Critics say Bush is wrong if he thinks Mideast conflict will end after Iraq war

WASHINGTON — The Bush administration says overthrowing Saddam Hussein will clear a path to renewed American engagement in Israeli-Palestinian peacemaking.

But many in Washington are skeptical that the administration's attention will shift to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict once an

anticipated war on Iraq is over.

And Wednesday's suicide bus bombing in Haifa killing at least 15 only encouraged that skepticism. They said there's little reason to believe the Palestinians will end such attacks.

Analysts argue that President Bush's comments last week on the Mideast conflict downplayed the amount of time and influence that will be needed to bring democracy to Iraq and make the type of changes necessary to end a U.S. military presence there after a war.

In fact, they note, U.S. troops are still in Kosovo, where NATO forces secured a peace in 1999.

Under pressure to outline his vision for a post-war Iraq, the don't exist with al-Qaida to put him on the same board as bin Laden. They're trying to viscerally have the citizens of the United States support them when maybe they wouldn't support them intellectually. And I'm offended by that, personally."

Traub has shared his views with his congregation via "six or seven" sermons, and other rabbis also have sermonized, held panel discussions or conducted numerous personal conversations. Some, however, have avoided the subject.

Rabbi Yair Silverman of Berkeley's Orthodox Congregation Beth Israel avoids political discussions on the bimah as a matter of policy.

Silverman explains his decision by citing the Esh Kodesh, the collection of sermons penned by Warsaw Ghetto rabbi Kalonymus Kalman Shapira before his death at the hands of the Nazis in 1943.

"These are very, very powerful sermons and none of them mention the word 'Nazi' once in them," said Silverman.

Shapira "wrote in his introduction that he felt people had one chance to come into synagogue and study Torah [a week], and it would be giving some kind of victory to the events in the world to let them also monopolize discussions Shabbat morning."

That being said, Silverman admitted he's conflicted by the possibility of war, not wanting to squander a chance to eliminate Saddam, but seeing the president's first-strike doctrine as "very dangerous and frightening."

Rabbi Judah Dardik of Oakland's Orthodox Beth Jacob Congregation also avoids political sermons, but noted that his Shabbat prayers for the safety of American troops would be unchanged in the event of war.

While no one takes the notion of war lightly, some rabbis are less conflicted than others. Rabbi Raphael Asher of Walnut Creek's Reform Congregation B'nai Tikvah has "made everyone aware that it's perfectly understandable to be having some belligerent feelings."

Asher compares the anger of jilted left-wingers, disappointed by the disintegration of the Camp David negotiations and pushed further to the right by Sept. 11, to the outburst of rage by the Jews of Persia in the Purim story. After Haman's planned massacre of the Jews was foiled, 75,000 would-be killers were executed. In the city of Shushan, 500 were put to death, including Haman's 10 sons.

"It's a passage in the Megillah which talks about the Jews bringing fear upon the entire Persian population," said Asher. Although he is hardly calling for mass executions, he understands why Jews might be feeling angry. "So I basically said it's OK to have those feelings."

Asher admitted that he has moved rightward in the past few years, with Sept. 11 proving to him "that we can't be absolutely pluralistic and tolerant for those who seek our destruction."

Rabbi Janet Marder, spiritual leader of Los Altos Hills' Reform Congregation Beth Am, gave a sermon late last year about why she couldn't place herself in the anti-war camp. A few short months later, she now believes "a compelling case has been made for war."

"For those who seek to uproot [Saddam] by other means, well, we've been trying for at least 10 years. We've been unsuccessful removing him via peaceful means, assassination, fomenting a coup. None of that has worked," she said.

"Our staff finished studying with an Iraqi expert we brought in, and he pointed out that Saddam possesses enough smallpox to wipe out the entire human race…I'm in the camp that believes war may well be necessary against this threat. In the same way that no one would want to call themselves pro-abortion and no one sees abortion as a good thing, it's a necessary thing sometimes."

Rabbi Steve Vale, the founder of the Jewish Community of Solano County and a former Air Force chaplain, said many in the military feel we've never really stopped fighting Operation Desert Storm.

Vale points out that the United States has maintained no-fly zones over large portions of Iraq for more than a decade, which has resulted in numerous altercations and bombings.

"I have to trust my government more than I trust Saddam," said Vale, a Conservative rabbi.

"I've come to have a healthy skepticism of all politicians, anybody. To some extent, the motivation is almost beside the point. I don't know why President Clinton wanted to go into Bosnia; all I know is it did a lot of good. It helped a lot of people under totalitarian reign."

The overwhelming possibility of war has put many Bay Area rabbis in an unfamiliar position. For some, this is the first potential war in their lifetimes that they haven't been actively protesting.

"The original sponsors of the anti-war movement have really engaged in very, very sharply anti-Israel rhetoric and are trying to make it seem as if this is Israel's war in spite of the fact that Israelis are busy inoculating themselves and building new shelters," said Rabbi Alan Lew.

The senior spiritual leader of San Francisco's Conservative Beth Sholom emphasized that he is "disturbed" by the prospect of war.

"I find myself in a very uncomfortable position, and that is war is evil under the best of circumstances and this doesn't seem to be the best of circumstances," Lew said. "On the other hand, opponents of war have been too quick to blame Israel and Jews for this war to make me feel comfortable to join them."

Lew is far from the only rabbi repelled from protesting a war he or she opposes by the anti-Israel tenor and, in some cases, anti-Semitism of the peace movement.

"These are not people who simply feel Israel has mistreated the Palestinians and has been an occupying power, which many Jews and Israelis believe," said Rabbi Lavey Derby, referring to groups that have organized rallies locally.

"These are people who see the need for the state of Israel to be dismantled. This is an unacceptable political position."

Derby, the spiritual leader of Tiburon's Conservative Congregation Kol Shofar, said he feels the case for war has not yet been made, and he encourages Jews to flood the peace movement and drown out the voices of anti-Zionists.

"People who feel the need for a cessation of this war buildup should participate proudly as Jews and Zionists so that voice can be heard. We should not let this fringe-left group, the anti-Semitism and anti-Israelism of the left, become the center, accepted position," he said.

"We should not allow groups like ANSWER, Not in Our Name and, closer to my home, the Marin Peace and Justice Coalition, to promote anti-Israelism as a solution for peace in Iraq."

Accordingly, the much-publicized speech by Rabbi Stephen Pearce of San Francisco's Reform Congregation Emanu-El at the large Feb. 16 anti-war rally was applauded even by rabbis who hold strikingly different views on a potential war.

"All Jews need to express their conscience, and I for one was quite pleased that Rabbi Pearce was courageous enough to express his," said Asher.

"Although I don't agree, it's not a question of agreeing or disagreeing. I'm not offended that a Jew and a rabbi made a public presentation for peace."

Added Lew: "With Rabbi Pearce there, it was less likely to turn into an anti-Israel, anti-Semitic carnage. I'm glad rabbis were there at the rally. I think it's good there are Jews on all sides because I don't think the issue is clear."

Rabbi Steven Chester of Oakland's Reform Temple Sinai said he did not feel out of place at the Feb. 16 anti-war rally, but the presence of Pearce and other "mainline" Jews made him more comfortable.

Traub, however, warns that "a person has to be careful who he crawls into bed with," though he adds that, on the matter of war, he finds himself "closer to Pearce than to Bush."

In the end, Raiskin is still unsure which way he leans. But he realizes that the Bay Area is a long way from Iraq, and he is a long way from his fighting days.

"My mindset, generally, is get it over with, but I am not going to battle now. If I was 18 or 20 years old, I might have a completely different point of view."