Jews and the Pro-war US Government

Rabbi Arthur Waskow, 7/20/2003

We have written in a companion article about the work The Shalom Center is doing to support Jews and Jewish values in the antiwar movement . Now let us examine the question of what Jewishly committed Jews can be doing about the pro-war US government.

The ancient Rabbis taught, " On three pillars is the world is based: truth, justice, and peace. Yet all these are one; for where truth is spoken, justice is achieved and peace emerges."

Where is truth? The past lies of the present US government are now unraveling, and the US occupation of Iraq is also unraveling. Tragically, that means American soldiers are dying — and Iraqi children are going unfed, unschooled, unhealed. None of it necessary for any decent purpose. No truth, no justice, no peace.

Many Americans who believed the Bush Administration's stories last fall and winter that Iraq posed a great and imminent danger to the US — and many American Jews who believed the assertions of the Sharon government and others that Iraq posed a great and imminent danger to Israel — are now beginning to see that those stories were built on lies about Iraq's "weapons of mass destruction." The forged "Niger connection" was only the most blatant of the lies.

The clearest exposures of these lies that I have seen is from an Email news service called Truthout which draws on mainstream press reports and brings them together to report on the reality beneath official fluff.

I find Truthout very valuable. — It does not include the harebrained notions that sometimes emerge from some "Left" circles, and it does expose the hare-brained lies that come from official PR. You can subscribe to Truthout by writing —

Now what do we do about this? Instead of beating ourselves up for letting the government lie to us last fall, we should be taking action now.

Those lies about uranium and the Iraqi "nuclear weapons" and other mass-destruction weapons programs fit together with lies about how easy the postwar occupation and reconstruction of Iraq was going to be. All those lies were used to justify ignoring the warnings of US friends and allies, as well as millions of people in the streets on every continent. All those lies led to death, and the deaths are still happening.

All those lies were necessary parts of a radical power grab by tbe Bush Administration. Not only a power grab to control oil, but a power grab to control US politics. The lies about Iraq helped win the 2002 election. But far more —

Those lies and the fantastic tax cut for the super-rich and the attacks on civil liberties and the starvation of money for schools, health care, pensions, and environmental care all add power to the very top of the US pyramid.

The use of power is necessary, but addiction to power is extremely destructive. In Jewish tradition, that is the archetypal story of Pharaoh. His addiction to power not only enslaves the Israelites but brings disaster down on his own country.

Jewish history, wisdom, and values should be teaching us to oppose this power grab by the Bush Administration and the addiction that fuels and follows it.

One piece of this is working with other antiwar organizations.

For the reasons sketched out in our companion piece on "Jews and the Antiwar Movement," The Shalom Center hopes to continue working in and with United for Peace and Justice, despite — or because of — the problems we have as Jews experienced with some of its members. (If the situation worsens, we may change our decision.)

We will also keep working in Win Without War (WWW). Many "mainstream" Jewish groups may find membership in WWW the most comfortable way of entering antiwar coalition work. Yet no Jewish organizations except The Shalom Center and Tikkun have joined. The absence of others betokens a disturbing withdrawal of the official leadership of the "mainstream" Jewish community from a proactive progressive stance in American society.

It is not that progressive Jews disappeared from the earth last fall. At that moment, their voices inside the "mainstream," speaking out against the Bush policies, were less vigorous than the voices urging acquiescence in the Bush policies. So the mainstream organizations mostly acquiesced.

The Shalom Center did speak out then, and will keep on. We need support to do that well.

And perhaps the "mainstream" situation is now changing, as the lies keep unraveling and the US occupation of Iraq keeps unraveling.

The two large Jewish organizations that we might now expect to take part in WWW are the Reform movement and the Jewish Council on Public Affairs. Other, smaller, national groups are the Reconstructionist movement, the Arbeterring/Workmen's Circle and the Jewish Labor Committee.

There are two possible progressive responses to their absence.

One is to strengthen and support the progressive Jewish groups that have taken vigorous public stands, such as The Shalom Center.

The other is to bring grass-roots pressure to bear within these groups, urging them to vigorously oppose the Bush Administration's power grab and to join in the WWW antiwar coalition.

We urge progressive Jews to do both.

And to act on their own, as well.

To sum up:

    1. Please write a letter to the editor of your local general and your local Jewish newspaper and to one of your three Members of Congress, demanding a vigorous independent investigation of the pre-war lies and the present cover-up.

    2. Ask the Board of your own synagogue and your own local chapter of any Jewish organization you belong to, to do the same.

    3. Write Rabbi David Saperstein, Religious Action Center of the Reform Movement, 2027 Mass. Ave NW, Washington DC 20036, and Dr. Hannah Rosenthal, Jewish Council for Public Affairs, 443 Park Ave. Soth, 11th floor, New York NY 10016, to urge that their organizations join WWW. Urge your own national Jewish organization to do the same.

    If you are stretched for time and wary of doing all these, PLEASE CHOOSE ANY ONE OF THEM AND DO THAT. None of us, taught the ancient Rabbis, has to accomplish the whole job — but we are each obligated to take some part.

    PLUS ___

    4. Please send a contribution to The Shalom Center, to help us both defend Jews and the Jewish people in the antiwar movement, and defend the Jewish values of truth, justice, and peace in the world.

As the Rabbis taught, "On three pillars is the world based: truth, justice, and peace. Yet all these are one; for where truth is spoken, justice is achieved and peace emerges."

Shalom, Arthur

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Rabbi Arthur Waskow, Director
The Shalom Center