Political exploitation of children is abusive, anti-Jewish

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The use of children for political purposes is widespread among extremist, fundamentalist and totalitarian movements.

The Pol Pot regime in Cambodia used children for political propaganda, and also employed them as murderers. The Soviet regime made widespread use of politically indoctrinated "Young Pioneers" in its educational structure. And, of course, fundamentalist extremists such as those in Iran used them, including as soldiers.

In our own environment, the main users of children were the Palestinian parents who sent their children onto the streets to throw stones at Israeli soldiers, or at least did not prevent them from doing so. It is said that the political movements behind the intifada pressured parents into compliance.

The idea behind the use of stone-throwing children was, or is, that Western soldiers would have greater difficulty in fighting children than they would fighting adults or older adolescents.

In other words, this calculated policy relied on the morality of the Israeli occupiers of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip.

The use of children in a violent political confrontation stands in clear contradiction to accepted Jewish or any other civilized morality. The accepted social norm in civilized society is to protect children until such time that they, as growing adults, become responsible for themselves.

In the past few centuries, 16 to 18 was the usual age at which children became adults. In previous times, the threshold — as demonstrated by many societies, including the Jewish one — was somewhat younger.

The use of children by West Bank settlers engaging in "nonviolent" violence for ideological and political goals is being justified by such great Jewish religious humanists as Rabbi Shlomo Riskin. Settlers are resisting the government's policies as families, they say, and the children are involved. This is precisely the argument of communists, fascists and fundamentalists who have the same approach to the use of children.

It is harder, emotionally, for soldiers and the police to force frightened, screaming children off some bare hill than it is to forcibly move adult ideological extremists who argue that all "state lands" are Jewish. Like the Palestinian nationalists, the settlers are using children to gain cheap political points.

One wonders whether this policy will not boomerang against them. In defending Eretz Yisrael, they say, the children learn (in body and soul, presumably) what the struggle is all about.

Precisely. The children become traumatized, and their attitude toward the country's soldiers, police and government becomes determined by an indelible experience: Their parents were forcibly carried off by soldiers and police.

If Riskin and others think this is the right type of education for young children, they are sowing dragon's teeth. Their policy is an outrageous scandal. It is anti-Jewish, anti-Israeli and anti-democratic. The use of children for ideological purposes is creating an abyss between Jews that will be bridged only with tremendous difficulty, if at all.

Of course, those responsible will always find the right quotation to justify their misdeeds — as any extremist will. But the rabbis of old, whom those people never tire of quoting, must be turning in their graves.