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Jewish Journal

Time for Jewish leaders to end their silence on Iraq

by Aryeh Cohen

February 8, 2007 | 7:00 pm

"One who is able to protest against a wrong that is being done in his family, his city, his nation or the world and doesn't do so is held accountable for that wrong being done." (Talmud Bavli Tractate Shabbat 54b)

There is no longer any doubt that the invasion of Iraq is an utter catastrophe. Former Vice President Al Gore has called it "the worst strategic mistake in the entire history of the United States."

The Bush/Cheney war, launched on the basis of false premises, selective intelligence and outright lies against a country that posed no threat to the United States and which (as all government intelligence agencies concur) had no connection to the terrorist attack of Sept. 11, has caused the deaths of more than 3,000 American soldiers and injured 47,000.

At least several hundred thousand Iraqi civilians have died as a direct result of the war (according the most respected medical journal in Great Britain, The Lancet, the figure is more than 600,000), more than 2 million refugees have fled the country and there are 1.5 million displaced people within the country.

All 16 government intelligence agencies recently concluded in a national intelligence estimate that the U.S. invasion of Iraq has strengthened Al Qaeda and increased the threat of terrorism in this country. It has strengthened Iran, inspired hatred of the United States across the globe and has already cost more than $400 billion (the ultimate cost will be more than a trillion dollars).

According to Sen. Richard Durbin (D-Ill.), that $400 billion could have provided health care coverage for all of the uninsured children in America for the entire duration of the war, new affordable housing units for 500,000 needy families, all the needed port security requirements to keep America safe or complete funding for No Child Left Behind program.

Many leading generals (whose pensions are protected in retirement) have strongly criticized the war and called for a gradual U.S. withdrawal, and almost 1,000 active-duty soldiers, sailors, Marines and airmen, rank-and-file enlistees, noncommissioned officers, along with high-ranking officers, have submitted a petition to Congress (which they call an Appeal for Redress) demanding that the troops be brought home.

According to all available polls, a large majority of Americans want to bring our involvement in Iraq to an end, and an overwhelming majority of Iraqis themselves are opposed to the continued American occupation of their country.

Given these facts, it is difficult to understand the organized Jewish community's silence. Our country is mired in a catastrophic, immensely unpopular war, a sectarian conflict that has caused untold damage to our country's security and exacted an extremely high price in blood and treasure, and the great majority of American Jews are opposed to the war (87 percent of the Jewish community voted for Democratic candidates in the last elections) and yet little is heard from prominent rabbis, teachers and important lay leaders.

Prominent Jewish figures played an important role in protesting against the Vietnam War, supporting the struggle for civil rights in the South and in other important causes but have stayed on the sidelines in the face of the current calamity.

This silence is particularly mysterious, given the damage that the war has done to Israel's interests (as many scholars, military officers and political leaders there have pointed out) by creating the conditions for the emergence of a radical, fundamentalist Shiite state among the ruins of Iraq; eliminating a counterweight to Iran, and increasing the strength and influence of that country, Israel's most dangerous enemy.

Whether the reticence of Jewish communal leadership can be attributed to anxiety in the face of serious threats from Iran, an unwillingness to enter the public fray on a controversial issue or the uncomfortable fact that important Jewish organizations lent their support to war in Iraq before it began, the time for silence is over. It is time for our community's rabbis, teachers and lay leaders to acknowledge that we were lied to, our politicians failed us in their oversight responsibilities and we have been timid in voicing our opposition.

The Talmud teaches that silence is akin to assent. We now need to proclaim our opposition to the current administration's disastrous policies: Bring the troops home. Stop the cycle of killing and being killed. Apologize to the American people and the Iraqis for the invasion. Let the Iraqis heal Iraq. And let us protest a wrong that is being done in our name.

Adam Rubin is assistant professor of Jewish history at Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion in Los Angeles. Aryeh Cohen is associate professor of rabbinic literature at the University of Judaism in Los Angeles Tracker Pixel for Entry

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