Kids are not peace pawns

Rabbi Shlomo Riskin is grabbing a lot of headlines these days, as the long-ago civil rights demonstrator-turned-firebrand West Bank protester. Some are likening the ex-American modern-Orthodox rabbi to a Martin Luther King-like figure, as he leads his minions in mass civil disobedience against Israel's continuing West Bank withdrawal.

But in his and the West Bank settlers' campaign to draw Israeli public sympathy their way, Riskin is using Yasser Arafat and Saddam Hussein as guides.

Riskin and the settlers are employing the troubling tactic of throwing children into the midst of their protests on the hills of the West Bank and on the streets of Israeli cities. While teenagers have beefed up settler protests, now young children are sitting in illegal tents and in the middle of major highways — and getting dragged away by Israeli soldiers.

Apparently Riskin and company hope that Jews will not stomach scenes of young soldiers, some just adolescents, confronting crying Jewish kids, and pressure will build against the Rabin government to reverse Israel's West Bank pullout.

By using their children as human shields — pawns — in their political actions, the settlers are pulling some painful heartstrings, and they know it.

Not only are they providing the Jewish world with the unsettling sight of Jewish children and soldiers in combat, but they are reviving the image of Palestinian children fighting Israeli troopers. That vision propelled the intifada, and won world sympathy for the Palestinians. The settlers saw a model to emulate.

But those same settlers were also among Jewish voices who cried out that the Palestinians were shamefully, cowardly putting their offspring into the uprising's fray. They are the same Jews who rightfully accused the PLO of hiding behind villagers in Lebanon during Israeli bombing. And they are the same Jews who voiced shock when Saddam used foreigners as buffers to an allied attack.

The settlers' reasoning that their activist children will face worse dangers if Palestinians become their protectors rings hollow, for the Israeli government is not in the business of ignoring Jewish security.

Morality in this case carries no shades. Either you believe it is wrong to push innocents into political battles or you do not.

The Jewish world should find no place in its heart for people who risk their children for political goals. Those children will have plenty of time to risk their lives in a few years, as soldiers.