As some wacko conservatives use the new crisis in the Middle East to call for World War III. As the bombs raining down on Lebanese civilians radicalize more and more moderate Arabs across the Middle East against the U.S. and Israel. As the Bush-Cheney Administration stands by allowing this to happen--and even shipping them more arms. We might pause to think about Lebanon 2006 as the latest disaster of Bush-Cheney as yet another crisis that will haunt us for years to come.
The massive Israeli military bombing of Lebanese civilians and infrastructure has killed hundreds of people, purportedly justified by Hizbollah (note: NOT Lebanese government) capture of a couple soldiers and (later) rocket firings that have killed only a small fraction as many. Yet there is a peculiar, deafening silence among some progressive and liberal commentators (and politicans) regarding Israel's attacks on Lebanon. The fear of being thought of as anti-semitic for condemning Israeli actions runs strong, even if the facts of the case reveal overwhelmingly disproportionate response.
The brute facts of the matter betray our silence. A few days ago, Middle Eastern scholar and commentator Juan Cole had this to say on why Israeli military actions are criminal:
"...[T]his is my problem with Israel's war on Lebanon. The Olmert government wants to clean Hizbullah's katyusha rocket emplacements out of the area above its northern border with Israel. That may or may not be a realistic goal. Larry Cohler-Esses at the Jewish Week reports that a lot of military experts think Israel's military plan is impossible to accomplish. But it is legitimate for the Israeli government to fight Hizbullah and to attempt to destroy the missiles, once Hizbullah showered Israel with missiles (and even though the missiles have mostly failed to hit anything). But the Israeli military from the beginning of this conflict did not limit itself to fighting Hizbullah or to hitting its arsenal. The Israeli air force bombed Beirut airport (and bombed it again on Wednesday), and bombed the sea ports of Tripoli, Jounieh, Beirut, Sidon and Tyre. It bombed civilian neighborhoods and villages and killed whole families. That kind of broad gauge approach is not allowed by the modern laws of warfare. If you have good reason to think that a truck is carrying weaponry to Hizbullah, you can bomb it. But just bombing any old civilian truck is a war crime. So, the Israelis could have attempted to surveil trucking and where they had good reason to think that a truck was transporting weapons, they could have hit it. But just blowing up random trucks is criminal. Israel has fought a lazy war, both morally lazy and militarily lazy. It is work to surveil enemy shipments. So, you just blow up the airport and the ports and roads and bridges, regardless of whether you have reason to believe that any of them is used by Hizbullah for their war effort. Just in case. It is a just in case war. You bomb Shiite villages intensively, just in case they have military significance to Hizbullah. Maybe they don't, and you've just blown up a civilian neighborhood and killed whole families. Where blowing up things has no immediate and legitimate military purpose and harms innocent civilians, it is a crime."
For those of us in the U.S., the fundamental reason we can't ignore these international crimes of the Israeli military is that we are complicit in them. We (here I'll use that as shorthand for "our government") supply much of the arms and equipment. We provide much of the funding. We are the power behemoth in international diplomatic circles that prevents any serious effort to stop the fighting. America stands morally condemned along with Israel. The Bush Administration gave the green light to this mess and there are some war-mongers who would no doubt like to use this whole crisis as a step towards escalating war against Iran and Syria. And thus we cannot just watch as spectators, if we want our progressive ethical ideals to mean anything in practice.
Now let me contribute some less conventional perspective on this whole crisis. I think that our response to these events will have an effect on anti-semitism in the world. I believe that anti-semitism is real and that it has existed both historically and in the present day. As the traditional slanting of the Gospel of Christ to blame the Jews instead of the Romans for his death attests, we Christians have often fallen prey to it. Many people in the world today, especially in the Middle East, harbor strong prejudices against Jewish people and even go so far as to use the word Jew as a standard insult. For those who hold such derogatory views, the reactions of Americans (and Israelis) will too often only confirm these detestable prejudices.
To many worldwide observers of what Israel is doing in Lebanon, the wanton destruction wrought on Lebanon cannot be interpreted in any positive or acceptable light (and I can't really quarrel with them). So the options are: do we accept the false logic that says condemning the Israeli government's interpretation of its "right to defend itself" is tantamount to anti-semitism, thereby linking these criminal actions to Judaism itself? Or do we insist on separating the actions of a right-wing Israeli government from the religion of Judaism, thereby allowing us to condemn the actions while not saying anything about the religion? As you might imagine, I urge the latter course, and I believe that to curb anti-semitism in the world we have to be willing to strenuously condemn what Israel is doing on its own terms, just as we would any other government that did the same thing. Like Christianity, Islam, and other great religions of the world, Judaism in my view is at its heart a faith based on peace, not war. The present-day leaders exploiting people's religious faith and identity to further their aggressive, violent agendas who must be called to account by the faithful.
As a Christian, of course, I find the whole idea of expecting government leaders who publicly identify with the Christian religion to act in concert with my religion's ethical tenets totally absurd. George W. Bush may be a professed Christian, but his actions do not represent Christianity. And likewise, condemnation of his actions is far from being anti-Christian. In fact, it seems to me the best way to heed Christ's call to discipleship.
So let us take courage and be willing to demand that the U.S. government call for an immediate cease-fire from both Israel and Hizbollah (and unpreconditioned negotiations, as a new resolution sponsored by Rep. Dennis Kucinich, D-OH, and several others urges)--and at the very least demand an end to the disproportionate and devastating bombing of civilian Lebanon.