Top US Lawyer Urges Death For Families Of Martyrs

  • From: "Muslim-News" <editor_@xxxxxxxxxxxxxxx>
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  • Date: Tue, 11 Jun 2002 16:49:45 +0100

A prominent Washington attorney and Jewish communal leader is calling
for the execution of family members of suicide bombers. 

Nathan Lewin, an oft-mentioned candidate for a federal judgeship and
legal advisor to several Orthodox organizations, told the Forward that
such a policy would provide a much-needed deterrent against suicide

"If executing some suicide-bomber families saves the lives of even an
equal number of potential civilian victims, the exchange is, I believe,
ethically permissible," wrote Lewin, who served as president of the
International Association of Jewish Lawyers and Jurists and is a vice
president of the Orthodox Union. "It is a policy born of necessity ,ؤî
the need to find a true deterrent when capital punishment is
demonstrably ineffective." 

Lewin argued that the biblical injunction to destroy the ancient tribe
of Amalek serves as a precedent in Judaism for taking measures that are
"ordinarily unacceptable" in the face of a mortal threat. His proposal,
however, was rejected by an Israeli diplomat in New York, and
discounted, in terms ranging from mild to condemnatory, by a range of
commentators, terrorism experts and Jewish communal leaders from across
the American political spectrum. 

"The State of Israel is determined to respond to every Palestinian
provocation," said Ido Aharoni, consul for media and public affairs at
Israel's New York consulate. "Israel's military approach is to pursue
the perpetrators and those who seek to carry out acts of terrorism
against innocent Israelis. Within that framework, Israel is trying to
minimize, if possible to eliminate, the number of innocent lives lost." 

Several leading Jewish figures, including Harvard Law School professor
Alan Dershowitz, argued that the plan represented a legitimate if flawed
attempt to strike a balance between preventing terrorism and preserving
democratic norms. But the proposal was strongly condemned by the head of
the Reform movement, Rabbi Eric Yoffie, and the executive vice
chairwoman of the Jewish Council for Public Affairs, Hannah Rosenthal. 

"The opinion is utterly reprehensible and totally contrary to the most
fundamental principles of the Jewish religious tradition and everything
the State of Israel has been about since its founding," said Yoffie,
president of the Union of American Hebrew Congregations. "I've said it,
and everyone realizes, that in a war all of our standards on civil
liberties may not apply. But to say that you need to make common-sense
compromises is a long way from saying we are going to kill innocent
people to bring about deterrence." 

Yoffie rejected Lewin's reference to Amalek as a possible justification
for killing innocents. He argued that for nearly 2,000 years talmudic
sages and other rabbinic commentators have argued that the lessons of
Amalek could not be applied to contemporary times. In an article that
appeared in the Sh'ma journal alongside Lewin's essay, Brandeis
University Jewish studies professor Arthur Green wrote, "I only wonder
how long it will take [Lewin], by the force of this proof-text, to go
all the way and suggest that the Palestinian nation as a whole has
earned the fate of Amalek." 

Green, former president of the Reconstructionist Rabbinical College,
wrote that his first desire upon reading Lewin's essay was to "tear my
garments, as a sign of mourning on hearing the desecration of God's

The criticisms of Lewin: Burton argued, in his own name, that the
attorney should now be blackballed from organized Jewish life, just as
the late Rabbi Meir Kahane was ostracized for calling for the mass
deportation of Arabs from Israel. 

Rosenthal, whose organization serves the national network of local
Jewish community relations councils and a range of national
organizations, said that Jewish groups need to condemn any talk in their
community of justifying the killing of civilians. "I can't begin to tell
you how many meetings I've been in with colleagues across the country
where the words of spokespersons for various Muslim and Arab causes are
being parsed," Rosenthal said. "We look at words and decide which side
of the line you are on." 

Dershowitz and Abraham Foxman, national director of the Anti-Defamation
League, rejected the notion that Lewin should be elbowed out of communal
life. They argued that his proposal represented a legitimate attempt to
forge a policy for stopping terrorism. Foxman declined to take a stand
on the actual proposal, citing his policy of deferring to Jerusalem on
Israeli security issues. 

Though they declined to endorse the controversial proposal, top
officials at the O.U. and Agudath Israel of America, for whom Lewin has
done legal work, expressed sympathy for Lewin's efforts to curb what
they described as an unprecedented wave of suicide attacks in Israel.
"[Lewin] is not a Kahanist; he is not a nut," said Richard Stone, chair
of the O.U.'s Institute of Public Affairs. Stone noted that Lewin, a
member of the institute's executive committee, was not advocating the
mass deportation of Arabs, rather a limited method of fighting

Rabbi William Altshul, headmaster of the Melvin J. Berman Hebrew
Academy, a Modern Orthodox Jewish day school in Washington, D.C., told
the Forward that he did not regret the decision to honor Lewin this week
at the school's annu al dinner. "I haven't read the article," Altshul
said. "But Nat has always been known for his outspoken opinions, and I
respect him for it." 

Even as several observers rejected the notion of blackballing Lewin,
they offered substantive critiques of his argument. Dershowitz, author
of "Why Terrorism Works" (Yale University Press, 2002), and terrorism
researcher Steven Emerson, who both favor the limited use of torture to
extract information about an impending terrorist attack, said that they
balked at the execution of innocent civilians. 

Dershowitz argued that the same level of deterrence could be achieved by
leveling the villages of suicide bombers after the residents had been
given a chance to evacuate (an idea Lewin disparagingly likened to
"using aspirin to treat brain cancer"). 

Rabbi Steven Pruzansky of Orthodox Congregation Bnai Yeshurun in
Teaneck, N.J., a trained lawyer known for hawkish views on Israeli
security issues, argued that a policy of mass deportations, rather than
executions, could serve as an effective, but less deadly, deterrent
against future attacks. 

Several observers defended Lewin by noting that the United States killed
tens of thousands of civilians in Hiroshima and Nagasaki. But Yoffie
warned against such parallels. ___ 

"Israel may have the right to put others on trial, but certainly no one
has the right to put the Jewish people and the State of Israel on trial"
-- Ariel Sharon Sunday, 25 March, 2001 

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