Criticism of Bill Keller on Assange and WikiLeaks

I happen to support the idea of transparent governance as a whole.  Transparency is what the Internet is all about:  while closed, proprietary platforms decline, open source platforms are increasingly flourishing.  This is affecting our politics, particularly in the case of WikiLeaks.  While I recognize the value of secrets for diplomacy, most stuff that is labeled secret should not be.  WikiLeaks has unveiled documents that we have a right to know about and, for that reason, I am glad that we have access to this trove of materials.  Citizens of the US and others need to grow up and understand what’s going on in their home countries and in the world.

I happen to support a robust foreign policy and am not against our Iraq policy, although I recognize the ignorance, cynicism, unnecessary violence, and corruption that drove our policy there.  Nevertheless, I am glad that we have, for example, the WikiLeaks expose of soldiers indiscriminately killing Iraqi civilians.  This is war, and this is what unfortunately and tragically happens in war.  Do we naively believe that war is clean and neat and that soldiers always behave appropriately under incredibly stressful conditions?  War is filled with horror, moral degradation, and murderous rampages (we can read about that as far back as Homer’s Iliad and the Hebrew Bible).  This does not mean that we should never engage in war, although it should be a last resort, but it does mean that we need to acknowledge and recognize what actually does happen in war.  However, it will mean that citizens will have to be grown-up and adult about it.  They will have to have their eyes open before deciding to embark on a war.  That’s what Assange and WikiLeaks force us to be.

At the same time, I don’t think that this is a fair article.  Coleen Rowley criticizes Keller for his views on Iraq, not primarily for his portrayal of Assange in Keller’s recent New York Times piece. I don’t think that Keller’s views on Iraq automatically prejudice him in the case of Assange.  In spite of its massive flaws, I support our policy in Iraq, and yet I am glad for what Assange has done.  Keller was simply pointing out Assange’s strange personality and behavior.  Given the significance of WikiLeaks, Keller’s comments here are newsworthy.  Assange is part of the story.  That does not nullify or diminish the importance of what Assange has done.


Slaughtering and Torturing Dolphins in Taijii, Japan

If you are squeamish, please do not watch this video.  It is hard and painful to see.

The slaughtering and torture of dolphins is a tradition that no longer makes any sense.  Dolphins (and whales) are highly intelligent, sophisticated, relational sea mammals.  In Greek tradition, dolphins were sacred and viewed as friends of humans.  This video and others have brought attention to a horrible practice that we need to stop not only because of its violence and the slow, painful deaths of dolphins, but because it degrades our own moral conscience as human beings.

Larry (an article that summarizes the practice in Taijii)


Muslim Brotherhood and Egypt

I don’t agree with Religion Link’s description ( of the Muslim Brotherhood as “not simply a religion, but a way of life.”  Indeed, the Muslim Brotherhood believes that.  Yet, even though the Muslim Brotherhood is not monolithic, it also believes that Egypt should be an Islamic state, as should other Muslim countries in the Middle East.  It does not historically affirm freedom, openness, an entrepreneurial economy, or secular democratic values such as a free press, freedom of speech, and freedom of assembly.  Unlike Iranian Shi’ites, the Mujhadeen, and Jihadists generally, the Muslim Brotherhood is not wedded to intimidation and violence as the primary means of achieving its goals, but it is willing to use violence when it sees fit.  For example, members assassinated King Abdullah I in Jordan in 1951, tried to assassinate Gamal Abdel Nasser in 1954, were implicated in the assassination of Anwar El Sadat in 1981, assassinated a number of moderate Arab leaders in the 1950’s, and perpetrated other terrorist attacks including the Hebron massacre of Jews in1929.  Since the 1970’s and 80’s, it has renounced violence and has spoken of Islamic democracy, but given its history and its hostility to generally accepted democratic values, it would not be unreasonable to view its democratic advocacy very skeptically.  Further, Hamas (which rules Gaza) is part of the Muslim Brotherhood, and it has consistently used violence against both Israelis and Palestinians as an important tactical component.  In Egypt, the Muslim Brotherhood views Israel as the enemy of Arabs and Muslims.  The Muslim Brotherhood has also had a long-standing, well-documented admiration of, and support, for Nazi ideology.  In general, the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt now uses moderate tactics, but its goal is still an Islamic state.  And, remember, calling for Islam to be a part of government is not the same as calling for an Islamic State, with Sharia law and all its accoutrements.  There’s certainly the possibility that the Muslim Brotherhood has changed and will continue to evolve into a democratic movement, but there will have to be more evidence to trust that.

Here is a link from Juan Cole, suggesting that a takeover by the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt is unlikely.  Many Egyptians who are religious and who oppose the current government also have democratic, secular values.  And there is a long tradition of secular politics in Egypt.  There is also widespread support for Islamic values, but not necessarily for an Islamic state: .  I hope Cole is right.

That said, in the final analysis, prosperity and peace in the Middle East depend upon Muslim/Arab societies developing democratic traditions and cultures of openness,  That will be good for everyone, including the US and Israel, in the long run.  Of course, the “long run” can take a long time, and there can be a lot of turbulence and suffering in-between.


Nick Popaditch, Violent Rhetoric, and Antisemitism

Antisemitism is on the rise.  That’s not a surprise in hard times, but it gets a little disturbing when an election night loser (Republican Nick Popaditch, known as Gunny Pop on Facebook) takes a mob of his supporters and corners the winner (Democrat Bob Filner) at his victory celebration on November 2 (2010).  Using physical intimidation and lots of nasty language, including shouting “Jew” at Filner and his wife, the bullies get their chance to intimidate someone who is “liberal” (whatever that means) and Jewish.  Wonder if that bears any resemblance to the . . . 1930’s.

In any case, this is just one of many examples of violent rhetoric run amok.  We all need to take a hard line against over-the-top language and posturing, whether on the left or the right.  People have a right to speak wherever and however they want, but we have a right to ask them to stop when they step over the line, not to listen to them when they continue, and to prevent physical intimidation.  Otherwise, we enter a gateway into tyranny and authoritarianism. (particularly the second video at the bottom of the page)


Aqedah (Genesis 22): Binding of Abraham and Isaac

See Laurence H. Kant, “Some Restorative Thoughts on an Agonizing Text:  Abraham’s Binding of Isaac and the Horror on  Mt. Moriah  (Gen. 22)”:  “Part 1,”Lexington Theological Quarterly 38 (2003) 77-109; “Part 2, Lexington Theological Quarterly 38 (2003) 161- 94: AqedahPart1a andAqedahPart2a

See also Laurence H. Kant, “Arguing with God and Tiqqun Olam:  A Response to Andre LaCocque on the Aqedah,” Lexington Theological Quarterly 40 (2005) 203-19 (this was a response to an article by André Lacocque, “About the ‘Akedah’ in Genesis 22:  A Response to Laurence H. Kant,”Lexington Theological Quarterly 40 (2005) 191-201): AqedahResponseToLacocque


Antisemitism on Rise in West

See Laurence H. Kant, “Anti-Semitism on Rise in West,” op-ed, Lexington Herald Leader, January 8, 2007:  Antisemitism1


Mindfulness Training in the US Military

Because of the massive information overload that affects soldiers in the US military due to a heavy emphasis on sophisticated technology and multi-tasking, there is greater need than ever for awareness and grounding.  This article shows the unstated influence of Buddhist meditation, with its ubiquitous focus on mindfulness–an intriguing development.  (via Dianne Bazell)


Israel, Iran, and the Stuxnet Worm

This is certainly better than a military attack or a war.  Of course, the same technology can be used for more nefarious purposes, and there’s the rub.  Still I prefer it done this way.

Then again, here’s another piece arguing that that the US and/or Israel did not design this worm and that its effect is much more minimal than what has been reported:


Tucson: Others as Alien

An astute observation from Robert Wright:  Whether we’re on the left or the right, when we isolate ourselves from those who disagree with us and put them into the category of “alien,” we dehumanize others and make violent acts easier to commit.  Blessings, Larry


Tucson: Real Violence Rather than Civility is the Issue

This is an excellent piece, emphasizing the existence of real violence over the past two years.  Frank Rich argues that you don’t have to look to rhetoric, but to actual acts.  Though violent rhetoric and threats of violence are likely to encourage and foment actual violence, Rich has a point when he argues that we should pay particular attention to violent incidents.  Even when they cause minimal damage, they are precursors to larger scale bloodshed.

On rhetoric, see my piece:


Violent Rhetoric and Tucson Again

Neal Boortz says that people have a right to be angry and use whatever imagery they wish as long as they do not resort to violence. Of course, there is no legal question here. Free speech is guaranteed by the first amendment to the US Constitution. But is it wise to use such imagery? I’m angry about many things in our culture and politics, but I would try not to use imagery that others can misinterpret or take literally. When we talk about targeting a political opponent with gun imagery, or taking second amendment remedies if we lose at the ballot box, or publicly describing our opponents as evil, unamerican, or alien, or musing or joking about assassinating politicians we don’t like, we have crossed the moral line.

Further, metaphors and symbols are not simply colorful ways of speaking, but the core elements of communication and expression which human beings use to articulate ideas and give voice to feeling. They express our most deeply held worldviews and values. When we use them, we are tapping into powerful currents of visceral emotion. By using war and combat imagery, we are not merely offering persuasive rhetoric, but we are appealing at a visceral level to a deep need for aggression that is latent in all us and part of the biological memory of our species. It is not surprising or unexpected that there are those who would take the metaphor literally, because the distance from violent language to violent action is not all that great.

The vast majority of us would not do so, but there are those who are disturbed or unbalanced who could well do so.  Now no one has responsibility for this assassination attempt and mass murder except for Jared Lee Loughner.  But what we say and do influences others, both directly and indirectly.  Whatever Loughner’s particular motivations, it is unlikely that he would have acted in this way without living in a culture of violence, including violent language and symbolism.

Whether or not Loughner listened to particular radio shows, belonged to specific groups, or was conservative or liberal is not the most important factor here. What matters is that the language we use sets a tone that affects the behavior of others, especially the mentally ill and disturbed. Those of us who speak and write in public venues have a great responsibility because others are watching us and following us. Gabby Giffords understood the violent context in which she worked and many (including her) have rightly noted that “words have consequences.” Indeed they do, because they are not “merely” words, but images and symbols that connect to primal, archetypal emotions.

It is not a question of assigning blame to the right or left or to any group, but rather of understanding the context in which our politics take place. There is a sense that it is legitimate to dehumanize others by using violent metaphors about them. Those on all sides of the political spectrum have done this. We don’t need to aggravate the hostile climate further by focusing on individuals who have made poor use of language and imagery, but we simply must ask them to stop doing it.

Let’s find other words and symbolism to express our anger and frustration.


Violent Rhetoric and Tucson

As we see today in Tucson with the attempted assassination of a congresswoman (Gabrielle Giffords), plus the shootings and murders of many bystanders, violent imagery and language can set the context for real-life horror. Whatever your political point of view (center, right, left, independent), let us please pledge ourselves to civility, humanity, and mutual respect.

Pima County (Arizona, Tucson) Sheriff, Clarence Dupnik, says it powerfully:

“When you look at unbalanced people, how they respond to the vitriol that comes out of certain mouths about tearing down the government, the anger, the hatred, the bigotry that goes on this country is getting to be outrageous, and unfortunately Arizona has become sort of the capital. We have become the mecca for prejudice and bigotry.”

“The vitriolic rhetoric that we hear day in and day out from people in the radio business and some people in the TV business … This has not become the nice United States that most of us grew up in.”

Please keep the victims and families in thought and prayer.


Genocide and Human Progress

I recall explaining to a group that the percentage of soldiers killed in war  is much lower than in the past, especially in hunter-gatherer societies.  The number of civilians killed was also much higher, and people viewed genocide as a normal (though dreaded) hazard of life.  In fact, we did not even have a word for “genocide” until the twentieth century. There is no record of any nation intervening to stop a genocide until the US intervened in Bosnia and Kosovo.

The fact that we talk about “genocide,” condemn it, and criticize lack of action about it is in fact a testament to the unfolding evolution of humanity.  This did not happen in past centuries, in pre-modern cultures, or in the Bible. That’s why cultural transformation is difficult.  People refuse to see what right in front of them:  a growing repulsion for the annihilation of groups of human beings. If we want to move forward, we need to talk about what’s good about us.  Otherwise, those listening shut down.


Ivory Coast on the Brink of Genocide

Now is the time to act to stop genocide before it happens in the Ivory Coast. Use conversations, talks and sermons, emails, and blogs to stop potential horror.


“Some Restorative Thoughts on an Agonizing Text: Abraham’s Binding of Isaac and the Horror on Mt. Moriah (Gen. 22)”

By Laurence H. Kant

1) “Some Restorative Thoughts on an Agonizing Text:  Abraham’s Binding of Isaac and the Horror on  Mt. Moriah  (Gen. 22)”: “Part 1,” Lexington Theological Quarterly 38 (2003) 77-109; “Part 2”  Lexington Theological Quarterly 38 (2003) 161-94

2) “Arguing with God and Tiqqun Olam:  A Response to Andre LaCocque on the Aqedah,” Lexington Theological Quarterly 40 (2005) 203-19 (this was a response to an article by André Lacocque, “About the ‘Akedah’ in Genesis 22:  A Response to Laurence H. Kant,” Lexington Theological Quarterly 40 (2005) 191-201)

AqedahArticlePart1a; AqedahArticlePart2a; and AqedLacocqueResp1


Abraham and Isaac

On Mt. Moriah, the Source offered Abraham the chance for a mystical ascent to heaven. But Abraham understood the path as going upward to hell (Gen 22).


Neturei Karta

This is from an email I wrote to a friend about some photos depicting clearly ultra-orthodox Jews happily meeting with Mahmoud Ahmadenijad, the President of Iran.


Photos like these are actually pretty well known. Most ultra-Orthodox or Haredi (whether Hasidic, followers of the Lithuanian Yeshivah tradition, or Sephardic) have always opposed Zionism and the secular Jewish state, but they do not support harm coming to Jews.  Many of these have by now compromised (such as Agudat Israel and Shas and Hasidic groups such as Lubavitch), working with the Israeli state even though they oppose it in principle.  Among the Haredi, however, there is a particularly fanatic, right-wing group who goes beyond their opposition to the state of Israel by advocating for Israel’s destruction and who support violence against Israelis and against Jews who actively support the state of Israel.  They actually virulently oppose other Haredi who work with the Israeli state, back Ahmadenijad, give credence to Ahmadenijad’s holocaust denial (in part because they believe that many of the Jews murdered in the holocaust were not “real” Jews), and embrace Ahmadenijad’s threats of violence against Israel.  The group is called Neturei Karta (“Guardians of the City”), whose members live in various places around the world, most notably in  Meah Shearim in Jerusalem. Ahmadenijad has been photographed with them before.  See the following links:

Neturei Karta is radically isolated and cultish, the most extreme of the extreme.  In short, they’re crazy.

P.S. There is an Israeli film called “Kadosh,” which gives a glimpse at the lives of ultra-Orthodox groups like Neturei Karta in Meah Shearim.


Repair the World

We Jews are haunted by the cries of Abel’s heirs from the earth. The specter of annhilation has a way of improving your hearing. Hence tikkun olam, repair of the world.


Noah did not argue with the Source for the impending human genocide. Abraham argued with the Source for Sodom, but not for Isaac. Moses argued incessantly with the Source. So did the great Hasidic rebbe, Isaac of Berditchev. We are supposed to act like Moses and Isaac of Berditchev.


Boycotts, Divestment, and the One-State Solution

The movement to boycott and divest from Israel wants a one-state solution, while also opposing cooperation and negotiations between Palestinians and Israelis.



“The U.S. Army remembers June 6, 1944: D-Day in Normandy, France. Video, audio, photos, posters, and maps tell the story.” A great moment.


The Flotilla Incident and My Frustration with Israel

Israel clearly has the right to defend itself by maintaining the blockade against a country whose government is committed to annihilating it, and Israeli soldiers were confronted with a violent response on at least one of the ships.

I still find this situation demoralizing and depressing.  How come Israel was not better prepared to handle the flotilla?  Israel is supposed to have the best military and the most sophisticated counter-insurgency techniques.  It sure did not look like that here.  When the commandos descended on to the Turkish ship, they looked like sitting ducks for a an angry mob.  How could the Israeli military have so badly misjudged this situation, putting their own soldiers at risk and giving the anti-Israel crowd an enormous PR victory?  The flotilla organizers were not about giving aid to Gaza.  They want to break the Israeli blockade and move public opinion against Israel.  They may not have broken the Gaza blockade (yet), but they succeeded in turning world opinion against Israel, its supporters, and the global Jewish community once again.  Israel looks like a bull in a china closet and is finding itself increasingly isolated.  From a PR point of view, the flotilla was a great victory for those who want to destroy Israel.

No matter what the legitimate justifications for Israel’s actions, they don’t matter in the end.  What matters is public perception as filtered through the media and the internet.  Pro-Palestinian activists understand this.  The Israelis and their supporters seem clueless.  While Israel takes a reactive posture, focusing on tactics in individual incidents (and the tactics were a failure here, a screw-up by the military), the pro-Palestinian activists take a longer, strategic view of turning the world against Israel (and Jews).

When will Israel and its supporters learn to use the media and the internet to their advantage?  When will Israel act pro-actively and cultivate a strategy that looks at their long-term interests?  If events keep piling up in this form, Israel will find itself in an untenable position.  For its sake and our sake, I hope somebody gets the message.


Noam Chomsky and Israel

I wrote the following to a friend when he sent me an article by Noam Chomsky from Salon:


Chomsky claims he is a Zionist, but does not really support the idea of a Jewish state or of a two-solution (even though he implies that he does here and elsewhere–he’s not serious and calls it temporary).  He does not take seriously into account Arab anti-semitism and Arab views of Jews over the decades or, even more important, the Arab commitment to annihilating Israel.  He neglects to mention that Israel came to occupy the West Bank in 1967, because every surrounding country was on the verge of a massive attack against Israel motivated by the desire to drive “Israel into the sea.”  What was Israel supposed to do?  Allow themselves to be slaughtered to feed the egos of those who do not believe that Jews have a right to defend themselves?  The goal of annihilating Israel and Jews still remains for many, obviously for Hamas, but even in the PLO and in many Arab societies, as well as the Iranian government.

How do you have a peace agreement when the majority of the peoples around you wish to destroy your country and slaughter or deport your citizens?  How do you have a peace agreement with a government which does not demonstrate a commitment to a democratic, non-corrupt, free society?  How do you have a peace agreement with a government that does not demonstrate even the most rudimentary capacity to run an orderly society?

Chomsky also claims in many of his interviews and writing that antisemitism no longer exists in any meaningful form.  That’s nice for him.  I don’t know what reality he lives in, but it’s not one I’m familiar with.  Perhaps he should take a look at what it’s like to be Jewish in France or Britain or Venezuela.  Or he might take a look at FBI religious hate crime stats in the US, which show that in 2007 69.2% of religious hate crimes are against Jews while 8.7% are of an anti-Islamic bias (  Chomsky is a well-to-do, successful, academic in a highly privileged institution who has no clue what it’s currently like to be Jewish in other settings, including the Middle East.

The real reason that Chomsky opposes Israel is that he is at heart an anarchist and does not really believe that states should exist in the first place–certainly not a Jewish state.  That’s nice for those who live in La La land.  I am certainly no backer of nation states and believe that they are on their way out as governing entities.  But I’m not so silly as to believe that we don’t need government and authority of some kind.

It’s sad that Salon would feature someone like Chomsky who is not taken seriously in the Jewish community, even on the left.  There are many others who could critique Israeli policies and offer a progressive vision of the Middle East.  Featuring Chomsky, an anarchist, does not encourage discussion or debate.  It shuts it down.


By the way, I’m not joking when I call Chomsky an anarchist.   He really is a self-proclaimed anarchist.  He has written extensively on the topic, including a book.  My best guess (and it’s only a guess) is that a lot of his strong opposition to Israel stems from his own Jewish identity and his anarchism.  As a Jew, he is especially opposed to Zionism and Jewish statehood, because the very concept of statehood is anathema to him.

But, in the real world today, with the way people live and act, the possibility of anarchism is a fantasy.  It bears a lot of resemblance to radical libertarianism, which comes from the opposite end of the ideological spectrum.


Film Review: “Green Zone”

I recommend the film, “Green Zone.” It has flown under the radar for some reason, but Matt Damon does an excellent job, as does the rest of the cast. With the same pacing as the Bourne films (also directed by Paul Greengrass), Green Zone is sometimes hard to follow, but it is always exciting and interesting. It takes the point of view (probably now a consensus) that Iraq had ended the WMD (Weapons of Mass Destruction program) in 1991 and that the US knew that, but went into Iraq for other reasons. The main character, Warrant Officer Roy Miller (US Special Forces), commands a squad given the task of locating the WMD’s, but he soon realizes that there are no WMD’s. Much of the plot centers on whether the US should incorporate the Baath (Sadaam Hussein’s party) political and military leaders into the governance of the country.

The film represents a number of different points of view. Baath Sunni General Al Rawi (Yigal Naor) seeks to make a deal with the US; Freddy (Khalid Abdallah), who knows the lay of the land and serves as Miller’s translator, is a Shia Iraq-Iran war veteran who lost a leg and who harbors deep anger toward the Baath leaders; Clark Poundstone (Greg Kinnear) is a state department official who wants to destroy the Baath and kill as many of them as possible in order to install those whom the US favors; Poundstone backs Shia Ahmed Zubadi (Raad Rawi, presumably an allusion to Ahmed Chalabi whom the US probably thought it could install as leader of Iraq), but Zubadi has little support among Iraqis; Martin Brown (Brendan Gleeson) is a CIA agent who apparently supported the Iraq war, knew that the US lied about WMD’s, and wants to make a deal with the Baath; and Lawrie Dane (Amy Ryan) is a Wall Street Journal reporter who wrote stories on the Iraqi WMD that lent support to the US invasion of Iraq.

For an action film, there is a lot of subtle commentary, with different points of view presented on whether the US should have allowed the Baath into the governance of the country. Most action films do not show the complexity of real-life contexts, but this does so with flair. General Al Rawi is an intimidating charismatic leader who wants to make a deal. His physical presence in the film oozes suppressed rage and violence that could explode under the right circumstances. Both Freddy and Martin Brown expose the naivete of Miller. Freddy’s wounds and suffering give him credibility and moral force, as encapsulated by his words to Miller: “it’s not for you to decide what happens in Iraq.” Brown was well aware of the US deceit and lies from the outset, but has a realistic understanding of what could work in Iraq. Poundstone is an oily power-grubbing political climber who has no clue about Iraq and only cares about his own advancement. Zubadi is a lackey. Lawrie Dane is a dupe. And Roy Miller is caught in a web which he only begins to understand at the end of the film.

Green Zone’s depiction of the chaos of Iraq and the hellish environment in which soldiers operate attempts to give viewers a picture of events from the point of view of soldiers and Iraqis. Green Zone clearly takes the position that were no WMD’s in Iraq and that the US knew that, but it also leaves open the question as to whether the US should have invaded Iraq and whether it should have incorporated the Baath leaders into the governing structure of the country. The film intimates that, if the US had incorporated the Baath into the new Iraqi political system, one of the goals of the invasion might have come to fruition more quickly: an inclusive, democratic Iraq that could serve as a political model for the Middle East. But obviously there were those with other ideas, including both Americans and Iraqis.

The film does not give easy answers, and that’s what makes it special.


Two Very Different Views of Iran and the Middle East

Here are two very different views of Iran and the Middle East:

1)  The first is from a conservative blog and discusses a book written by an Iranian, Reza Khalili, a CIA spy who was a member of the Revolutionary Guard of Iran.  He is convinced that either the US (the preferred option) or Israel must attack Iran and that the Iranian people are hoping for such an attack.  It is important to note that he does NOT advocate an invasion, but rather an attack on the Revolutionary Guard.  He also points out that most Iranians essentially love the US and are not unfriendly to Israel.  He opposes an invasion, because NOBODY wants their nation invaded.  He is of the opinion that Iranians cannot stand the current government, but they have no power to overthrow it.

2) The second is by a left-wing Israeli journalist, Uri Avneri.  He is of the view that there is very little the US or Israel will or can do about Iran’s quest for nuclear weapons.  Israel’s and Jews’ connection to Iran goes back several thousand years, and the positive relationship cannot be preempted by the group of crazies that now run the country.  The effect of an attack by Israel would shut down the world economy, and the US will never allow Israel to do that.  And, given Iraq and Afghanistan and the US’s own economic woes, the US is in no position to attack either.  Obama is pushing Israel on East Jerusalem, because he wants Israel to make a choice between its building policy in the Jerusalem environs and a strong sanctions policy against Iran led by the US.  If Israel pursues its current settlement policy, then the US will not pursue the sanctions.  This is the choice that the US is presenting Israel.

At for the Khalili interview, I am not sure that an attack on Iran, which would include both the nuclear sites and the revolutionary guards without an invasion, would lead to the overthrow of the current government.  There’s a lot of wishful thinking there, and I don’t necessarily buy that.   It’s possible, but, even if the current government falls, the new government will very likely pursue nuclear weapons, although it will take them longer if the nuclear sites are destroyed.  Khalili is no doubt correct about an invasion and the long-term negative impact of such an approach.   Yet even a targeted attack on the Republican Guard and the nuclear sites could produce a understandably self-protective reaction on the part of a broad cross-section of the Iranian people.  You might hate your oppressive government, but you don’t want foreigners to do your own work for you.  That just makes people angry.  I do believe that Khalili is correct about the religious views of the Iranian leaders–that they believe that the use of nuclear weapons will initiate the public return of the twelfth mahdi and a worldwide victory for Islam.  Many in the West find this hard to imagine, but all we have to do is listen to late night radio and hear what many in the conservative Christian community believe.  It’s pretty much the same thing, with victory coming to Christ and Christians instead of the Mahdi and Muslims.  We should take very seriously the religious views of Iranian leaders, because they actually believe what they say.

The second piece is correct in its analysis of the US view of the Jerusalem situation.  I believe that the Obama administration and many US foreign policy analysts (including those from a variety of prior administrations) believe that progress on the Israel-Palestinian conflict will give the US more leverage in dealing with Iran.  Whether this is actually true or not is another matter (whatever the merits or flaws in the Obama admin’s position on settlements).  Arab governments are terrified of Iran regardless of Israel, and progress on Israel-Palestine will likely not change the behavior of the Iranian government and of those who fear it.  The Middle East is much more complex than Israel-Palestine, and the US should not be fixated on that as some kind of cure-all.  It might buy some time, but that will end quickly.   We are dealing with governments in the Middle East that, except for Israel, are, for the most part, corrupt dictatorships (often despised by their own people, as in Iran, Egypt, Saudi Arabia), and that makes the situation volatile no matter what happens with the Palestinians (For Arab countries, see most recently the democracy report card of the Arab Reform Initiative: , where Palestine, by the way, scores rather low).

This is a very difficult environment.  I have no idea what the solution is.  My own sense is that Israel will attack if it appears that Iran will obtain nuclear weapons, even if the US opposes such a move.  This could have profound consequences for the US-Israel relationship and, of course, for Israel.   That is why Israel has spent a lot of time cultivating its relationship with both India and China, both economically and militarily.  In the end, this is an existential question for Israelis.  Given the holocaust and the near decimation of world Jewry, Israel is acutely aware of what the consequences of Iranian nuclear weapons would be.  Israelis will take enormous risks to prevent that from happening.  The best possibility right now might be the continuation of covert operations to slow down Iranian progress on the nuclear front, but that can only work for so long.  The effectiveness of sanctions is doubtful.

In reality, no one has a clear answer.  The best approach is for those of us are observers to try to understand the complexity of the dynamics at play and the different points of view of the people and nations involved.  At the same time, any kind of open dialogue is preferable.  This is a time when the lines of communication need to be open and when people of different backgrounds need to be talking with one another, even if there is very little apparent progress and even if they are not talking about the Middle East.  Sometimes just talking about gardening or sports builds the foundation for real understanding.  And I know that this may sound pollyannish, but we need prayer and meditation to surround this region with imagery of peace and light.


Who Murdered Archbishop Oscar Romero?

The assassins of Archbishop Romero are revealed:


Decline of Human Violence

Decline of Human Violence

This article by Steven Pinker (from Dianne Bazell) briefly reviews the substantial evidence for the decline of human violence over the millennia (see also the excellent book by Gwynne Dyer, War: The Lethal Custom). When I would get up in a front of a class (including my classes on the holocaust, genocide, and violence) or in front of public groups, I would explain to people that, as horrifying as these events are, we are less murderous toward one another than at other times. The most violent cultures, in fact, have been hunter-gatherer societies. I would explain that groups have committed genocide throughout all of human history, and there has been precious little criticism of it. Religious texts (including scriptures) frequently sanction it. People generally refuse to believe me, but the evidence is very clear about the increasing value of life for human beings. Sometimes I use this as an example to explain the validity of the Enlightenment notion of human progress, but many just close their ears to this. I think what is difficult for people to comprehend is that human beings can be so hideous to one another and that, ever though we often treat one another in repellent ways, we now treat one another slightly less repellently than we have in the past.

From a spiritual point of view, I see this as an part of the unfolding evolution of human and planetary consciousness (Teilhard de Chardin would have a lot to say about this). This is a good thing, but it reminds us of our shadow side, and we don’t like it and cannot accept that we still have it with us. So part of the process involves recognizing our shadow components, accepting them while not indulging them, and moving toward a more harmonious level of awareness.

The best way to do this is not to deny the our nature as aggressive beings, but to harness our competitive impulses to make the world a better place


Should Reference to “Antisemitism” Stop Discussions on the Middle East?

This is a substantial excerpt from an email of mine to a friend who was disturbed when I called much of the anti-Israel discourse antisemitic:


I don’t think that a description of anti-Semitism or racism should stop a discussion.  In fact, that’s when the discussion should really begin.  If we don’t acknowledge the racism that is endemic in our society, how can we have a meaningful discussion among African-Americans and whites?  If whites admitted their own prejudices and the discriminatory features of much of our culture, then we could all really get down to business.  Focusing on peripheral issues and proxy arguments, rather than the substantive matters (the hard stuff),  allows tension to fester and exacerbates the problem.  I’ve seen this in dialogue groups since I’ve been working in this profession:  they’re often feel-good sessions rather than meaningful exchanges.  We never really seem to get around to what matters because we’re so busy avoiding painful words, topics, and emotions.  I hope that we have reached a level of maturity where can be forthright and straightforward with one another without degenerating into name-calling and shouting.

As to anti-Semitism itself, we do need to call something for what it is.  In this case, the arguments detailed in the denominational resolutions simply make no logical sense and are purely emotional appeals to sympathy for a favorite victim.  Upon analysis, and with the added benefit of evidence and accurate information, the arguments of resolution supporters do not cohere or withstand minimal scrutiny.  I tried to explain this fact in my letter.  From this I can only reasonably infer that anti-Semitism is a major factor.  How else does one explain the silence of church leaders regarding the atrocities committed by totalitarian governments in the Arab and Muslim world of the Middle East?  How else can one explain resolutions that advocate divestment from Israel, but let all repressive regimes of the Arab Middle East completely off the hook?  How else can one explain the sympathy for suicide bombers, and the concomitant lack of concern for Israeli victims of terrorism?  In what other way can we interpret resolutions that focus on the ugliness of the security barrier (an aesthetic issue), when human lives (including spouses, parents, and grandparents) are at stake, than to infer that Jews do not have the right to defend themselves?   How is it that very few in the church leadership acknowledge that Israel acquired Gaza and the West Bank because Arabs tried to conquer Israel, destroy the country, and kill as many Jews as possible (“drive them into the sea,” as Gamal Abdul-Nasser and Yasser Arafat so succinctly put it)? How can it be that no resolution demands that the PLO (not to mention Hamas) remove references in its official charter that condemn Zionism and call for the annihilation of the state of Israel and the removal of any Jews who settled in Israel in the nineteenth century and afterwards?   How is it that, given the complicity of many European Christians in the holocaust, their churches have not given more attention to the precipitous rise of vandalism and violence against Jews in North America, and especially in Europe?

Lives are at stake, and most church leaders do not seem to notice (or care) that many of these lives are Jewish.  Now I hear some say that the war in Iraq is a pro-Israel, Jewish war.  This is ugly and dangerous stuff and has serious consequences for real living people.

Hatred of Jews is especially deep in the Arab and Muslim world.  If you want to know how large numbers of Arabs view Jews, take a look at these attachments, especially the video clips from an Egyptian state television soap opera (2002) that depict the Protocols of Zion (the notorious, forged anti-Semitic document) and even the more ancient blood libels against Jews–these clips are among the most chilling and disgusting I’ve ever seen.  And this is not fringe, but mainstream Arab and Muslim opinion in the Middle East.  If you don’t have the stomach for it, I understand, but this is the ugly truth [See my post from August 9, 2005, for some of these documents:]

There are many congregants at the local level who don’t agree with their leaders . . .  I’m sure that this is true of churches and seminaries in other communities.  This is the level at which we must now work, because only with personal contacts can people recognize the humanity of those who are different.  Jewish-Christian dialogue at the upper level of organizations has run its course.  We now must find a meeting point at a more personal level like ours.

Let’s keep this discussion going.  This is very important.


1948 in Modern Imagination: Anti-Zionism and Antisemitism

I wrote the following email in response to a friend who sent me an article (by Alain Epp Weaver) arguing that much of Christian critique of Israel is not antisemitic:


This is interesting.  The events of 1948, however, are far more complex than the author indicates.  Arab nations not only rejected Israel’s statehood, but also rejected the U.N. partition plan that would have offered Palestinian Arabs almost half of what is now Israel.  Arabs preferred to destroy Israel and kill all Jews, even though Jews had lived in then Palestine for two millennia.  In the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, there were many areas with Jewish majorities. In 1948, Arab nations encouraged Arabs in Palestine to leave their homes so that they could create a crisis that would lead to the destruction of Israel.  The Israeli military was implicated in some expulsions, but Arabs nations took an even greater interest in seeing the Arab residents of Palestine expelled.  In general, Arabs simply did not like Jews and wanted them out.  The Mufti of Jerusalem had even sided with Hitler and the Nazis.  If the Germans had ever taken charge of the Middle East, you can imagine what Arabs would have done to resident Jews.  The bottom line:  in 1948 Israeli Jews wanted to make accommodation with their Arab neighbors, but the Arabs despised Jews and (later in the words of  Gamal Abdul-Nasser and Yasser Arafat) preferred to drive them into the sea.

If you want to know how large numbers of Arabs view Jews, take a look at these attachments, especially the video clips from an Egyptian state television soap opera (2002) that depict the Protocols of Zion (the notorious, forged anti-Semitic document) and even the more ancient blood libels against Jews–these clips are among the most chilling and disgusting I’ve ever seen.  And this is not fringe, but mainstream Arab and Muslim opinion in the Middle East.  See my August 9 post in this blog on these documents:


Antisemitism and Anti-Israel Mainline Christian Resolutions

I wrote the email below in response to a Jewish leader.


I certainly do not have all the answers to this.  But I still believe that we cannot underestimate historical prejudices against Jews, both inside and outside of Christianity.  Anti-Semitism may not be the best term, but it’s the only one we have that has any real meaning to people (anti-Judaism is a soft term that renders hate academic and gets people off the hook).  Anti-Semitism is embedded in Christian consciousness and does not disappear just because we all get together in dialogue groups and feel good about our broad-mindedness.  Nor do scholarly discussions of the Jewishness of early Christianity substantially change the way large numbers of ordinary people still think and live.  And the problem exists just as much among evangelicals and fundamentalists.  Their agenda happens for a moment to align with the mainstream Jewish agenda.  That can change in the blink of an eye, however.  Considering the Jewishness of Jesus (and even Paul), this fact still amazes me, but it is what it is.

William Nicholls has written an excellent book on this subject (with a discussion of left-wing anti-Semitism as well) and offers some possible intellectual solutions:  Christian Antisemitism:  A History of Hate (Northvale, NJ:  Jason Aronson, 1995).  I highly recommend it to you (especially chapters 10-13).  In the meantime, we have to develop relationships with Christians (especially key leaders) in mainline denominations that are based on human connections and intimate friendships where we interact with one another in day-to-day life (not just in professional meetings or dialogue groups).  This is the key.  I believe that a divestment resolution was not proposed at the General Assembly in part because of the relationships I have with certain Disciples, my willingness to take time out to work with them behind the scenes, and their consequent willingness to put themselves on the line by standing up against some of their friends (as well as long-term allies) and opposing the resolution against the barrier.  This required tremendous courage on their part that none of us should underestimate.  We need to acknowledge them and thank them (and others like them) profusely.  Each one of them is a mensch.  The supporters of the resolution knew they had a fight on their hands and made a tactical decision to postpone divestment until another day.  They also were surprised by the number of people voting against the resolution (about one-third).  Bonds among people often transcend prejudices and ideologies by establishing a mutual basis for trust.  There were other factors at the Disciples’ General Assembly, but this one was fundamental.

If Jewish leaders can establish closer ties to certain Christians, this will have a profound effect.  Such a process may involve going to a church service as a Jew or discussing a Christian topic or going to hear lectures on Christian theology.  These are necessary steps to effect mutual respect and healing.  When I teach or write on a Christian topic, the response is always more positive than I anticipate, and it changes the way Christians view my presentations and publications on Jewish subjects (including political ones).  At the same time, one always maintains one’s Jewish identity and does not back down when presented with anti-Semitic attitudes and beliefs.  Developing personal relationships allows for honest and frank conversation and exchange in a way that professional posturing does not.  The practical effect is the development of trust that can trump ideology. This may be difficult and uncomfortable, but it can work.  What we’re doing now does not. Admittedly, in Nazi-occupied Europe and (more recently) in the former Yugoslavia, friends and neighbors turned on one another in vicious ways.  So there are certainly no guarantees.  In that type of situation, the persecuted can only flee, resist, or hope to rely on the truly righteous (i.e. Righteous Gentiles).  I do not think that we now face such a predicament.  In the present circumstances, personal connections still offer us the best opportunities and the most hope.

Of course, we have to continue outlining the arguments (which I very much enjoy doing), but people tend to listen more attentively and openly when there is fundamental trust.  Obviously, the more of us engaged in building such relationships, the more effective we will be.  That’s my two cents, for what it’s worth.


Prejudice Against Israel and Jews in the Media (BBC)

BBC video on on liberal anti-Israel prejudice:

Chapter 1:; Chapter 2:; Chapter 3:;  Chapter 4:

By way of clarification, there is just as much prejudice on the right.  It just comes out in a different form, which sometimes looks like support for Israel, but in fact usually undermines Israel’s future and stability.


Antisemitism in the Middle East

Here are some links to documents that deal with Arab/Palestinian/Iranian antisemitism:

1) An overall summary:

2) Mickey Mouse and the Blood Libel

3) Knight Without a Horse:  Some Plot Summaries: KnightWithoutAHorse

4) Hamas Summer Camp:

5) Protocols of Zion among Palestinians:


Title: KnightWithoutAHorse (1121 clicks)
Filename: knightwithoutahorse.pdf
Size: 34 KB


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