Ira Chernus  
PROFESSOR OF RELIGIOUS STUDIES
UNIVERSITY OF COLORADO AT BOULDER

IF YOU LOVE ISRAEL, STOP THE WAR AGAINST IRAQ

If you love Israel, you should be working harder than anyone to stop the impending U.S. war against Iraq. A U.S. attack is likely to endanger the Israeli people, set back the cause of Middle East peace, and undermine efforts to bring real security to Israel.

The official Jewish voices, in the U.S. and Israel, may be cheerleaders for the Bush administrationís war plans. They may tell us that Saddamís weapons of mass destruction (WMD) are aimed at Israel and must be wiped out to make Israelis safe.

Maybe Iraq has usable WMD, maybe not. In good Talmudic fashion, letís look at it both ways. Either way, the official Jewish voices are wrong.

Suppose the Iraqis do have deliverable WMD. A U.S. attack would give Saddam every reason to use those weapons against Israel. Many Jews (and non-Jews) would suffer. But that might be just the beginning. Right-wing analyst Anthony Cordesman, often a mouthpiece for the Republican hawks, recently warned the Senate Foreign Relations Committee that Israel, under full attack, "would certainly respond with nuclear strikes against Iraqi cities" and destroy the Iraqi state. Thatís a green light for the Israeli hawks to do the dirty work for the U.S.

Of course, if Iraq indeed has those WMD, it would mean a full-scale war that could well destroy the Israeli state too. The U.S. would win the war, with Israel as the sacrificial lamb. Nothing there for Jews to rejoice about.

On the other hand, suppose these claims of deliverable Iraqi WMD are being fabricated as an excuse for war. True, the war might put an end to any WMD research and development programs in Iraq. (Though there are no guarantees; if that program exists, it survived the 1991 Gulf War). But what would be the price for stopping the R&D? Again, Israel would be the sacrificial lamb. Israel would stand virtually alone as an ally of the U.S. war effort. That would turn world public opinion, and especially Muslim opinion, even more sharply against the Jewish state.

That, too, might be just the beginning. Former Jerusalem mayor Meron Benveniste recently warned that the Sharon government would use a U.S. war in Iraq as an excuse to link Iraq and Palestine in the public mind. Then he would launch an all-out attack on the Palestinians, perhaps leading to mass expulsions. Any move in that direction would inflame world opinion against the Israelis even more.

A post-war Israel might be free of fear from Iraqi WMD. But Israel would stand more morally condemned and isolated than ever. Moreover, no one can predict the political shape of the Middle East in a post-war world. Israel might be faced with neighbors much more hostile to it than todayís relatively moderate Arab governments. For example, Benveniste predicts that the Jordanian government could fall to a more pro-Palestinian leadership. If the past is any guide, even a U.S. Ė installed client government in Iraq might some day turn against Israel.

A U.S. war on Iraq could easily doom any possibility of real peace and security for the Jewish state for years to come. Is it worth this price, just to escape the possible threat of weapons that some people imagine might exist in the future?

So whether Iraqís WMD are fact, possibility, or fiction, the answer for Israel comes out the same. The Bush administration may achieve its goals. The U.S. may win the war. But Israel is sure to be a loser.

Israel can be a winner if Jews everywhere recognize a simple fact. It matters not whether Iraq possesses WMD. It matters only if Iraq decides to use such weapons. Israel itself can have a large say in determining what Iraq does.

An Israel cooperating with the Palestinians for a just peace, guaranteeing two secure states living as friendly neighbors, would have the sympathy of the world, including the Arab world. The Iraqi government could gain no advantage from attacking a peaceful, admired Israel. Iraq gains advantage from its anti-Israel stance only as long as Israeli policies continue to antagonize and alienate the Arab public.

Israel could take a major step toward changing its public image by joining the rest of the family of nations in opposing a war against Iraq. Unfortunately, as long as the Sharon government is in power, official Israel is likely to support the Bush war policies.

So it is up to all of us who love Israel to resist those policies, as loudly and effectively as we can. Whether you are Jewish or not, if you want the best for the Israelis, you should join the swelling chorus of voices, on both the political right and left, screaming "Stop the war." Once the bombs start falling it will be too late, for Israel and for us.


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