This retired firefighter has a question for Mario Cuomo, who, as the Media Monitor reported, stated that the U.S. should tell Israel, “Up until now it was just you and the Palestinians killing one another – now you are killing us. Now there are people out there who are taking Israel as the provocation to terrorize us all over the globe – in the United States and elsewhere? (Jewish Press, April 30).
Do you, Mr. Cuomo, take Israel “as the provocation to terrorize us all over the globe?” Remove Israel, G-d forbid, and the beat goes on. The aggressive Muslims want the world, not just Israel. What happened when they dominated parts of lower Europe hundreds of years ago, when Israel did not exist?
Mr. Cuomo, facts must be verified, and only then can a difference of opinion be stated. The fact is that Israel is not a pertinent factor in the desire of aggressive Muslims to dominate the world.
Inspired By Rav Miller
Thank you to The Jewish Press and Dr. Yitzchok Levine for such a warm and inspiring article on Rabbi Avigdor Miller, zt”l (“Rav Avigdor Miller: His Early Years,” front-page essay, April 30).
I was a typically assimilated Jew from a Reform background when a neighbor gave me a few of Rav Miller’s tapes back in the mid-1970’s. I was hooked from the start, and immediately went out and purchased all the books Rav Miller had written up to that time. (I still take out my favorite, Rejoice O Youth, to reread at least once a year.)
It was Rav Miller who made me the frum Jew I am today, even though, living in the Seattle area, I never had the opportunity to meet the man or attend any of his shiurim. My four yeshiva-educated children are, in a very real sense, Rav Miller’s children as well, for
without his influence on their father’s life they would be living in a totally non-observant home, attending public schools and very likely hurtling toward intermarriage and estrangement from the Jewish community.
Reading Dr. Levine’s wonderful account of Rav Miller’s early years truly made my Shabbos. Although we as a people have been blessed with many great rabbis, Rav Miller was rare in that he was able to distill the truths of the Torah in a manner that gave spiritual sustenance to scholars and laymen alike.
I hope there are plans for Dr. Levine to continue the story from where he left off.
Anti-Israel Event At Queens College
In the midst of the present epidemic of anti-Israel rhetoric on American college campuses, it is necessary for the local Jewish community to concentrate on events not only at regional and
national universities – Rutgers, Columbia, the University of California at Berkeley, etc. – but also at Queens College.
On April 26, Memorial Day in Israel, Queens College screened “The Killing Zone,” a blatantly one-sided BBC documentary that supposedly details daily life in Gaza. The screening was one of a series of presentations offered during the current semester labeled the “Peace and Justice” series.
“The Killing Zone” paints the IDF as a group of murderous oppressors who needlessly attack crowds of civilians, with special attention given children. Arabs are portrayed as utterly victimized, terrified, and grief stricken. The film even sympathetically portrays the death of International Solidarity Movement protester Rachel Corrie, who thrust herself in front of IDF demolition vehicles last year.
Arab violence and terror toward Israelis were never mentioned prior to or during the film. It is necessary to note that not only did this event occur at Queens College, but students who attended were offered a credit toward a school requirement that new students attend six extracurricular activities, a device used by event coordinators to ensure attendance.
This event was not an isolated incident, but is part of a concerted effort by many American academics to conduct a full-fledged smear campaign against Israel. We mustn’t be complacent. The struggle for the survival of Israel and the Jewish people is not confined to Israel or “other” places in the U.S., as this recent development reminds us. We must be vigilant and respond to the danger emerging close to home.
Brenner Vs. Plaut: One More Round On Capital Punishment
Steven Plaut’s response to my argument against capital punishment (Letters, April 30) can be boiled down to two main points. The first is that the views of legal scholars on the death penalty, including those who have performed empirical studies, are irrelevant because, according to him, legal scholars are incapable of empirical analysis. The second is that I am simply unhappy with the decisions made by sentencing judges.
There are at least three major problems with Mr. Plaut’s response. The first is that the school of economic analysis of the death penalty he cites, fathered by economist Isaac Ehrlich in 1975, has not held up over time and has been widely criticized for faulty statistical analysis. (See http://www.justiceblind.com/death/sorensen.html) No one appears to question the viability of Ehrlich’s methods, but as the Sorensen article makes clear, Ehrlich’s conclusions have not held up and are not, at any rate, widely accepted. Mr. Plaut’s claim that the evidence is overwhelming thus remains unproven.
Deterrence is difficult to analyze because so many other factors have to be isolated. Crime is
cyclical; the homicide rate rises and falls for many reasons. Indeed, the fact that there is no death penalty in Europe, where the homicide rate is a small fraction of the U.S. homicide rate, strongly supports the theory that the death penalty makes little if any difference. And as I pointed out in my last letter, most legal scholars believe that the deterrence argument is unproven, which is why death penalty advocates have turned to moral arguments.
Whether the death penalty is or is not a deterrent is not the only question a death penalty
advocate must answer. The real question is not how many lives the death penalty saves, but how many more lives it saves than life imprisonment and whether there are other ways of reducing homicides without resorting to the death penalty. Plaut must additionally prove that it is a better deterrent than the alternatives, such as life imprisonment. And on top of that, given the great cost of trying death penalty cases (and that cost will be high whether there are extensive appeals or not), he must prove that the cost of bringing these cases does not wipe out any deterrent effect the death penalty might have by diverting resources that might be better used elsewhere. These questions are all apropos because the death penalty is irreversible and has a tainted past here in the U.S., which is why we must examine it with
such close scrutiny.
Deterrence proponents argue that not executing inmates is tantamount to condemning future victims to death. This is misleading and, to my mind, immoral. We do not punish criminals to
prevent a hypothetical future crime. We punish criminals because they are guilty. Taken to its
logical conclusion, deterrence theory suggests that we ought to punish innocent people if it can be proven that such punishment deters later crimes and saves more lives. It’s the old torture-a-child question: Would you torture an innocent child to save the world? Deterrence absolutists would answer affirmatively. Would the wise rebbeim of the Talmud? I think the answer is no.
Plaut himself shows a brazen willingness to punish or kill innocents if it will deter criminals, as
he makes clear by arguing that families of suicide bombers should be jailed or executed if it will help stop suicide bombings. Is the imagination of death penalty advocates so limited that they assume that the eight or so murders purportedly deterred by a state homicide (as the death penalty is officially called on a death certificate) cannot be avoided in any other way? How about better police work or reducing poverty or a better system of public education? All of these correlate with reduced homicide rates. Yet I suspect Mr. Plaut is not about to call for them before and after he flips the switch.
Mr. Plaut argues that the fact that people on death row have been exonerated proves the
American system works and that my argument is based solely on my personal opinion of judicial rulings. Neither argument holds water. Mr. Plaut, like many of his allies in the law and economics movement, has criticized the long appeals process that is often a part of American application of the death penalty. He cannot now argue in favor of it as proof that the American system works. And he again refuses to draw the rational and logical conclusion, which is that if DNA evidence (evidence which has come to light largely through the work of non-governmental organizations like Barry Scheck’s Innocence Project, and not the judicial system) has resulted in the exoneration of so many defendants, there are doubtless many others innocents who were killed in pre-DNA era.
Ethel Rosenberg’s case is an example of the due process violations which befall those
disadvantaged in society. I could just as well have used Ruben Carter, the boxer who was exonerated after being on death row for triple homicide. (Mr. Plaut ignored my other example of Sacco and Vanzetti, which is applicable both as an example of killing the innocent and a conviction based on political association and national origin.) The generally accepted view is that Ethel Rosenberg was at most an unwitting accomplice, certainly not deserving of the death penalty. And anyone who knows anything about the case knows it was a travesty, presided over by a cowardly judge who was more concerned with proving his patriotism than in conducting a fair trial and prosecutors who broke rule after rule. The Rosenbergs’ trial was
more about the Rosenbergs’ Judaism and affiliation with the Communist Party than about
whether they had committed any crime. That pernicious attitudes toward blacks and Hispanics
influence some verdicts today is undeniable. All of this is to bring out a simple point: even the best justice system is human and fallible. In every instance besides the death penalty, these mistakes can be remedied. With the death penalty, however, there is no going back.
One final, but very important point: Plaut’s reference to Falluja is a very dangerous one. The
death penalty is a criminal justice concept, not a military concept. I cannot stress enough the
importance of keeping war and criminal justice separate. It is important for our sanity and
extraordinarily important for Israel’s hasbara. The killings of Yassin, Rantisi, and other terrorists are legally and morally defensible only on grounds that they were combatants in war, and indeed, I and much more learned people such as Alan Dershowitz have gone to considerable lengths in other fora to defend them on that basis. In war, many things, including the unintentional killing of civilians, are permitted that we would not countenance as part of a just criminal system.
New York, NY
(Editor’s Note: Mr. Brenner is a graduating Fordham Law student currently looking for a job. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.)
Steven Plaut Responds:
1. If capital punishment could save a thousand innocent lives through deterring murder
in exchange for every innocent man mistakenly sent to execution, Mr. Brenner would oppose capital punishment and condemn those one thousand innocent people to death. In fact, of course, there is no evidence at all that even one innocent person is executed for every thousand innocent people saved through deterring their murderers.
There are some people who were convicted in the U.S. and sent to death row who were later exonerated on technicalities or because courts ruled that prosecutors had failed to make air-tight cases, but that is not quite the same as arguing that innocent people are executed. And even if such people should be regarded as truly “innocent”, their
exoneration before they were executed shows, if anything, that the system of capital punishment in those states that have it works quite well. Brenner insists it is immoral to have executions that “prevent a hypothetical future crime”, but thinks it is fine and dandy to ban them in order to save hypothetical future innocents wrongly convicted.
2. I am at a loss to understand why Mr. Brenner, who thinks that imaginary risks of
executing an innocent person should necessitate eliminating capital punishment, does not also insist that the risk of condemning an innocent man to life in prison should not rule out all imprisonment. After all, the years of life an innocent person loses in prison are as irreplaceable and their loss as irreversible as under the death penalty itself.
I am also at a loss to understand why Mr. Brenner thinks that an imaginary risk of executing an innocent person through error or mistake is any worse than the real risk of producing real deaths of real innocent people through the government’s operating of turnpikes and mail trucks or its approving risky medicines or operating air traffic
controls. Why not rule all those things out because innocent people are inadvertently killed as a direct result of their operations?
3. Mr. Brenner dismisses mountains of actual statistical evidence from social science that the death penalty indeed deters murder on the basis of an article by Jon Sorensen, whose pedigree is that he teaches at Fitchburg State College. The Ehrlich piece cited by Mr. Brenner is 30 years old. The more recent evidence is unambiguously in favor of capital punishment’s deterrence value. I got my statistical training as a PhD student at Princeton and have published many scholarly articles using statistics and developing new statistical methodologies. What sort of statistical training does Mr. Brenner have?
4. Mr. Brenner notes correctly that murder rates vary for many reasons. Legal scholars have no idea what those reasons are, and social science criminologists have only a very limited idea. If Europe indeed has less violent crime than does the U.S., it is not because it has foresworn the death penalty but because it has fewer violent criminals. None of this changes the fact that capital punishment does deter and is moral.
5. Mr. Brenner should evaluate Ruben Carter’s “innocence” based on what the jury of his peers found once he got his retrial and not on a Bob Dylan song. There is no evidence that the Rosenbergs were convicted because they were Jews. They were convicted because they were guilty.
6. Mr. Brenner seems to think that the “due process rights” of the followers of Shiekh Yassin and Rantisi should come ahead of the rights of my children to ride buses without being mass murdered. This from someone who would not torture a single child to prevent a Holocaust.
7. In his earlier letter, Mr. Brenner recalled the Talmud declaration that a Sanhedrin that executes one person every 70 years is called a “cruel Sanhedrin.” If we adjust for the differences in population size, I am not sure that the rate of executions in the U.S. is much higher than that noted for 4th century rural Israel. Be that as it may, the Sanhedrin courts were adjudicating Jewish farmers and not Islamofascist terrorists or mass murderers or street gangbangers with automatic assault weapons. Perhaps what the world can really use now are a lot more “cruel Sanhedrins.”
8. Mr. Brenner keeps declaring “Mr. Plaut must prove…”. Well, Mr. Plaut need not prove anything. All that is needed is to allow voters, in either the U.S. or Israel, to have their own say on the question and we shall see how unpersuasive Mr. Brenner’s arguments are.
Anger Over Defense Of Neturei Karta
I found Rabbi Shiah T. Director’s comments about Neturei Karta (Letters, April 30) both
comical and sickening.
Responding to Steven Plaut’s op-ed “Open Letter to Neturei Karta” (Jewish Press, April 23),
Rabbi Director stated that “no Jew in the universe aids terrorists.” Oh, really? I quote from the
Neturei Karta website (www.nkusa.org) the comments by “Rabbi” Yisroel Dovid Weiss at a
memorial service for Sheikh Yassin on March 23, 2004, hosted by the Arab Muslim American Federation:
“We mourn together with our Palestinian cousins, the murder of Sheikh Ahmad Yassin… And so we are reminded of one of the exceptional attributes of Sheikh Ahmad Yassin. How he
constantly drew a clear distinction between true Judaism and Zionism… May G-d help that our hope and dream come to fruition … that Arab and Jew can once again live side by side under Palestinian rule…”
They pray that Eretz Yisrael will come under Palestinian rule. Does Weiss truly believe that
such a tragedy would ever occur without the deaths of hundreds of thousands – and possibly millions – of Jews? Does Weiss think that the Jews of Israel are just going to pack their bags and move to the North Pole? Does he really feel that the Jews who reside in Meah She’arim will be safe under Palestinian rule? They will be murdered as surely as the Jews of Tel Aviv and Haifa will be murdered.
So I would ask Rabbi Director this: Is supporting terrorism not the same as aiding terrorism? Of course it is. Rabbi Director asked Mr. Plaut to retract his “absurd” comments, as they
“slander” other Jews. G-d forbid. Everything Mr. Plaut wrote about Neturei Karta is the absolute truth, so there is no slander involved.
I applaud and say “yasher koach” to Mr. Plaut for having the guts to stand up to these vile human beings who may look like Orthodox Jews but most definitely are not.
Barry J. Koppel
Kew Gardens Hills, NY
Arafat And Neturei Karta: Perfect Together
Where has Rabbi Director been living? Does he have access to the same information that the
rest of us do? Unless one prefers to live in an alternative universe built on self-delusion, it is
impossible not to come to the conclusion that Neturei Karta is indeed one of the most dangerous, self-hating Jewish sects existing today.
Consider the following: On December 17, 2001, Rabbi Moshe Hirsch of Neturei Karta met
and gleefully shook hands with Arafat in Ramallah to lend unequivocal support to the Palestinian cause. As recently as several months ago, Neturei Karta was exposed for having contributed thousands of dollars to Arafat’s murderous coffers. Neturei Karta is listed prominently on nearly every anti-Semitic website as a prominent example of Jews who support the obliteration of the state of Israel.
Whether or not Neturei Karta actually wants Jews to die, the group effectively aids, abets and
whets the appetites of murderous anti-Semites.
Don’t Whitewash Neturei Karta
Rabbi Director, I read your letter to the editor last week and was astonished that you took a
position in defense of Neturei Karta. You wrote, “Neturei Karta’s position that the Zionist state must cease to exist is only a concept, not an actuality.”
I really would like to understand – if it is only a concept and not an actuality, why do they
protest in front of the White House instead of staying home? I also don’t understand why, if
members of Neturei Karta do not support terror but are just expressing their opposition to the
Zionist state, do they protest hand in hand with Arabs? As the Munkatcher Rebbe has said, “The Arabs are the Jewish nation’s oldest enemy. In fact the Torah calls them pere adam. What do we have in common that they protest with them?”
I suggest, Rabbi Director, that you channel your ahavat Yisrael where it is most needed. The
Jews of Israel sure could use some of it. The world should not be given the excuse that Jews
themselves are divided about Israel’s right to exist. In fact, some politicians in Europe are using that excuse already. They say anti-Zionism is not anti-Semitism.
I beg you, Rabbi Director, not to whitewash those who have my brothers? blood on their hands.
Rabbi Simcha Friedman
Tears For Yassin, But Not For Jews
Don’t those pathetic Neturei Karta marchers realize that those Arabs whom they so proudly
support would, without a moment’s hesitation, shoot them in their empty heads just as certainly
as their compatriots shot dead a pregnant Jewish woman and her four beautiful young daughters last Sunday?
Speaking of the latter atrocity, why hasn’t Neturei Karta issued a public statement deploring
such wanton, animalistic behavior on the part of their Palestinian pals? They sat shiva for Sheikh Yassin, but for a Jewish mother and her children they have nothing to say. They are the lowest of the low, and please don’t anyone write in criticizing me for saying such things about “fellow Jews.”
I’ll tell you who my fellow Jew is: Pastor Jim Vineyard of Oklahoma City, who recently
purchased 100 subscriptions to The Jewish Press for his church and who wrote so movingly in two letters to The Jewish Press of his love for Jews and Israel, is my fellow Jew. Those who follow the path of Neturei Karta may be Arafat’s fellow Palestinians, but they’re nobody’s fellow Jews.
Marching Against Israel In Tallis And Shtreimel
I don’t know where Rabbi Director get his facts, but I would like to remind him that Zionists
are Jews too, and he is himself slandering other Jews.
When the State of Israel was established in May 1948 and the armies of Egypt, Jordan, Syria,
Lebanon and Iraq invaded, the Jews, including recent Holocaust survivors, had to defend
themselves. Most of the Arabs left on their own because they believed the Arab radio broadcasts that told them to do so in order to make it easier for their armies to throw all the Jews – including Neturei Karta – into the sea.
I’ve seen the photos of Neturei Karta members, each of them wearing a tallis and a shtreimel, marching together with Arabs on Shabbos. What an enormous chillul Hashem. Perhaps they do not favor killing Jews, but they are helping those who do.