Assassinating suspects undermines justice

My following letter about assassinating terrorists appeared in the Daily Beacon, the University of Tennessee’s student newspaper, on March 5, 2010:

In light of the publication of a secret Israeli assassination in Dubai, Treston Wheat committed his Feb. 25 waste of ink to glorifying assassination, which he deems necessary to the fight against terrorism. Even if this were true, assassinations are illegal under domestic and international law, so he condones lawbreaking. While ignoring all moral and legal questions, Wheat boldly assumes that assassination can stop terrorism. It cannot, and one could argue that the assassination of suspected terrorists increases the strength and legitimacy of the terrorists’ cause, while undermining our claim on liberty and justice.

As a Jew and a staunch advocate of freedom, due process and the rule of law, I am often disappointed by the Israeli government’s tactics and policies. I am equally disappointed by self-proclaimed followers of Christ like Wheat, who defend government policies that are immoral, expedient, unnecessary and antagonistic to everything Jesus taught. The philosophical innovation of Judaism was the recognition of human freedom; to this, Christianity added the common brotherhood of all men. These Western religious tenets, freedom and brotherhood, have been abandoned by the current Israeli coalition and its supporters. Do I support Israel? Yes, but only an Israel that recognizes all its inhabitants as free and equal under the law, and one need not look far into Israel’s laws to discover that it does not. I hold every other nation to the same standard.

The United States itself participates in secret assassinations more often than we know. The targets of these assassinations are suspects. They are innocent until proven guilty. They are the accused, and in a free and just society, the accused have rights. Our CIA is not all bad, but it is often involved in a lot of mischief offensive to our idea of justice. Recently, ABC News released agency recordings of a small plane being shot down over Peru, with the aid of our CIA. The plane was suspected of smuggling drugs, but was actually carrying an American missionary family, all of whom were killed by the machine gun fire of Peruvian fighter jets. These deaths are a consequence of the notion that it is okay to murder suspects without the benefit of a trial, or even evidence presented against them. Even if the plane had been carrying drugs and smugglers, since when is capital punishment, executed in secrecy without trial, the proper punishment for this crime? Or any other crime, for that matter? This practice destroys 800 years of our legal traditions dating back to the Magna Carta. Now we are told by the CIA that it considers itself obliged to assassinate American citizens, on secret evidence, in order to protect us from threats. The power given to the U.S. president by our passive acceptance of this practice is definitively totalitarian. It is a real threat to essential human liberties.

Terrorism works, and the more brutal the physical force opposing it, the more quickly it strengthens and spreads. The true “War on Terror” is a battle of ideas and politics, because terrorists are inspired by ideas and political grievances. I prefer destroying the dark tree of terrorism at its root — not picking off one prickly leaf at a time, as several grow back in its place. To do this, we must ask ourselves what the root cause of terrorism is and address that cause. If we have not properly answered that question, and the answer to it is well-publicized by its perpetrators, we cannot begin to address the terrorist threat.

Wheat’s disapproval of the recent Mossad assassination stems from its sloppiness, not its intent. The trouble with the Israeli government’s policy of murdering suspected criminals, Wheat has so amorally asserted, is that the crime was eventually caught on film. The real trouble is that assassination is murder with impunity. It is always unjust. If a person is evil enough to “deserve” assassination, certainly that person is evil enough to stand trial for his crimes.

Alex Winston

Senior in political science


Religious freedom: a confined policy

Freedom of religion is an established right in the United States; the First Amendment of the Constitution guarantees it to every person.  In the U.S., no person may be discriminated against on the basis of religion, race, ethnicity, or gender.  Equal opportunity is among our most cherished tenets; it is the product of much national soul-searching, and it did not arrive without a struggle.  It has brought tranquility in a diverse nation.  In the U.S. today, it is legally irrelevant whether a person is male, female, Mormon, Jew, Christian, Muslim, White, Black or Asian.

Americans know that a human being is rightly judged on character alone, but they abandon that knowledge when they consider foreigners.  Americans have allied themselves with many governments around the world that hate American rights.  Israel, for instance, would not dream of placing the Arab and the Jew on equal footing.  Many American allies in the Islamic world treat non-Muslims as second-class citizens.  The U.S. has also supported many autocracies that discriminate against (or even exterminate) political dissidents, and it continues to reward the perpetrators of these atrocities with weapons and cash.

When we treat certain people as inferior beings based on religious differences (or condone such treatment), we give credence to the very evil we aim to suppress, and this ignorant practice has brought more wretchedness to humanity than all other evils combined.  It will continue to bring Americans trouble in the forms of anxiety, fear, terror, and war.  U.S. policy is philosophically unsound, for it is a philosophical contradiction to support religious freedom and the establishment of any religious state–Islamic, Christian, or Jewish.

All those who espouse the doctrine of religious statehood, may be included within the following descriptions: the interested, who are not to be trusted; the weak, who cannot see; the prejudiced, who will not see; and a certain set of moderates, who think better of the religious state than it deserves; and this last class, by an ill-judged deliberation, will be the cause of more calamities to this world than all the other three.

Holocaust Museum, Yad Vashem (05.14.08)

I continue to be frustrated by the nature of holocaust conversations.  The sole intent of such discussions is almost always the provocation of emotional reaction and attachment.  To me, if we simply become attached to the victims emotionally, we unwittingly blind ourselves to the condition of the perpetrators.

Our guide Moshe asks, “How could people have allowed this to happen?  How could they have done it?”  He then admits he has no answer, and seems never to have searched for one, for a brief inquiry into German history will quickly cure his perplexion.

In a democracy, successful politicians must carefully place the blame for societal maladies on anyone but themselves, and offer solutions to those problems.  After nearly a half century of relatively dormant anti-Semitism, Germany faced great economic and political strife after World War I, and the political establishment of that country was in need of a scapegoat, the identity of which was chosen out of convenience more than anything else.

The facts that are ignored at Yad Vashem–the most important lessons of the Holocaust–and which are also ignored by most supposed torchbearers of the phrase “never again” are these

  • Governments lie
  • Governments kill
  • Government propagandize
  • Governments exist in spite of the goodness of human society, and seek primarily to maintain and grow themselves.
  • Governments get the benefit of the doubt when the subject of truth is in question.
  • No government is immune to these diseases.
  • When a government requires secrets, NO ONE is safe.

Going hiking (05.16.08)

Yesterday we went to Zevat, a beautiful old city with a history of violence.  I bought a photograph (artistic double exposure) of a man praying at the Western Wall.  The drive north to Zevat was highlighted by the border fence between Jewish Israel and the Palestinian Authority.  There is a quiet but undeniable animosity between the Israeli Jews and the Palestinians, that seems certainly unnatural–if not an abomination–and allows for an easy segue into the most interesting event of the day, the Kabbalah lecture in the gallery of David Friedland.

David talked about Kabbalistic mantras of non-dualism and universality.  Many members of our group were unmoved by David’s words, but I found myself in profound agreement with him.  Are we really so incompatible–the Palestinians and Jews?  Both religions value the same characteristics–the oneness of God, humility, respect, love–but still manage to fall victim to the soul-corrupting forces around them.

What reason has the peaceful farmer of one country to put down his plow, and lift up sword against the peaceful farmer of another, but through the means of a false authority?  This is a useful question that, I believe, is at the heart of what David Friedland was trying to convey.

To talk of the “peaceful farmer” of one nation with any true authority, one must first know that man exists, and I do.  One of the soldiers in our group, Tzahi, led us to his family’s farm, just three kilometers from the Lebanese border.  Here was a small farm not unlike the one my grandmother grew up on, decades ago in rural Tennessee.  The family was a peaceful and welcoming bunch.  They allowed us to ride their horses, eat fruit from their trees, and collect eggs from their hen house.  I would be willing to bet there are peaceful farms like this one, on the other side of the border, with peaceful, welcoming families, who are also mournfully propagandized by a false authority that pits humankind against itself in war.  It seems to me that this cannot be the will of God, but a result of the human ignorance thereof, or a human arrogance that would assume rule over God’s domain.

Last night we stayed in cabins, and the common area had a basketball court and picnic tables.  We played basketball and guitar, and sang–“Freebird” and “The Most Beautiful Girl in the Room” were my humble contributions.  Today we hike and swim.

Shabbat at the spring/pool (05.17.08)

Yesterday we drove to the Golan heights.  We hiked (seriously) to a pool at the foot of a waterfall, where most of us swam.  At the end of the trail, a refreshing reminder of the advantages of capitalism greeted us in the form of a well-placed ice cream truck.  Then we rode to Mount Bental, a hill that overlooks the Syrian border.

The contention for this land has shaped Israeli politics since he late 1960s.  It is a beautiful area, and a strategic high ground for Israeli forces.

Shabbat in Israel is much like Sunday in the United States.  Some people take the religious aspects of the weekend more seriously than others.  We prayed, and I was surprised to learn that the services in Israel are much shorter and much more relaxed than in the U.S.  The prayers have three main themes under God: peace, gratitude, and freedom.  I say “under God” because of the assumption true faith requires–that anything humankind can possibly contrive will always be inferior to the natural state of creation.  To allow any delegation of humans, regardless of their supposed benevolence and intellect, to alter the inalienable natural rights of humankind in God’s image, is to practice idolatry, giving to a committee the responsibilities and respects that should only be contracted between an individual and his/her own given nature.

This assumption of faith leads naturally to the religious rejection of coercive government, and faith in freedom and power higher than any person or group of people.  This faith is the philosophy through which all religions originate, and all religions, at their roots, are undeniably anarchistic.  Yet this, the holyland, is undeniably over-governed, and–forgive the following generalization–the people here credit all of their blessings to their own religion, and all of their problems to a different religion, never realizing their religions are rightfully united, and their opinions by ruling idols divided. 

The heart of what is called the holyland is chilled to the core by an ever-multiplying prejudice among its residents–both Jewish and Muslim.  A human is a human is a human, and each of us is equal before God, without regard to race, religion, location, creed, status, or chance–everyone who doesn’t realize this as fact, should humiliate their own thoughts, before nature and time do the deed for them.

Judaism Discussion and events (05.17.08-05.18.08)

Is Judaism a religion or a nationality?  This is a controversial question in this controversial nation. 

For me, it is only a religion.  The establishment of any “religious state” contradicts principles necessary to a free society, yet claims of freedom abound in this country, as if the word’s meaning has been altered entirely.  The claim that people may have different definitions of freedom is as absurd as the arbitrary proposal that some people should be more free than others.

It is unpardonable that we, as Jews and humans, should practice the faults of government that we recognize as deplorable in others; the hypocrisy is too obvious not to be seen, and–were it not a serious matter–the absurdity would be too great not to be laughed at.  It is an idiotic and blasphemous rejection of God’s gift of reason to take the proponents of any religious state seriously.

We were asked about a decision of the Israeli supreme court that involved citizenship for a man whose Judaism was in question.  The attempts at answering this question with pure moral conviction were amusing if not frustrating.  My answer, of course, was that the law itself was a bad one.  First, laws difficult to be executed generally cannot be good, and second, it is unnatural that a pure stream should flow from a foul spring.

We were also given a list of activities that Jews consider important, and asked to list them in order of importance for our group.  This set the stage for an argument between myself and Joe Gatorade.  For me, the most important given activity of being Jewish was reading books about Judaism.  Joe believed it was to call oneself Jewish, and iterated that there was little importance in reading about Judaism.  Taken to its logical end–ambitiously assuming it has a beginning–his argument is that it is most important to identify with a word that one cannot even define.

Leaving politics and religious doctrine to the criminals and feeble minds they attract, I will turn to the events of reality.  We went to a pool next to the hostel yesterday.  Then we discussed Judaism.  Then we travelled to Afula for dinner (shwarma, falafel, or pizza).  Today we leave the hostel and travel to Jerusalem.

Tale of Ben Yehuda Street (05.19.08)

Jerusalem’s Ben Yehuda Street is Jewish Gatlinburg.  They sell overpriced jewelry, sunglasses, food, and souvenirs to tourists.  No rational economic participant would wish to go shopping there, and it is safe to assume that no native of Jerusalem actually shops there.

I walked around Ben Yehuda Street with a delightful group of girls, including Ivy Lynn, the Schneider sisters, and Perri.