March 19, 2003
The national debate over the war with Iraq has prompted many of us to reexamine our personal beliefs about war and peace. As Hillel professionals, we are called upon to help our students work through difficult questions of morality, tradition and public policy. The Hillel movement is grappling with our role in this debate and how we can provide students of all beliefs a safe environment in which to explore and discuss this issue.
This document will begin to answer some of these questions. We hope it will be shared with members of your staff, lay board members and student leadership.
Where are the students?
The 2003 Spitzer Forum offered a window on the opinions of some of our more politically active and empowered students. Hundreds of students gathered for a town hall meeting titled "Countdown to Peace or War." The panel was moderated by Wayne Firestone and included Andi Milens (JCPA), Hillel's Rabbi Avi Weinstein, University of California, Santa Cruz, Grinspoon Intern Paula Birnberg. The format is one that can easily be replicated on campus.
The audience was fairly evenly divided between those students who were in support of American intervention in Iraq and those opposed. Approximately two thirds of the audience said that they had formulated a view on intervention. An overwhelming majority of participants said that Jewish ideals of social justice and humanity should influence one's public policy decisions.
Students against the war generally expressed a feeling that the United States was setting a dangerous precedent by targeting Iraq when other countries are equally hostile. They fear that the United States will act like an imperial power, toppling one regime after another. Several students felt that the country is rushing into conflict without fully exploring all non-military options.
Many students who support the war based their arguments on a humanitarian desire to liberate the Iraqi people from an oppressive dictatorship. One Israeli spoke out in favor of the war by describing his experience ten years ago when Iraqi missiles fell on Israel. Remembering the birthday he spent wearing his gas mask, he told the audience, "I hope you never have fear like this."
One student expressed her ambivalence about the war but reminded the audience that regardless of one's opinion, as Jews our actions should always better the lives of others.
[Back to the top]
Hillel's Policy and Roles
Values Clarification - Hillel doesn't have to provide answers, but we can provide guidelines for helping Jewish students clarify their values as they relate to conflict and war. With students coming down strongly on both sides of the debate, it is ever more critical that Hillel professionals set aside personal beliefs to support all students -- as they would with any other controversial issue. Hillel staff roles are to be listeners and community builders, not influencers of a particular political viewpoint.
While Hillel cannot take a specific position on war, many religious groups on campus may. More than ever, Jewish students will need to appreciate Hillel as "safe space" to disagree and argue - and still eat Shabbat dinner together. Hillel can also play an important role on campus as a forum for a variety of campus groups.
Here are some recommendations based on conversations with Hillel professionals across the United States:
[Back to the top]Resources
- If you know there are many Jewish students opposed to a war, but who aren't organized, should you help them? Yes. Help them create an environment where they build community with each other, and where they create a space for Jewish students with similar interests.
- What are the limits? Especially in issues like these, our tradition honors a panoply of opinions, even those diametrically opposed. As those on the Webcast saw, it's hard to delegitimate opinions on these issues.
- Bring Jewish students with differing opinions on the war and encourage them to talk with each other. Help them understand the relevant Jewish values embedded in these issues. They may not have this opportunity outside of rallies (with lots of screaming) or op-ed duels.
- Work closely with Campus Security officials. Let them know what you are hearing on campus, and ask them to be in touch with you if there are rallies or programs planned that have the potential for inciting hateful speech or violence. They should know where Hillel is, what your hours are, and what your security procedures are.
These texts are a summary of history's lessons. Tradition asks us to evaluate this war as urgent or optional. If we classify it as urgent, there's no problem. If we look at this war as optional, we have to decide if this is the best option, and understand whether the option is containment or conflict. Tradition speaks in discord, but these are the parameters for the arguments.
Time for War, A Time for Peace (PDF File 314kb) - compiled by Rabbi Avi Weinstein comprises Jewish sources and commentary on war and peace.
[Requires Adobe Acrobat Reader version 4.0 or higher.] "A
The Jewish Education Center of Cleveland has put together Jewish resources, discussion questions, maps and timelines in a curriculum that is easy to use and adapt for many settings and circumstances. It also includes texts on Judaism's humanitarian rules of war, and an extensive bibliography.
Hillel Professional Staff to Staff - In addition to the Web-boards, please feel free to be in touch with any member of the Charles and Lynn Schusterman International Center staff with program ideas, questions or concerns.
Your local Jewish Community Relations Council - Many of them already have community response plans in place for the myriad possibilities facing the Jewish community. Their answers may not be the same as what is required on your campus, but their strategies and decision-making processes may be a valuable tool for campus.
[Back to the top]
Israel Detractors - Stealing the Stage
In a November 2002 report to the ICC on anti-war activities, AIPAC Leadership Development Director Jonathan Kessler documented several disturbing aspects of the anti-war movement and its potential impact on campus. He called it "a perfect storm."
Several national organizations leading anti-war movements are anti-Israel:
"National and regional organizers have long track records on behalf of the Palestinian cause and in opposition to Israel and the U.S.-Israel relationship. Organizations such as ANSWER (Act Now to Stop War and End Racism), a spinoff of IAC (International Action Center) founded by Ramsey Clark; AWARE (Anti- War Anti-Racism Effort); and Not In Our Name, have long histories of involvement in anti-Israel active in the anti-war movement such as SUSTAIN (Stop US Tax Funded Aided to Israel Now), SAFE (Students Allied for Freedom and Equality), and ISM (International Solidarity Movement) helped organize a "Free Palestine" rally last April 20th, which brought over 75,000 demonstrators to DC."
The anti-war movement is politicizing the campus around a Middle East conflict:
"This large, newly politicized campus constituency will provide Israel's detractors with a huge pool of potential new recruits. Hundreds of thousands of people are being politicized around the Middle East conflict, providing the movement's radical organizers with a target-rich demographic. It is certainly possible that tens of thousands of newly politicized student activists turn from Iraq to the issue of Palestine since, on many campuses, the two are essentially sharing the same public space."
Selected examples of anti-war campus incidents:
- Rutgers University- An anti-war rally turned into an Israel-bashing demonstration.
- University of Michigan - Two speakers at a recent anti-war symposium spoke previously at the University of Michigan Divestment Conference this year.
- University of California, Davis - Weekly tabling has been cosponsored by California Students against the War and the Students for Justice in Palestine.
Exclusionary Tactics aimed at Jewish anti-war activists - Recently Michael Lerner, who signed a "Not In Our Name" anti-war pledge, was excluded from a San Francisco-based anti-war rally organized by multiple organizations, including ANSWER. Lerner was shut out in response to his criticism of ANSWER's anti-Israel antics.
Is Israel on the agenda? Essentials from the Jewish Council for Public Affairs
[Back to the top]Bibliography (excerpted from the Jewish Education Center of Cleveland)
- The organized Jewish community is not opposed to, nor does it support, the anti-war movement. American Jews have diverse views on how the United States should deal with Iraq. The organized Jewish community has spoken out about the need to vigorously address the danger to the U.S. and its allies posed by Saddam Hussein and his weapons of mass destruction, with the use of military force only as a last resort.
- The Israeli-Palestinian issue is important, and the United States should continue its efforts to try to resolve that conflict. But it is unrelated to the situation in Iraq. It is inappropriate and ultimately counterproductive for groups to use the anti-war movement as a vehicle to delegitimate Israel.
- Israel is not immune from criticism, but the messages being communicated at anti-war demonstrations are inaccurate, unfair and one-sided. When mentioning Palestinian suffering, one must also condemn suicide bombing and the targeting of civilians. Moreover, singling out Israel for human rights abuses, meaning holding Israel to a higher standard of behavior than other countries, borders on anti-Semitism. The effort to inject the Israeli-Palestinian issue into the anti-war message is not dissimilar from the hijacking of the UN Conference of Racism in Durban by anti-Israel forces.
a. Contemporary and Jewish Thought
Broyde, Rabbi Michael J. Fighting the War and the Peace: Battlefield Ethics, Peace Talks,Treaties and Pacifism in the Jewish Tradition.
Elcott, David. Power, War, and Peace in Jewish Tradition. CAJE & CLAL, 1991. This resource has learner-directed units to help students address the Jewish uses of power. To support the reading and understanding, a glossary is included in the back.
Kort. Michael. The Handbook of the Middle East. Twenty-First Century. Milbrook, 2002. Concise information about the Middle East. Countries in the region are grouped: Iraq, Syria, and Lebanon are discussed in one chapter. The writing is informative and impartial but the author, a social scientist, is quite clear in identifying the volatility, political instability, and authoritarianism of the region and the threat this is to world peace.
Rabbi Maurice Lamm, "Red or Dead: An Attempt at Formulating a Jewish Attitude," quoted in Preventing the Nuclear Holocaust: A Jewish Response. Commission on Social Action of Reform Judaism, UAHC, 1983, page 6.
While this book focuses on the issues surrounding nuclear war, it offers a very clear explanation of Judaism's laws regarding wars. Not only a narrative, this book contains essays by a large number of rabbis and experts in the field.
Albert Vorspan and David Saperstein, Jewish Dimensions of Social Justice: Tough Moral Choices of Our Time. NY: UAHC Press, 1998.
In the sections on Israel (chapter 6) and peace and international relations (chapter 7) there are right-to-the-point explanations of Judaism's views on war, especially within the context of the 1991 Gulf War's moral issues related to "just-war."
Walzer, Michael. Just and Unjust Wars: A Moral Argument with Historical Illustrations. Basic Books 1992.
A superb book originally published in 1977, which has set the stage for the discussion of just war theory for the past two decades. It contains a wealth of historical examples as well as theoretical insights.
b. Historical - Campus Protests
Gilbert, Marc Jason. The Vietnam War on Campus: Other Voices, More Distant Drums. Praeger Publisher, 2001
This book illustrates the diversity of the actors in the anti-Vietnam movement and the complexities of the movement itself. A collection of a number of historical essays, the anthology academically examines the various groups which evolved to become influential players in the movement-- Socialist, Libertarian, Conservative, Feminist, Religious groups, Southerners, and high school students. The thirteen essays and case studies ultimately point to a central theme: powerful movements, even those that appear cohesive, are highly complex and deeply nuanced.
Rosenblatt, Roger. Coming Apart: A Memoir of the Harvard Wars of 1969. Brown and Company, 1997.
Coming Apart describes the changing attitudes leading up to the anti-war riots at Harvard. It shows with a personal narrative the popular, political, and societal factors that avalanched into a violent movement against Vietnam. The progression of the riots is recorded through a professor's perspective and therefore the chronicle shows the ambivalence that many in the academic realm experienced during Vietnam.
Convoy from Sarajevo. UJA, 1992, 8:33 min.
Follow an Israeli rescue mission of Jews from besieged Sarajevo, through Serbian check-points to freedom in Zagreb Croatia in this intense video. This video could trigger discussion on the humanitarian aspects of helping those caught in a war.
Frontline/World: Truth and Lies in Baghdad. PBS. 2002, 60 minutes.
As the administration presses the United Nations to sanction a war to remove Saddam Hussein from power, a Frontline team journeys inside Iraq to investigate the claims and counter claims about Iraq's weapons of mass destruction, its brutal record on human rights, and the real opposition an invading military force will face.
Gunning for Saddam. PBS, 2001, 60 minutes.
Confronted by bio-terrorism, powerful forces in America believe Iraqi President Saddam Hussein is to blame. This documentary examines those activities that experts believe Saddam was involved in and discusses the diplomatic problems his overthrow would present.
Jewish American Patriots. Ergo, 1993, 60 minutes.
Jewish-American soldiers have played an important role in the history of the United States from the time of the Revolutionary War up through Operation Desert Storm. Through archival photos and expert testimonials their patriotic acts are examined. In addition, the dedication and importance of the Jewish War Veterans organization is recounted.
d. Web Sites
MyJewishLearning.com's new War and Peace section covers a wealth of ancient and contemporary Jewish perspectives on issues such as weapons of mass destruction, conditions when war is and is not warranted, holy wars, and how to engage in peaceful resistance. The section offers highly relevant, thought-provoking information to individuals and groups engaged in today's active debates on warfare in the Middle East and other regions around the globe.
Jewish Law. This page is an article called, "Fighting the War and the Peace: Battlefield Ethics, Peace Talks, Treaties, and Pacifism in Jewish Tradition."
PBS. This is a full Web site from PBS with much background information on the building conflict with Iraq.
United Nations. Latest news on the UN-sponsored weapons inspections and other UN interests in terrorism around the world may be found on a page that links to information on Iraq, terrorism, and Middle East issues.
The Washington Post. - The Washington Post (as most other newspapers) have archives of information and background on Iraq, Saddam Hussein, and other pertinent issues.
Compiled by the Hillel's Department of Jewish Student Life, Hillel's Israel Department and the Joseph Meyerhoff Center for Jewish Learning. Special thanks to Grinspoon Intern Julie Fishman of American University for selected research and reports.