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October 25, 2014 / 1 Heshvan, 5775
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Posts Tagged ‘Professor Beres’

‘Slaughter The Jews’: Israel, Anti-Semitism, And International Law (Third of Three Parts)

Wednesday, June 27th, 2012

The Genocide Convention criminalizes not only various acts of genocide, but also (Article III) conspiracy to commit genocide and direct and public incitement to commit genocide. Articles II, III and IV of the Genocide Convention are fully applicable in all cases of direct and public incitement to commit genocide. For the Convention to be invoked, it is sufficient that any one of the state parties call for a meeting, through the United Nations, of all the state parties (Article VIII).

Though this has never been done, the United States, especially following the upcoming presidential election, should consider very seriously taking this particular step. Israel, too, should be an obvious co-participant in this call, but it is unlikely that any government in Jerusalem, historically aware of always-expanding global indifference to Jewish life, will seek formal redress under any multilateral conventions.

An alternative remedy/strategy could involve the issuance of specific criminal indictments for crimes against humanity, by Israel’s Justice Ministry, to the key Palestinian broadcasters and journalists now engaged in daily anti-Semitic harangues. In the words of Israeli attorney, Nitsana Darshan-Leitner, back in February 2004: “Those who operate Palestinian television and radio stations and the printing presses engaged in hate speech should be arrested along with the other suspected killers.”

Any public trial before an Israeli tribunal could carry very grave geopolitical risks. For one, as no Arab or Iranian authority could ever be expected to extradite alleged wrongdoers to Israel for trial, it would inevitably be up to Israeli military and police authorities to acquire physical custody over defendants. This is the case though such an expected Arab/Iranian disregard for Israeli extradition requests would represent a manifestly serious violation of peremptory international criminal law.

Even if an Israeli trial could afford opportunity for a direct evidentiary connection between Palestinian media incitement and Palestinian terrorism, much of the world would be focused instead on the extraordinary means by which Israel took custody of the inciters. After all, when Israel captured major Nazi war criminal Adolph Eichmann in 1960, more states chose to condemn the abduction than to recall the prisoner’s role as murderer of one million Jewish children.

The Genocide Convention, the London Charter, and the December 2003 International Criminal Tribunal in Rwanda are not the only authoritative codifications that could now be invoked against relentless media and leadership calls for the mass killing of Jews. The 1965 International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination should also be brought productively into play. This treaty condemns “all propaganda and all organizations which attempt to justify or promote racial hatred and discrimination in any form,” obliging, in Article 4(a), state parties to declare as “an offense punishable by law all dissemination of ideas based on racial superiority or hatred, incitement to racial discrimination, as well as all acts of violence or incitement to such acts against any race or group of persons.” Article 4(b) affirms that state parties “Shall declare illegal and prohibit organizations, and also organized and all other propaganda activities, which promote and incite racial discrimination, and shall recognize participation in such organizations or activities as an offense punishable by law.”

Further authority for curtailing and punishing Palestinian calls for genocidal destruction of Jews can be found in Article 20(2) of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights: “Any advocacy of national, racial or religious hatred that constitutes incitement to discrimination, hostility or violence shall be prohibited by law.”

The overriding point of the judgments at Nuremberg was to ensure that all future crimes against humanity be identified, prosecuted, and punished. Fully aware of these judgments, the International Criminal Tribunal in Rwanda ruled, in December 2003, that “mere words” can contain substantial criminal liability, and may warrant very severe punishments. Understood in terms of ongoing homicidal and genocidal Arab and Iranian calls for violence against Israel, it is essential that every state in the United Nations now be reminded of its binding obligation not to encourage another Holocaust. This is a fully legal obligation, and certainly must not be taken lightly.

Now, especially in anticipation of November’s presidential election, there may be new opportunities in Washington to finally make things right regarding Israel’s fundamental security needs. It is imperative that any such opportunities be identified, and taken quickly, while there is still time, and certainly before a Palestinian state is declared unilaterally.

Israeli Security, Enemy Rationality, And Coming Global Chaos (Second of Two Parts)

Wednesday, May 23rd, 2012

“The blood-dimmed tide is loosed,” wrote the poet W.B. Yeats, “and everywhere the ceremony of innocence is drowned.” Now, assembled in almost two hundred armed tribal camps politely called nation-states, all peoples – not only the people of Israel – coexist insecurely on a plainly anarchic planet. The core origins of this anarchy lie in the Peace of Westphalia (1648), which put a codified end to the Thirty Years War.

In time, even with the United Nations, there will be no safety in arms, no rescues from political authority, and no reassuring answers from science. New wars may rage until every flower of culture is trampled, and until all things human are leveled in a vast and utterly primal disorder.

In history and world politics, anarchy is an old story. Chaos is not. There is a meaningful distinction.

Chaos and anarchy represent opposite end points of the same continuum. Perversely, mere anarchy, or the absence of a central world authority, is normal. Chaos, however, is sui generis. It is thoroughly abnormal.

Since the seventeenth century, our anarchic world is best described as a system. What happens in any one part of this world necessarily affects what happens in some or all of the other parts. When deterioration is marked, and begins to spread from one nation to another, the corrosive effects can undermine regional and international stability. When this deterioration is rapid and catastrophic, as it would be following the start of any unconventional war and/or unconventional terrorism, the associated effects would be correspondingly immediate and overwhelming. These effects would be chaotic.

Aware that even an incremental collapse of remaining world authority structures will impact its friends as well as its enemies, leaders of the Jewish state will need to advance certain precise and plausible premonitions of collapse in order to chart durable paths to survival. Such indispensable considerations are likely not yet underway. Ironically, the principal paths under serious consideration still seem to be the badly potholed highways of a “road map.”

Israel’s leaders are wasting precious time with their polite considerations of twisted and clichéd cartographies. Soon, they will need to look beyond Iran, and consider how best to respond to international life in a global state of nature. The specific triggering mechanism of our disordered world’s precipitous descent into genuine chaos could originate from a variety of different mass-casualty attacks against Israel, or perhaps from similar attacks against other western democracies. Even the United States would not be immune to this starkly remorseless vulnerability.

Chaotic disintegration of the world system would transform the Israeli system. Such a transformation could involve reciprocal forms of destruction. In anticipation, Israel should orient its strategic planning to an assortment of utterly worst-case prospects, now focusing much more deliberately on a wide range of self-help security options.

This is an idea I have considered before here in The Jewish Press. It suggests that, however counter-intuitive, “thinking the worst” can offer both individuals and states their best path to survival.

Truth may sometimes emerge through paradox. Realistic imaginations of collective national immortality – imaginations generally encouraged by false hopes and delusional surrenders of personal responsibility – can actually discourage Israeli steps to enduring self-preservation.

To be sure, it is very difficult to ask Israelis to reject American-style positive thinking and instead to imagine the worst. Yet, as Swiss playwright Friedrich Durrenmatt says, incontestably: “The worst does sometime happen.” Now, however ironically, it would be better for Israel to err on the side of excessive pessimism. Then, literally at the eleventh-hour, spurred on by the most conspicuously dreadful visions of catastrophe, the people of Israel could begin to ward off the genuinely intolerable interstices between Palestinian statehood, Iranian nuclearization, and regional war.

Israel’s persistently one-sided surrender of territories, its mistaken reluctance to accept certain still-timely preemption imperatives and its periodic terrorist “exchanges” may never bring about direct defeat. Taken together, however, these inter-penetrating policy errors will have a cumulatively weakening effect on Israel. Whether the principal effect here will be one that “merely” impairs the Jewish state’s commitment to endure, or one that also opens it up to a devastating missile attack and/or to major acts of terror, is unclear.

For Israel, anarchy and disorder are inevitable. What might still be avoided, are chaos and mega-destruction. What must first be understood, are the differences between rationality, irrationality, and madness.

Rationality, Irrationality, And Madness: Core Enemy Differences For Israeli Nuclear Deterrence (Second of Three Parts)

Thursday, May 3rd, 2012

A “bolt-from-the-blue” CBN (chemical, biological or even nuclear) attack on Israel launched with the expectation of city-busting reprisals might not necessarily exhibit irrationality or madness. Within such an attacking state’s particular ordering of preferences, any presumed religious obligation to annihilate the “Zionist Entity” could represent the overriding value.

Here, from the standpoint of the prospective attacker’s decisional calculus, the expected benefits of producing such a “blessed” annihilation would exceed the expected costs of any expected Israeli reprisal. Judged from this critical analytic standpoint, a seemingly “mad” attack decision could actually “make sense.”

Any enemy state with such explicitly exterminatory orientations could represent the individual suicide bomber in macrocosm. It is a meaningful and powerful image. Just as individual jihadists are now plainly willing to achieve personal “martyrdom,” so might certain jihadist states become willing to “sacrifice themselves” collectively. From a purely strategic standpoint, the fact that any such suicidal willingness would lack democratic origins would be irrelevant.

Any Iranian or Arab leaders making the decision to strike at Israel would be willing to make martyrs of their own people but probably not of themselves. In this not inconceivable decisional scenario, it would be judged acceptable by these particular leaders to sacrifice more or less huge portions of their respective populations, but only while they, and presumably their families, were themselves able to flee expeditiously to a predetermined, albeit still earth-bound, safe haven.

What is Israel to do? It can’t rely, forever, on even the most creative forms of preemption/anticipatory self-defense. It can’t very well choose to live, indefinitely, with enemies who might not always be reliably deterred by more usual threats of retaliation, and who are themselves already armed with assorted weapons of mass destruction.

Effectively, Israel cannot still decide to preempt against selected Iranian and/or other threatening military targets, because the operational prospects of success would now be very remote, and because the global outcry would be deafening. It cannot place more than partial faith in any anti-tactical ballistic missile defenses, because, after all, Israel’s Arrow would require a near-100 percent reliability of intercept to be purposeful in any soft-point protection of cities. Not even the oft-tested and brilliantly engineered Arrow, together with its corollary elements of active defense, can do this. The same “leakage” problems, for example, would apply to the shorter-range protections of Iron Dome.

The strategic options still available to Israel seem very limited; the associated consequences of failure could include national extinction.

If Israel’s enemies were all presumed to be rational, in the ordinary sense of valuing physical survival more highly than any other preference or combination of preferences, Jerusalem could begin, among other things, to exploit the strategic benefits of pretended irrationality. Recognizing that, in certain strategic situations, it can be rational to feign irrationality, Israel could then work to create more cautionary behavior among its relevant adversaries.

In such cases, the threat of an Israeli resort to a “Samson Option” might be enough to dissuade an enemy first-strike. Recalling Sun-Tzu, any more explicit Israeli hints of “Samson” could indicate a very useful grasp of the ancient Chinese strategist’s advice to diminish reliance on defense, and, instead, to “seize the unorthodox.”

If, however, Israel’s relevant adversaries were presumably irrational in this ordinary sense, there would likely be no real benefit to postures of pretended irrationality. This is the case because the more probable threat of any massive Israeli nuclear counterstrike linked in enemy calculations with irrationality would be no more compelling to Iran, or to any other enemy state, than if it were confronted by a presumably rational State of Israel.

In strategic nuance, Israel could benefit from a greater understanding of the “rationality of pretended irrationality,” but only in particular reference to expectedly rational enemy states. In those circumstances where such enemy states were presumed to be irrational, something else would be needed, something other than nuclear deterrence, preemption, and/or ballistic missile defense.

Although many commentators and scholars still believe the answer to this quandary lies in certain far-reaching political settlements, this time-dishonored belief is born largely of frustration, and utterly naïve self-delusion. Recalling regional histories, it is not the documented product of any deliberate or informed strategic calculation. No meaningful political settlements can ever be worked out with enemies who openly seek Israel’s “liquidation,” a word still used commonly in many Arab and Iranian newspapers, web sites, and texts.

Israel must fully understand that irrationality need not mean madness. Even an irrational state leadership may have an identifiable, consistent, and transitive hierarchy of wants. The first task for Israel, therefore, must always be to identify this hierarchy among its several state enemies.

Although these states might not be deterred from aggression by even the plausibly persuasive threat of massive Israeli retaliations, they might still be deterred by certain threats aimed at what they do hold to be most important.

Rationality, Irrationality, And Madness Core Enemy Differences For Israeli Nuclear Deterrence (First of Three Parts)

Thursday, April 26th, 2012

Over the years, in several of my columns in The Jewish Press, I have examined the critical bases of Israeli nuclear deterrence. Recently, in consequence of the growing threat of Iranian nuclearization, increasing attention has been directed toward pertinent issues of enemy rationality. With this in mind, the following three-part column will seek to explain the impact of “irrationality” on Israel’s deterrence posture, and also the vital differences between prospective Iranian irrationality and “madness.”

For all states in world politics, successful strategies of deterrence require assumptions of enemy rationality. In the absence of rationality – that is, in those relatively rare or residual circumstances where an enemy country would rank certain values or preferences more highly than staying alive as a nation – deterrence could fail. In those potentially more serious situations involving nuclear deterrence, the direct consequences of any such failure could be catastrophic, stark, and even unprecedented.

Significantly, irrationality is not the same as “crazy” or “mad.” An irrational enemy leadership would still have a distinct and identifiable hierarchy of preferences, albeit one in which national survival does not always rank at the top. In more technical terms, analysts would say that these irrational state actors still have an order of preferences that is “consistent” and “transitive.”

A “crazy” or “mad” leadership, however, would have no discernible order of preferences; its actions, for the most part, would be random and unpredictable. It goes without saying that facing a mad adversary in world politics is worse than facing a merely irrational adversary. In different terms, although it might still be possible and purposeful to try to deter an irrational enemy, there would be little point to seeking deterrence against a mad one.

“Do you know what it means to find yourselves face to face with a madman?” asks Luigi Pirandello’s Henry IV. “Madmen, lucky folk, construct without logic, or rather with a logic that flies like a feather.”

What is true for individuals is sometimes also true for states. In the sometimes-unpredictable theater of modern world politics, a drama that often bristles with genuine absurdity, decisions that rest upon ordinary logic can quickly crumble before madness. Dangers may reach the most portentous level when madness and a nuclear weapons capability come together.

Enter Israel and Iran. Soon, because not a single responsible member of the international community has demonstrated a determinable willingness to undertake appropriately preemptive action (“anticipatory self-defense,” in the formal language of law), the Jewish state may have to face an expressly genocidal Iranian nuclear adversary. Although improbable, a potentially suicidal enemy state in Iran, one animated by graphically precise visions of a Shiite apocalypse, cannot be dismissed out of hand.

Iran’s current leadership, and possibly even a successor reformist government in Tehran, could, at some point, choose to value Israel’s physical destruction more highly than even its own physical survival. Should this happen, the play would almost certainly end badly for all actors. In theatrical terms, exeunt omnes.

Nonetheless, Israel’s ultimate source of national security must lie in sustained nuclear deterrence. Although still implicit or ambiguous, and not yet open or disclosed, this Israeli bomb in the basement could crumble before madness.

Though the logic of deterrence has always rested upon an assumption of rationality, history reveals the persistent fragility of any such understanding. We already know all too well that nations can sometimes behave in ways that are consciously, and even conspicuously, self-destructive.

Sometimes, mirroring the infrequent but decisively unpredictable behavior of individual human beings, national leaders can choose to assign the very highest value to certain preferences other than collective self-preservation – a Gotterdammerung scenario.

For the moment, no single Arab or Iranian adversary of Israel would appear to be authentically irrational or mad. Harsh enemy rhetoric notwithstanding, no current adversary appears ready to launch a major first strike against Israel using weapons of mass destruction, due to the expectation that it would thereby elicit a devastating reprisal.

Of course, miscalculations and errors in information could still lead a perfectly rational enemy state to strike first, but this decision, by definition, would not be the outcome of irrationality or madness. In strategic thinking, judgments of rationality and irrationality are always based upon prior intent.

Certain enemy states, most likely Iran, could one day decide that excising the “Jewish cancer” or the “enemies of Allah” from the Middle East would be worth the most staggering costs. In principle, at least, this genocidal prospect could still be avoided by Israel using pertinent “hard target” preemptions. Increasingly, however, any such once-reasonable expressions of anticipatory self-defense are now difficult or impossible to imagine. Operationally, a successful preemption is now almost certainly too late.

All pertinent Iranian nuclear assets have likely been deeply hardened, widely dispersed, and substantially multiplied. For Israel, there would also be considerable political costs to any preemption. A preemptive attack, even one that becomes an operational failure, would elicit overwhelming public and diplomatic condemnation.

War, Truth, And The Shadows Of Meaning

Wednesday, April 18th, 2012

To them, I said, the truth would be literally nothing but the shadows of the images. That is certain. – Plato, The Republic

It is time to look behind the news. Operation Iraqi Freedom is officially concluded; U.S. operations in Afghanistan are reportedly moving in a similar direction. More generically, however, debate about combat operations, strategy and tactics remains ongoing.

Inevitably, we can reliably assume that similar debates will arise concerning still unforeseen theatres of conflict. To be sure, there is nothing wrong with the prospect of such debates. But, even in our persistently anarchic and self-help system of world politics, it is ultimately important to seek and understand the more underlying and recurring reasons for war.

Freud understood. Whether we will choose to support or oppose any particular conflict, core causes and correctives of all war lie deeply embedded in the largely unchanging nature of humankind. It follows that until we can begin to understand and reform this corrosively destructive nature, our entire species will remain both predatory and imperiled.

At its most basic or “molecular” level, what we have witnessed in Iraq, and what we still see clearly in Afghanistan and other places, especially Syria, Pakistan, Sudan, and North Korea, is the malignant tribalism of a chaotic world order. There exists, also, in several regional “theatres,” a resultant or at least associated fusion of sectarian violence with various explicit (aggressively non-negotiable) claims of “sacredness.”

The 19th century German philosopher Hegel once commented: “The State is the march of God in the world.” This observation now applies equally to certain sub-state, jihadist terrorist groups. Faced with the dizzying unreason of both already-sovereign and sovereignty-seeking “tribes,” states and aspiring states that routinely extend compelling promises of inclusion and immortality in exchange for “martyrdom,” our global system stands a steadily diminishing chance of permanent survival.

We must also consider another, unprecedented fusion, one that is quite literally dreadful. This is the coming together of atomic capability with possible leadership irrationality. Presently, such an ominous combination is most readily worrisome in Iran, and perhaps North Korea and Pakistan, but there are also many other areas in which decision-making elites could sometime choose to value certain presumed religious obligations (“holy war”) more highly than any “normal” preference for national or group self-preservation.

As a species, we cannot hope to “fix” any particular conflicts until we have first understood the underlying human basis of violent world politics. The grinding chaos of Iraq and Afghanistan is more productively identified as a symptom than as an actual disease. More noteworthy than any immediately recognizable issues of separatism, insurgency, and suicide bombing, is the tangible consequence of individual human death fears, and the corollary individual terrors of social or national exclusion.

Always, global violence and disorder have their roots in the much deeper pain of individuals. In the end, this primal malady is the ubiquitous incapacity of people, everywhere, to discover authentic meaning and comfort outside the (state or terror) group, and, instead, within themselves. In our own intellectual history, this trenchant observation was already offered in the mid-19th century by the American Transcendentalists Emerson and Thoreau.

Despite the undying worldwide hopes still associated with the United Nations, a system of collective security can never save us. Any enduring rescue must always lie elsewhere. Above all, we must first acknowledge that there is always a crucial inner meaning to world order and global civilization. This individual human meaning can only be uncovered amid a widening willingness to look beyond assorted group promises of personal salvation (“You will not die”) in exchange for organized barbarism (war or terrorism).

“Just wars,” as we have known from Grotius to Jefferson, have a valid place in the world. They must, however, be fought only to protect the innocent, never to slaughter anonymous noncombatant “others” in sordid and bloody bargains for personal immortality. More than anything else, perhaps, it is the “denial of death” by individuals that ultimately spawns war and terror.

Although still unrecognized, even in universities, there is no greater power in world affairs than the power over death. From the beginning, all principal violence in world politics has been driven by a contrived tribal conflict between and within nations, and by a conspicuously “sacred” promise to reward the “faithful” with freedom from mortality. A related promise has been to include each loyal believer in a privileged community of the elect.

This lethal and usually irresistible promise is not unique to the present moment in history. It was as plainly evident in the “secular” policies of the Third Reich, as it is today throughout portions of the dar al Islam, the World of Islam.

Whether we know it or not, without an outsider to despise, a “heathen,” an “other,” we humans are generally apt to feel impotent, lonely, and lost. Drawing almost all of our benefits of self-worth from the collective, from what Freud (following Nietzsche and Stirner) called the “primal horde,” we technically superior beings remain unable to satisfy even the most elementary requirements of peaceful coexistence. Ironically, our substantial progress in certain technological and scientific realms has had absolutely no counterpart in fostering civilized human relations. We have advanced aircraft and advanced telephones, but still remain locked into fully barbaric patterns of social interaction. Recalling William Golding’s Lord of the Flies, we know that we can be taught manners and gastronomy, but that, when the chips are down, the veneer of civilization can become utterly thin.

The Pianist And ‘Palestine’ (Second of Two Parts)

Thursday, April 12th, 2012

In strategy and law, war, terrorism and genocide are not mutually exclusive. Now, following the “Arab Spring,” even as the usual suspects maintain their explicitly genocidal threats against Israel, certain “progressive” Jews proudly lead various rallies and publications for “peace” and “democracy” in the Middle East. Such “progress,” we might learn from Roman Polanski’s film “The Pianist,” could only be fashioned upon yet another generation of Jewish corpses.

In the United States, and also in Israel, Jewish university professors are typically leaders in organizing campus protests (1) against an alleged Israeli occupation, and (2) for expanded Arab rights in “Palestine.”

Significantly, few if any of these Jewish professors would murmur an audible objection to Arab murders of their fellow Jews in Israel. This is the case whether the murderers prefer lynching, shooting, or suicide bombing.

Nor would any of these Jewish humanitarians suggest any Palestinian wrongdoing when Hamas’s next round of rockets is fired at cities and towns in Israel, or, soon enough, when Palestinian Authority “security forces,” assiduously trained by the United States, begin to initiate massive Fatah terrorist outrages against Israeli civilians. About these American-trained Fatah fighters, we can be assured that they will also use their newly-honed homicidal talents against their American benefactors.

Credo quia absurdum. “I believe because it is absurd.” Offered a choice to act on behalf of their own imperiled and abused state, or to combine their own self-destruction with even broader patterns of injustice, certain segments of Israel’s Jewish commonwealth will fail even to recognize the underlying and overwhelming ironies. Always, it seems, these smug archaeologists of ruins-in-the-making overlook something primal, that is, that any complicity with evil is destined, deservedly, to fail. We still have much to learn from “The Pianist.”

The Jewish police in Warsaw, we know now, were decidedly foolish and arguably indecent. Today’s “Jewish police,” mainly American and Israeli academic supporters of Israel’s enemies, don’t wear a uniform or carry a truncheon, but they are similarly indecent and equally foolish. In some respects, they are vastly more odious than their Warsaw antecedents, as this current generation of Jewish collaborators does so willingly and boastfully, and plainly without any defensible need for personal or familial self-preservation.

Too often, sometimes hiding behind their academic robes, and behind sanctimonious calls for “academic freedom,” the consuming cowardice of contemporary Jewish police is not merely stifling, it is also very dangerous. Intermittently reinforced by well-intentioned but similarly-uninformed Jews outside the academy, Jews who believe that marching ceremoniously for Palestinian statehood is the moral equivalent of marching for civil rights with Martin Luther King, these pitiable minions unwittingly represent the advance guard of Israel’s physical destruction. Left unchallenged by those who should know better but who nonetheless remain silent, they will soon sit by bewilderedly, but likely without any remorse, as rockets rain down upon Israel.

In Los Angeles, always a Mecca for Jews who live unknowingly in intellectual darkness, there will be feelings of betrayal. Perhaps these Jews will go so far as to write angry letters to their Congressional representatives or to the Los Angeles Times. Surely, however, they will not be sufficiently upset to interfere with their local Temple’s busy oneg schedule, or with the Sisterhood’s annual deli lunch.

Another thought dawns. In Warsaw, the great majority of Jews did not feel any personal responsibility to speak and act on behalf of Jewish survival. Rather, they believed, communal safety was exclusively the codified responsibility of specified community leaders; ultimately, that is, of the Jewish Councils, who both sanctioned and sustained the Jewish police.

Today, an even larger majority of American Jews remain silent in the face of hideously distorted depictions of Israel, sometimes by their fellow Jews. Many of this “silent majority” is professional and well educated: doctors and lawyers, business people and social workers, teachers and accountants, entertainers, and (of course) professors. They are silent, they claim, only because they are not sure what is “true.” They are, after all, not “experts.”

But the truest reason for their desperate silence is something very different. This reason is their infinitely irrepressible inclination to confront unwelcome and annoying news with capitulations, fear, and an unceremonious trembling.

What are they afraid of, these gentle and caring Jewish Temple members, who can routinely be counted upon for regular and generous donations to help the homeless in Sudan and Somalia? How can these good people fail to see that the jihadist anti-Jewish world is once again mustering for an organized genocide, this time for a more thoroughly modernized mass killing, one in which the technology of annihilation will more efficiently bring exterminatory gas directly to the target populations? Don’t they see that they have a sacred responsibility, as Jews, and also as human beings, not to sit idly by as readily identifiable portions of the Arab/Islamic world prepare openly to blot out the despised Jewish state?

The Pianist And ‘Palestine’ (First of Two Parts)

Thursday, April 5th, 2012

Roman Polanski’s film masterpiece “The Pianist” can be taken as a timely parable for Israel’s current survival. Today, when Israeli society is sharply divided on the question of “Palestine,” sensitive issues of Jewish “collaboration” will inevitably arise in public debates. This essay argues that certain apt insights for Israel’s future may be discoverable in the terrible choices that fell upon Holocaust-era Jews in Europe, especially in Nazi-occupied Warsaw.

On the surface, “The Pianist” is “merely” the true tale of a talented Jewish musician, Wladyslaw Szpilman, caught up in the unfathomable depths of Nazi occupation and terror. More profoundly, of course, it is a disturbing visual microcosm of the generic human struggle between good and evil, a titanic contest that is sometimes utterly clear but at other times distressingly “gray.”

The Nazis in Poland were monsters, to be sure, but what are we to say about the others, including Jews, who were sometimes forced to become collaborative perpetrators? What pertinent lessons can we still learn from this 2002 film for insight into Israeli and even Jewish preservation in our own time? Is there, for example, a discernible message here concerning Jewish cooperation in creating “Palestine”?

Let us first recall the basic film. Emaciated, skeletal, starving, and disoriented, the pianist endures German-occupied Warsaw with aid offered by both Jews and gentiles, and, also, with torments meted out by both Jews and gentiles. Yes, some Polish Catholics risked their own lives to save him, as did several Jews, including a member of the Jewish police. But some, mostly non-Jews, took considerable comfort, and occasionally delirious joy, in the Nazi-orchestrated mass murders.

What can we say more precisely about the Jewish police in Poland? Shall we be ashamed that thousands of Jews rounded up, abused, beat upon, and deceived their fellow Jews in what turned out to be a grotesquely futile attempt to save their own lives, and the lives of their families? Or shall we be more understanding, recognizing the overwhelming and ubiquitous human inclination to survive at all costs, even if the cost is, at least in retrospect, unmentionable? Let us be fair. What would we have done in identical circumstances?

However we might choose to judge the Jewish police in Warsaw, what really matters more is that we learn from this grim past to identify all future forms of active collaboration with our enemies as not only foolish but unforgivable. Now, and certainly with the benefit of an ineradicable hindsight, we must understand that our moral and intellectual imperative to survive together as Jews is also the only way we shall ever survive separately as individuals. Nowhere does this seemingly paradoxical understanding hold greater meaning than in regard to present-day Israel and in particularly to the question of “Palestine.”

Learning from the Holocaust, from the particular and perplexing existential circumstances of “The Pianist,” it is plain that we must never again do the grotesque bidding of assisting our intended murderers. It will also be insufficient if we should choose only to think about our anti-collaborative actions and associated policy prescriptions. We Jews are already good enough at thinking. Now, however, we must also learn to feel these actions and prescriptions, and to feel them as Jews.

Interestingly, in modern philosophy the human imperative to combine feeling with thinking can be located in its purest, boldest, and most compelling form in the magisterial writings of the twentieth-century Spanish Catholic scholar, Miguel de Unamuno, especially in his The Tragic Sense of Life. Perhaps more than anyone else, Don Miguel understood that our perishable world is built on “the man of flesh and bone,” or upon ashes.

As “The Pianist” opens, the protagonist (played by Adrien Brody) is describing new anti-Jewish laws to a gentile friend, who quite naturally proceeds to comment, “This is absurd.” How, she asks the cultured Szpilman, can an intelligent people, the Germans, prescribe such gratuitous harms against a singularly capable, innocent, and caring people? Why shouldn’t Jews be allowed to drink coffee in cafes or sit on park benches? Incomprehensively, can the modern world once again have become medieval?

The correct answer, of course, is plain to all who know history. Absurdity can become normal. The veneer of human civilization is exceedingly thin. Beneath this veneer always lurk utterly primal needs and ferocities, persistent barbarisms that usually remain latent but that can explode with unimaginable fury when encouraged to emerge by a respected, or feared, public authority.

Why shouldn’t six million Jews (the particular number is ominously noteworthy, as that is roughly the number of Jews in present-day Israel) now be permitted to live safely in their own tiny mini-state, a country smaller than Lake Michigan, when an Islamic world of over one billion people already has several dozen states, not one of which has risen to even the most minimal standards of democratic rule?

Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/indepth/columns/louis-bene-beres/the-pianist-and-palestine-first-of-two-parts/2012/04/05/

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