Sunday, December 05, 2004

Goldstein Revisionism

The most recent issue of Jewish Action has a letter in which the author, responding to a criticism of her previous article, attempts to defend -- or at least raise the possibility of a defense of -- Baruch Goldstein's 1994 massacre of Muslims in Hebron. I applaud Jewish Action for printing this letter because it highlights a cancer that is growing in our midst.

The writer points out that there was very credible warning of an Arab attack on Jews in Hebron on Purim and suggests that Goldstein was merely carrying out a pre-emptive attack, something that has ample precedent in military ethics. She also notes that an extensive book (with 714 footnotes!) has been published on the incident, and this book raises all sorts of facts and questions.

This defense is indefensible and inexcusable.

1. That a book has been published that carefully sifts through the facts and points out all sorts of inconsistencies and injustices is irrelevant. Long books are published about every crazy subject. Conspiracy theories that deconstruct history and point out inconsistencies abound. Just look at all that has been written about the JFK assasination, the alien landing in Roswell and even the 9/11 attacks. Any event can be deconstructed and testimony can always be found to be inconsistent. That is the nature of evidence. I recall that one of the prosecutors of OJ Simpson, whose case was torn apart by defense attorneys who found errors and inconsistencies in the prosecutorial evidence, resigned after the trial, noting that this had been the strongest case he had ever prosecuted. When we start believing every conspiracy theory that is created, and accept every "inconsistency" without looking at the broader context, we have surrendered our minds to propagandists.

2. There is a difference between a military pre-emptive attack and a solitary vigilante striking out on his own. In the latter, a single person takes it upon himself to evaluate all of the evidence, devise an appropriate strategy and carry out a dangerous task. His emotions and biases will unquestionably effect every step of the process. Furthermore, he frequently lacks the knowledge to properly evaluate the evidence, he certainly lacks the training -- both diplomatic and militaristic -- to devise a strategy, and the probability of a miscalculation that distorts his mission is high.

3. Did he know who was going to attack? Pre-emptive strikes are only on military targets. He indiscrimintely killed whomever happened to be there at the time.

I remember in the 1980s when Bernard Goetz went to jail for shooting his NYC subway muggers. He was known as the Subway Vigilante. He had many supporters, but that was for attacking people who had already robbed him. Despite that, he still went to jail. Goldstein attacked people who may or may not have planned to attack him in the future.

4. Goldstein attacked people in a house of prayer during prayer time. Yes, there were illegal weapons found there. But that does not change the fact that he killed civilians who were praying in a holy place.

To use a frequent phrase of R. Ahron Soloveichik's, the entire attack was "morally reprehensible." There is simply no excuse for the indiscriminate murder that Goldstein perpetrated. His memory is not a blessing for us, and our attempts to justify his massacre only serve to underscore the moral ambiguity that is plaguing our nation in this time of crisis.

UPDATE: Joe Schick has a good analysis of this issue on his blog.

FURTHER UPDATE: Regarding the use of R. Ahron Soloveichik, let me be clear that I was only borrowing a phrase of his and have no direct knowledge of his position on Baruch Goldstein's actions. However, it is worth reading his grandson's article The Virtue of Hate. Note the following sentence:

"We who hate must be wary lest we, like Goldstein, become like those we are taught to despise."

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