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Jewish Journal

Dirty Facts

by Phil Shuman

June 6, 2002 | 8:00 pm

The lawyers have a term for it, of course. A situation where certain facts don't make their client look so good, even though their client is innocent and righteous. They're called "dirty facts." The Middle East is hardly a courtroom, yet I think the term applies. I'm thinking of things like Israelis bulldozing homes with people inside them. Like sharp-shooting soldiers taking out old women in the street. Like denying food, water and medical care to those who are injured and dying. Get the picture?

These could certainly be considered "dirty facts" when describing Israel's behavior in the ongoing military offensive in the occupied territories. When they're reported, independently, repeatedly, by respected news organizations, both print and broadcast, they do have a tendency to undermine the overwhelming public support Israel correctly enjoys in this country. But if you bring these "dirty facts" up, if you discuss them, debate them, invite people of all backgrounds to examine them, does that make you less Jewish? Less concerned? Less horrified by the barbaric suicide bomber attacks on innocent civilians? I would maintain the answer is a resounding no, yet that is often the accusation, and it's happened to me. In my case, it's particularly offensive as someone who grew up a Conservative Jew, whose great-grandfather started the temple in my home town, who was bar mitzvahed, who's daughter was bat mitzvahed, whose son will be bar mitzvahed, who goes to temple, who's proud to be Jewish. These dirty facts are just that -- facts of life in a war that seemingly has no early end. What the Palestinians are doing is simply wrong. What Israel is doing is trying to right centuries of wrong in the best, most forceful and decisive way they know how, at a terrible price in both life and prestige and sometimes even respect.

Where is this coming from? Well, in talking with some of the fine folks at the Anti-Defamation League (ADL), whose work is more relevant now than ever, it came to my attention that at least a dozen people e-mailed the ADL to complain that I was "too critical of Israel" on my weekly radio show on KABC. This after spending half of a recent program with an Israeli-born doctor who quite eloquently portrayed the plight of the Israeli people and also briefly expressed empathy for the innocent Palestinians who are suffering, emphasis on the innocent.

But it seems to be all or nothing with some people. It's a no-win situation. These seem to be the same people who accuse some of being unpatriotic if they question George W's erasing of years of hard-fought civil rights in the name of fighting terror in this country. That's absurd. This is America. We all have the same goals, or we should. We want to see terror and terrorists wiped out. We want to make sure Israel survives and flourishes, we want justice and humanity, its form still to be determined, for those Palestinians who deserve a place to call their own. What is the "better" or "right" way to do all this? I don't know. If I were Ariel Sharon, what would I do? Perhaps the very same things he is doing. That's why all this is so maddening and so heartbreaking. Yet through it all, we express our opinions. We discuss. We talk. Sometimes we agree, sometimes we disagree. But if a Jew in this country points out that Israel has been less than perfect, that Israel cannot always, automatically, every time claim the moral high ground, he's criticized like he's committed a sin.

Here's a news flash. Israel is not perfect. Sharon is not perfect. They admit it. Having said that, when it comes to 'choosing sides,' there's no question whom to support. And there's no question that I can "take the heat" for at least trying to encourage intelligent debate about the ongoing violence. I don't write this now motivated by some whining plea for understanding or sympathy. I don't need it and don't want it. I write it to remind people that everyone's entitled to their opinion and that expressing a thought that doesn't automatically fall in line with the conventional wisdom of a certain group of people shouldn't make you an outcast, shouldn't be taken as a violation of faith. And in radio, the idea is to generate discussion. Not to inflame or embellish, but to talk responsibly. Some say those in the media will do anything for ratings or for attention. Some might. Not me.

It's been interesting to note that in a year -and-a-half of hosting the radio show, talking about everything from capital punishment to presidential politics to the mayor's race to the police chief's future, nothing has generated calls, emotion, passion and even hatred like the violence in the Middle East. Nothing. Not even close. And that's not surprising. Emotions are running high on both sides. That will certainly continue. Something else that will continue, for now, will be the bloodshed and loss of life on both sides, while the soldiers, terrorists, politicians and diplomats work toward the ultimate and inevitable solution, a Palestinian state, side by side and, hopefully, in peace with Israel. And every time the Los Angeles Times prints a front-page article detailing the destruction of a Palestinian home or family, and every time a talk show host discusses what's happening and tries to keep an open mind to varied points of view, it doesn't mean that other Jews claiming some higher moral ground need to be outraged and angered. Outrage and anger is what we need to continue to direct at Yasser Arafat and his misguided and cowardly suicide bomber brigade. Let's remember where we are and who we are. OK?

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