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The Philadelphia Jewish Voice
October 2005

Alan TuttleThe Exponent Watchpost

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Past Features of the Exponent Watchpost

Part 1: From Gaza to New Orleans

In the September 8th issue of the Exponent, Jonathan Tobin ventures into some risky territory in his A Matter of Opinion editorial. He starts by discussing a phenomenon seen in the Gaza pullout in which large numbers of settlers were caught by surprise when the pullout actually occurred: They had been counting on divine intervention to stop the process they considered to be counter to G-d’s Will. Mr. Tobin dismisses their misplaced faith, then continues to pursue this theological thread by debunking some of the religious spokespeople who ascribed the devastation of Katrina to a wrathful G-d: Jewish writer Ariel Pako, attributing G-d’s anger to the U.S. support for the withdrawal (‘evacuees for evacuees’), and fundamentalist Christian Michael Marcavage blaming the New Orleans flood on the licentious nature of the city, especially the gay population.

Of interest, Mr. Tobin didn’t refer to the reports of radical Islamists who also saw the tragedy as the wrath of Allah targeting the United States for its transgressions, though for them the U.S. support for Israel is at the top of the list, Gaza withdrawal notwithstanding. This would have been the trump card in the column’s aim of debunking people’s claim to be able to read G-d’s mind: the irony that one event is used as proof of two ‘Divine plans’ that are diametrically opposed in who is being favored.

The lost opportunity to further highlight religiously-inspired irrationality was a minor problem compared to his next turn: Jonathan seems unable to write an editorial that criticizes only those on the Right, so he then veers off to trash environmentalists. One could applaud the balance in this if it had been based on accurate reporting. But he says that ‘environmental extremists’ cite the hurricane as proof of global warming, and that they (he doesn’t name names, as he did with the religious extremists) "see Katrina as punishing America for the Bush administration’s repudiation of the Kyoto Protocol."  What could have been an interesting discussion about the suspected/predicted link between global warming and an increase in extreme weather, especially hurricanes, (see article in this issue of the Philadelphia Jewish Voice) only becomes an opportunity to dismiss an issue that is not on the conservative agenda. Tobin admits there is "a case to be made for concern over global warming." But he considers linking Katrina with global warming to be as preposterous as blaming the devastation of New Orleans on U.S. support for the Gaza withdrawal—equating "the Israeli far-right and environmental extremists."

We agree with Jonathan that it is ridiculous to think Mother Nature was punishing America for the Bush administration’s repudiation of the Kyoto Protocol. He might have pointed to the havoc wreaked on Cuba, and even Japan itself, by other hurricanes and typhoons as proof: surely the U.S.’s enemy—Cuba—and the nation in which the Kyoto Protocol was crafted—Japan—would be spared in this scenario of punishment aimed at the bastion of anti-environmentalism. But he dropped the ball. So I will attempt to pick up the ‘Katrina as environmental consequence’ thought: although many scientists for years have predicted an increase in the number and intensity of ocean storms due to global warming, the United States is not being singled out by Mother Nature. Unfortunately, all the countries on Earth will share the consequence of unfettered greenhouse gas emissions which result from a continued willingness to mortgage the environment of future generations for the economic and political expediency of today.

As yet another option, Tobin could have continued with his theological tack by considering whether "G-d’s wrath" (e.g., global warming and its sequelae of more frequent and intense hurricanes and floods) comes as a result of our abuse of G-d's gift to us (suggested in Bereishit/Genesis 1:26-28) or as a result of our worshiping the idols of Oil/profit (as in Devarim/Deuterotomy 11:13-17). 

Part 2 – Where Does Cindy Sheehan Sit (other than Crawford, Texas)?

The Exponent’s September 8th Editorial and Opinion page (What They Are Saying) included a column written by Susan Estrich of the St. Petersburg Times about Cindy Sheehan. In it, Susan attributes quotes to Ms. Sheehan, the gist of which involves Israel: first, that the war in Iraq is about defending Israel, which is not a good reason for her son to have died, and that if Israel would ‘pull out of Palestine and the U.S. would withdraw from Iraq, terrorism would decrease significantly.' These ideas lead Ms. Estrich to the conclusion that Cindy is an anti-Semite who should not be supported. This is not the first time this accusation has been leveled (see also PJV#3 What Is The President Thinking?).

Certainly this accusation should be met with concern on at least two counts: 1) as a very public figure, if she indeed holds views that are anti-Semitic she needs to be confronted about them, whether or not she represents the anti-war movement, and 2) it serves to divert attention from the issue at hand – the war in Iraq. (For a more complete discussion of the causes of the war, specifically related to Israel as well as the Project for a New American Century, see Shalom Center website.)

  It is important to note that the issue of Cindy’s views has been most strongly latched on to by the Republican Jewish Committee (RJC), which paints Cindy as a representative of the Democratic Party. This in spite of the fact that there are few Democratic officials who are calling for the U.S. to end its occupation of Iraq! In a letter reprinted in The Shalom Report the RJC repeats quotes attributed to Cindy, which Cindy denies having made. The letter then goes on to rationalize the war based on the fact that Saddam Hussein, a torturer and fervent foe of Israel, was removed from power. It bears repeating that our administration supports other governments that are guilty of the same crimes committed by Saddam Hussein—who clearly committed innumerable, unconscionable crimes against humanity. And the RJC doesn’t address the fact that Iraq is hurtling in the direction of becoming another Iran: a theocracy as hostile to Israel’s existence as Mr. Hussein himself was. This is no surprise to many who opposed the invasion, and who also predicted this development. So much for the RJC’s support for Bush and the war as making for a safer Israel.

But back to the issue of Cindy Sheehan as the face of the peace movement. There are many people who support the ideal of peace who hold Israel to a higher standard than other countries, and who have difficulty understanding Israel in the context in which it was created. Are there some important questions to be raised about Israeli policies toward Palestinians? Yes, there are. Is it generally taboo to raise them in many Jewish circles? Again, yes. And at the same time is there a problem of anti-war oriented people being too quick to point the finger at Israel? Once more, the answer is affirmative. So the specific question of Cindy Sheehan aside, it is crucial that an ongoing, constructive conversation about Israel, Zionism, and anti-Jewish attitudes takes place among progressives. The urgency of this need is underscored by the recent protest in Washington, D.C. against the war. Several Jewish groups withdrew from the main rally when the decidedly anti-Israel group, ANSWER, was included in the rally by the organizing committee.

Cindy has denied making some of the statements attributed to her, and backed away from others. To her credit, she has said that making more general political statements in the confusion of the media storm that has erupted at Camp Crawford hasn’t been helpful, and that she wants to refocus on her ultimate goal: to end U.S. military involvement that has resulted in the unnecessary death of her son and scores of thousands of others..

The bottom line, as Arthur Waskow writes in the second Shalom Center Report article cited above, Cindy is not the issue: the war, and the growing number of American and Iraqi dead and maimed, and the multiplication of terrorists that is resulting from the U.S. invasion and occupation, and the starving of urgent domestic needs; that is the issue." The feebleness of our government’s response to Hurricane Katrina is the exclamation point to that statement.