• Lebanon
  • August 28, 2006
  • 4 minutes read

Lebanese Jewry: Our silence is complicity

I grew up Jewish in Beirut. Although I left nearly 40 years ago, my memories of Lebanon – vibrant and multicultural – have stayed with me. And so, my wife and I had started talking about taking a trip there.
I would show her the neighborhood where I grew up, the beaches where I swam in the warm Mediterranean waters and the small mountain hotel we loved to stay at in the summer. I would also show her my school, where Jewish, Christian and Muslim children studied and grew up together.
After the event of the past few weeks, we may never be able to take this trip.
“Israeli” bombings have killed more than 700 Lebanese civilians. Hundreds of thousands – more than one-fifth of the population – have become refugees, uprooted from their homes. Lebanon’s civilian infrastructure has been systematically destroyed.
We, as Americans, bear a special responsibility for this carnage. If Washington would withhold its unconditional military, economic and diplomatic support for “Israel”, the “Israeli” government would waste no time in starting genuine negotiations. Current US-backed cease-fire proposals are so unfair to Lebanon that the Lebanese government has already indicated it cannot accept the terms, which do not even include a full “Israeli” withdrawal.
This one-sided American policy is the result of a combination of factors, but it thrives on the myth that all American Jews stand uncritically behind the “Israeli” government.
Many believe that American Jews unanimously and unconditionally support the “Israeli” government. That what we learned from the Holocaust is to shoot first and ask questions later. That our commitment to justice and equal rights is a quaint feature of our past.
There is a saying “two Jews, three opinions.” Now we are told “1 million Jews, one opinion.” In fact, our community is profoundly divided; Hundreds, if not thousands, of Jews all over the country have demonstrated to demand an end to the bombing of Gaza and Lebanon. In one of these demonstrations, 17 Jewish protesters were arrested in an act of civil disobedience.
In the past few days, thousands of Jews have signed a petition demanding that the United States intervene to stop the wanton killing of Lebanese civilians by the “Israeli” war machine.
Jewish organizations that sponsor such demonstrations and petitions, such as Jewish Voice for Peace (on whose board I serve), are experiencing exponential growth. Jews are looking for ways to express their outrage at the actions of the “Israeli” government, and of the blind support accorded by the Jewish establishment in this country.
We mourn the loss of lives equally. We are outraged by the destruction of Lebanese airports, roads and bridges, the bombing of homes and private cars, the killing of children, and the other horrors visited by the “Israelis” on native nations.
It is this kind of past “Israeli” behavior that gave birth to both Hamas and Hizbullah, organizations that have strengthened immeasurably in recent weeks. “Israeli” intransigence has made “Israel” a pariah state, and is the biggest enemy of all the people of the Middle East – Arabs and “Israelis” alike.
Jewish American leaders work tirelessly to promote the myth of Jewish consensus. Their tactics include refusing to rent space to dissenters, threatening funding cuts when Jewish institutions question “Israel’s” actions and cancelling meetings when they suspect debate might occur.
Their most ubiquitous weapon is the hurtful charge of anti-Semitism, hurled at both dissenting Jews and Gentiles.
Many Jews question “Israel’s” policies, but are afraid to speak out in their congregations or even to their families. But the time has come for Jewish dissidents to challenge the policies of the “Israeli” government. In the short run these policies kill Arabs, mostly innocent civilians; in the long run, they can result only in disaster for “Israelis” and Jews worldwide. Our silence in this time of crisis is complicity. We need to help bring about the peace that would one day make my visit to Beirut – and the visit of all Jews to Lebanon – possible.

Henri Piciotto of Berkeley is a mathematics educator and chairman of the board of Jewish Voice for Peace.