The Appeasers

On August 21st, 1995, my daughter Rachel and I were out on an errand. When we got back to the house, we were shocked to hear horrible and tragic news. Rachel’s teacher at Ezra Academy, Joan Davenny, had been the victim of a terrorist attack in Jerusalem.  Joan Davenny was really something. Of all of the teachers that any of my kids ever had, she was the one who really made me angry. She said outrageous things that made me call the principal in anger. But she was also the kind of teacher who would walk around the parking lot with her arm around a troubled kid. She was also the kind of cool, inspiring teacher that the kids just loved. She taught them to believe in the goodness of people. At a memorial service the community held for her, Rachel and her classmates, among many others, paid tribute to her. So did I. She was a passionate Zionist. She loved Israel. At age 47, she had decided to go to Israel on a sabbatical fellowship, and, as she told me, possibly for good. She believed that somehow, someday, Israelis and Arabs would live in peace.

On the morning of August 21, 1995, Joan got on a Number 26 bus filled with Monday morning commuters. At 7:53, the bus slowed to a stop in front of a high school in a suburb of Jerusalem. There was another passenger on the bus that day named Sufian Jabarin, who had recently been recruited by the terrorist organization Hamas. He decided to blow himself up at that moment. Seven years later, our State Department still offers a reward of up to five million dollars for information leading to the arrest of those persons responsible for the murder of Joan Davenny. This sounds like our government is doing something, but it’s actually rather strange. We know exactly who was involved in her murder. And one of those people is Muhammad Dief, the Hamas commander who authorized the attack that killed Joan Davenny. Muhammad Dief is still alive and free. The State Department can keep its five million dollars because we know where Muhammad Dief is. He is with Yasser Arafat, who has announced that he will keep him so that the Israelis can’t arrest him. You know who Yasser Arafat is. He is the man respected around the world as the George Washington of the Palestinians. Arafat is protecting a man wanted for the murder of an American citizen, Joan Davenny. Arafat condemned that bus attack but then turned around and threw a full state funeral for the murderer. As thousands of Palestinians cheered, Arafat’s personal guard gave Jabarin a 21-gun hero’s salute. “Ok,” you say, “we know about Arafat. He’s a thief, a liar and a murderer.” But I’m not finished. When the Israelis found a cache of documents about the terrorist attacks, they found the Saudi government spreadsheets. One of these spreadsheets documented the financial reward for the family of Sufian Jabarin, the man who killed Joan Davenny. The Saudi royal family, an ally of the United States, according to its own internal records, paid a huge cash reward for the murder of a citizen of the United States. How is it that the United States sees Saudi Arabia as an ally? After all of the evidence of Saudi complicity in so many different terrorist efforts, why do we pander to the Saudis? Obviously, oil is on our minds. But it goes deeper than that. There is a name for this. It is called the appeasement of evil.

A year ago, in the wake of September 11th, the United States of America, reeling from the unprovoked murder of its innocent civilians, traumatized by the shock that we are not safe or immune from attack, gathered itself together for what would clearly be a long and sustained war against terrorism. The message to Israel was clear: “Don’t do anything that will hurt us in our war against terrorism.” But this wasn’t fair. It was, very simply, putting American lives on a higher level than Israeli lives. It was risking the security of Israel in order to solidify the support of the Arab coalition behind the war against terrorism. Israel knew what America } did not yet know: That many of those Arab states were supporting, aiding and abetting, and even creating, terrorism. When Prime Minister Ariel Sharon of Israel accused the United States of appeasement, when he likened it to those who tried to appease Hitler at Munich, the world screamed. How dare he bring up Munich? I want to go over the example of Munich, because it is essential to understanding the world today. European leaders in 1938 had a situation on their hands. The leader of Germany, Adolf Hitler, was raising a storm over Czechoslovakia. The European leaders, led by Neville Chamberlain of Great Britain, agreed to allow Hitler to take over Czechoslovakia in order to avoid a war. I read Neville Chamberlain’s speech to the House of Commons in 1938 after he signed the Munich Agreement. Through the wonders of the Internet, I even listened to the speech. With members of Parliament crying “Shame” out loud, Chamberlain gave a very fine, even beautiful speech about peace. He said that the negotiations with Hitler saved civilization. Chamberlain went on to express sympathy for Hitler for the difficult position he was in. This was on October 3, 1938. Less than a year later, on September 1, 1939, Neville Chamberlain stood before Parliament again. The man who had negotiated away the sovereign rights of Czechoslovakia, who had stood by as Hitler’s troops had taken Austria (just remember The Sound of Music), now had to react to the Nazi invasion of Poland. In announcing that Great Britain would go to war against Germany, Chamberlain said that without the destruction of the Nazi government, there would be no peace in Europe. He said, “We shall merely pass from one crisis to another, and one country after another attacked by methods which have now become familiar in their sickening technique.”

Looking back, it’s easy to say that Hitler should have been confronted at a much earlier point. Leaders such as Chamberlain now look impossibly naive. World War II was the horror of horrors. So why did ~ the appeasers try to deal with Hitler? They knew how horrible all wars are. Maybe Hitler would be satisfied. Maybe that was “all” he wanted. Whole countries were offered up as sacrifices to the evil beast. And so, to return to a year ago, when Sharon said that America should never think that Israel would be a Czechoslovakia, he had a devastating point. America had not understood that the appeasement of enemies is the worst possible strategy. Over the course of the last year, many Americans, including President Bush, have been in the process of learning that evil must be fought and that terrorism is terrorism whether it is in Jerusalem or New York. But we still don’t really get the point that the appeasement of evil is self-destructive. Take the example that is on our minds, Iraq. It has been a long, slow process to understand what Hussein means to America and the world. In 1987, an Iraqi pilot fired an Exocet missile into the USS Stark and killed 37 American seamen. The evidence was clear that Saddam Hussein had ordered the attack. President Ronald Reagan let it go. Why? The idea was that Hussein was relatively good compared to Iran. We were happy when Hussein went to war with Iran. Hussein got the message: He could get away with murder. When Hussein invaded Kuwait, we went to war. But President George Bush Sr. allowed Saddam Hussein to stay in power. I think we all know that this was a terrible mistake. How did Hussein respond to this mercy? The way that evil always responds to weakness. He plotted an assassination attempt against President Bush himself in Kuwait in 1993. And what did we do? Nothing. For years, Hussein has been in open breach of the cease-fire that ended the Gulf War by refusing to permit inspections for weapons of mass destruction. There have been no military consequences. It is understandable why Hussein believes that American leaders will not really follow through on their threats.

So now, in 2002, under the new President Bush, America is struggling with the question of whether to fight a major and difficult and who-knows-how-costly war against the very same Saddam Hussein. What has the appeasement of Hussein accomplished? The appeasement of evil only allows evil to get stronger. As Chamberlain realized, we just bounce from crisis to crisis. Then when it must be dealt with, there is only a greater cost for the side of good. It is a frightening possibility that many more Americans, and many more human beings, will die because we let the problem go on. What is the nature of the evil that we must not appease? It is not just a few suicide bombers. It is not just Saudi Arabia or Iraq. There is something huge going on in this world and we must try to understand it. We have to try to understand the Islamic world, which has asked itself a question, “What went wrong?” From their perspective, according to the world-renowned expert Bernard Lewis, everything has gone wrong. For centuries, it seemed that Islam would sweep through the whole world. In the seventh century, the century of Muhammad himself, Muslim armies advanced from Arabia and conquered Syria, Egypt and North Africa. In the eighth century, Arab Muslim forces conquered Spain and Portugal and invaded France. In the ninth century, they invaded Italy, sacking Rome. Islam spread in Europe, Africa, India and China. Islam, at its peak, was one of the outstanding civilizations of human history: multiethnic, multiracial and international. Fast forward to now. The world of Islam has become poor, weak and ignorant compared to the world of Western civilization. Militarily, Muslims have suffered a series of humiliating defeats, in particular, to a bunch of Jewish people in Israel. Economically, the prosperity brought by the world’s dependence on oil has not been shared with the masses. Politically, Islam is dominated by dictatorships of one kind or another and does not benefit from the freedom and openness of democracy. And so, being human, Muslims have asked themselves, “Who did this to us?” Humans love to blame others rather r than look inside. If there’s one lesson of the High Holidays, it’s “Look inside and don’t blame others.” But Muslims have found an answer in what is called Western imperialism. The United States is the Western economic power and cultural influence. The United States is the symbol of what has gone wrong for the Muslim world. But there is another symbol as well: the Jewish people. Over the centuries, Jewish people were considered unimportant. It came as a shock that great Muslim nations could not defeat a fledgling Jewish state. The Muslim world has demonized all Jewish people as monsters. This demonization pervades education, the media and even entertainment in the Arab world. With this hatred of America and Jewish people as background, how do we, as American and Jewish, see the challenge before us? There are two possibilities.

The first is that, whether we know it or not, we are fighting a world war. Islam set out to conquer the world and despite many defeats, has never given up that hope. Since many people cannot accept this, I offer the second possibility that Islam is used as a cover by groups of people who are simply evil. There is a riveting story by the Nobel Prize winner Graham Greene called “The Destructors”. It’s about a bunch of British boys who dare each other to do pranks. One goes to visit a man who lives in a large house. He knocks on the door and is very friendly and is given a tour of the house. The good-natured man happens to mention that he is going to the beach that weekend. The boy goes back to his gang with a plan. They ask him if hates the man. He says no. They go to the house and destroy it, not from the outside by vandalism; everyone would see that. They go inside the house and destroy it from the inside, wall by all, painting by painting, beam by beam, floor by floor. The shell of the house is still visible to anyone who will be passing by. Finally, they run out of the house just as it is going to collapse into a pile of rubble. The man comes back from the beach and sees what they’ve done. He screams “Why?” A man laughs as he passes by. I am haunted by this story because the destruction is for the sake of destruction. Evil sometimes justifies itself in the name of a state or a religion or a cause. But evil people destroy simply because they can. I am also haunted by the fact that the man who passes by just laughs. I am certain that most of the world does not care about the deaths of Americans. I am 100% sure that the world doesn’t care about the deaths of Israelis or Jewish people. If you appease evil, it will laugh at you and come back for more. The Saudis see how we roll out the red carpet despite their complicity in evil; they continue to double-deal and continue to support terrorist attacks. If Saddam Hussein sees that after all of the American threats, nothing happens, he will prey on our weakness. Those who appease evil do so in the name of peace and goodness. They’re not bad people. The appeasers are good people who are dangerously naive, who don’t understand what we’re up against. I am not only talking about the appeasement of evil countries; I’m also speaking about some of the people we know. We excuse the horrible behavior of some of the people in our lives. Rather than take them on, we make excuses for them: “Oh you know how he is, he’s just that way.” “You have to take him with a grain of salt.” “You have to let it go.” We passively let it go, insult after insult, humiliation after humiliation. And it keeps going on, because no one does anything about it. On many occasions, I have asked you to stand up to anti-Semitism. I have said that if you don’t stand up to outrageous remarks, the person will only continue to do it. If you do speak up, you run the risk of offending the offender. But there is also the possibility that the person who made the remark is not really an anti-Semite but one who thinks that he or she is funny. It has been gratifying to me to have so many of you tell me how you have followed my advice, how you have felt good about it, and how, in many cases, you have received promises from the people who said these things never to say them again. Some of those non-Jewish people have explained that they’d said these same things to other Jewish people who had never said a word, and so they thought that they were not being offensive. At any rate, they agreed to stop and really did. Let me turn now to the problem of Jewish people saying offensive things to other Jewish people.

Let me tell you about something that happened to me a couple of months ago. I was sitting with a number of the members of my extended family before a party at my house. My son Danny and I had visited a college that week and we were all talking about it. One of my relatives was quick to say, in a mocking tone, “Oh, and I bet you visited the Jew Eating Club while you were there.” For those of you who may not understand, let me explain. She did not say, “I’m sure you explored the possibilities for keeping Kosher on campus.” If a non-Jewish person would refer to a “Jew Eating Club,” her remark would be called anti-Semitic. Is it less anti-Semitic, is it less offensive coming from a Jewish person? Let’s go back to the scene. I am the host of a party that is about to start in a few minutes. What do I do? Do I start an argument? Do I bring up the incidents that have happened over the years and all of the things she has said and done to offend me on this same issue? Do I say, with meekish defensiveness, “That’s who we are,” implying that she’s right and we’re backwards, something I obviously don’t believe? Do I smile and say, “Yes, thank you, there are kosher facilities.” I stood up, looked at her and, calling her by name, made it known to her that I thought that she was offensive. I went off by myself, got my act together, and acted the host the rest of the day. She made no attempt to apologize over the course of the day. I did not speak to her and did not wish her good bye or thank her for coming. I informed others in the family about the incident; those who keep kosher told me that she had been doing this kind of thing to them for years but that they had not wanted to tell me and get me mad. So we had all shared in allowing her to behave badly. Appeasers share in the guilt of the offenders. I’m not talking about my turbulent family life. In all of our families, there are tough people whom no one wants to take on. We don’t say anything because we’re all scared of family rifts. As a rabbi, I must know of a hundred family ruptures. I know that it takes very little to split a family in two. So even when the other person is totally wrong and we should respond, being right is little consolation if we lose part of our families. But at what point are we Neville Chamberlain, allowing others to destroy things? When is enough, enough? I am not just speaking about offensive remarks. I’m talking about a whole range of behavior that hurts others. We all have let outrageous things go to preserve family peace. I understand this in my heart. But I’m asking you: Why is it that the good people have to defer to the bad ones? How come we’re so afraid to hurt the ones who do the hurting? The nasty people eat their lunch on the hearts of nice people. In Judaism, if someone hits you on one cheek, you don’t turn the other cheek so that you can be hit on that side as well. If you are about to be hit on the other cheek, you hit back first. This world has appeased murderous terrorists, and we turned the other cheek, and more and more people have been killed. The world appeases Iraq and lets it grow stronger and stronger. America continues to appease Saudi Arabia that continues to play its treacherous games. In the memory of Joan Davenny, and in the memory of every person who went to work at the World Trade Center on September 11th, and in the memory of every child killed on a bus in Israel while going to school, let evil be called by its name. And let the appeasement stop. And if we can’t control what happens in the world, let’s stop appeasing the nasty people in our lives. They’ll just keep doing it. They’re not funny; they’re not cute: they’re just mean. And it’s up to us to stop them. When a tyrant of ancient times, Ramesses II, the Pharaoh of the Exodus, decided to chase the Israelites who had escaped slavery, he didn’t call on his slaves to prepare his chariot. His heart was so filled with hatred that he got his own chariot ready. Hatred disrupted the usual order of things. When Joseph was going to see his father Jacob after he hadn’t seen him for so many years, he didn’t call on his slaves to prepare his chariot. He did it himself. Love disrupted the natural order of things. When we, as a nation, a people or as individuals, are attacked by hatred, we have to understand that the natural order of things, the way we usually do things, has been disrupted and we must respond and not in our usual gentle ways. Hateful actions and hateful words require serious and appropriate responses. But we must never ever forget that love can also disrupt the natural order of things. Israel must never forget, America must never forget, we as individuals must never forget, that if our love for humanity and life itself can help us to find a way to change the way this world works, we have to grab it. No matter how difficult it all becomes, we cannot become so bitter that we forget who we are. We are Jewish, which means we never give up hope. I know that Joan Davenny would agree with me.