Violence and Excuses in the Mideast

Many are calling for the Bush administration to intervene in the Israeli-Palestinian struggle. And such intervention could help. Yet the Bush administration is making no effort to conceal that its heart lies elsewhere: in creating a coalition in the Islamic world that will support forthcoming U.S. attempts to overthrow Saddam Hussein. Though little evidence links Saddam to Osama bin Ladin or al-Qaeda, the White House has used the cover of outrage at terror to legitimate a new war in Iraq that will complete what the last Bush administration left unresolved.

All the more reason to ask the United States to move beyond its narrow concerns with overthrowing Saddam and instead show the Israeli people that they have no alternative but to end the occupation. The real pro-Israel forces are those willing to push Israel to change its policies.

Bush and the Saudis would like to set up negotiations, restoring the image of calm while the United States pursues its Iraq adventure, meanwhile allowing Bush to weigh in on the side of peace and rational discourse. Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon will appear to be making a major concession to his Labor party allies by sitting in negotiations. Meanwhile, he will block any concessions that weaken Israel's hold over a substantial part of the West Bank. And Bush can then have his war.

This strategy faces some severe limitations. Yasir Arafat is not going to be able to quiet outrage among millions of Palestinians at the latest round of carnage. No matter what he agrees to, it's unlikely he can stop acts of revenge against Israelis. And many Palestinians will see the next round of talk as just another smoke screen to prolong the occupation.

Israel has become increasingly polarized, between a large group (now close to 46 percent) who favor ethnic cleansing of Palestinians (the polite word being used is transfer) and a growing minority (now close to 25 percent) who sympathize with the Israeli Defense Force Reservists refusing to serve in the West Bank and Gaza. The peace forces have been betrayed by a Labor Party that remains part of Sharon's government, so Israelis who seek to restore the moral coherence and spiritual health of the Jewish people are increasingly turning to civil disobedience and direct action.

Many Americans have been intimidated into silence by the forces of Jewish-establishment political correctness. They fear they will be labeled either anti-Semitic Christians or self-hating Jews should they say aloud what they feel privately: that Israel is behaving immorally and at times even savagely.

Yet unless Jews and morally principled Christians speak these truths, it will be anti-Semites and other haters who will eventually challenge Jewish p.c. and in a very destructive way. Future generations of Jews may unfairly suffer for the silence of this generation.

We identify with those in the Jewish world who will not allow Israel to become a modern-day Pharoah to the Palestinian people. Americans of many faiths are determined to stand with them and with Jewish liberals and progressives who continue to tell the story of liberation and continue to believe in the possibility of peace and justice. Tens of thousands of Jews raised these issues at their seders this year -- turning the dinner table into mini teach-ins on Israel's current behavior. Two fundamental truths underlie our vision: that Palestinian and Israeli lives are equally precious and that the violence of both sides must stop.

Rabbi Michael Lerner is editor of Tikkun Magazine. Cornel West is a professor at Harvard University and author of "Race Matters." A version of this article originally appeared in the Philadelphia Inquirer.

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