That's patently not true.

Yet every time extremist settlers behave badly, the real price tag is that it becomes harder to make the case that the Jewish state is a beacon of enlightenment in a benighted Middle East.

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