Thursday, September 28, 2006


“The Black and Silver secondary will dictate and dominate.” So stammered Lester Hayes, in a deep, menacing voice. Lester, for those of you who are either (a) very young (congratulations!) or (b) ignorant about the most popular spectator sport in America (my condolences), was a Raider. Actually, he won the Super Bowl as both an Oakland and Los Angeles Raider, but at the time when he was feeling particularly invincible and he uttered the above words, his team played in Tinsel Town.

Lester was part of the greatest tandem of cornerbacks who ever played, and he and his running mate Michael Haynes were largely responsible for the destruction of the Washington Redskins 38-9 in Super Bowl XVIII. He was also the namesake of the rule permanently banning NFL players from wearing stickum. Lester, you see, couldn’t catch a ball without glue on his hands. But he could still intimidate opposing wide receivers. He would push them, he would shove them, and only if necessary would he run with them. The Smurf-like sprinters who he’d guard rarely stood a chance.

I bring up Lester because he was a stud on one of football’s most dominant and macho franchises. And yet, it’s also a franchise that teaches us a valuable lesson: dictation and domination are indeed short-lived. The Raiduhs, as they are called (based on the Brooklyn roots of their owner), are also known today as the “Once Proud” Raiders. In the last three years, they’ve won 13 games and lost 35. Frankly, they’re no better now at dictation than Napoleon or Genghis Kahn.

To follow the rise and fall of the Raiders is to understand the vicissitudes of power. But apparently, such is not the case with being a Zionist -- or at least it wasn’t the case with the Israeli Government and some of its American supporters. And that’s what need to be discussed.

Now first, let me introduce my biases: I proudly count myself as a member of the American Zionist community. Admittedly, I stand firmly at the edge of that community. I’d be willing to give up all the settlements, concede all the Occupied Territories (and even use that term for the West Bank/Gaza Strip), and even make Jerusalem an international city. Yet I hope never to relinquish the dream of seeing a democracy with a perpetually Jewish majority occupying much of the present state of Israel, that is secure and at peace with its neighbors. The world is surely big enough to allow such a nation to exist.

But it is one thing to announce one’s goals, and something very different to know how to reach them. And it’s with the means to the ends that I am most confused. My only point of clarity is this: we can’t reach any peaceful solution as long as we think the claims of Israel’s neighbors can be subdued with force alone. I should think Hezbollah proved that on the battle field. What is mystifying is that the Israeli army gave them the opportunity.

I was riveted when I came home one night and saw a message from Rabbi Eric Yoffie, the head of the national Union for Reform Judaism. Talking about the recent fighting in Lebanon, his message included the following categorical statement, which was set apart as a paragraph onto itself: This is a war in which the rights and wrongs are beyond all doubt.” (The emphasis was mine.)

Rabbi Yoffie was, of course, intending to refer simply to the fighting that was sparked by Hezbollah’s capture of three Israeli soldiers. And presumably, he meant that Israeli had a right to do something in return to deter such conduct. Lord knows that proposition is difficult to dispute.

But look more closely at his word choice in the sentence at issue. He didn’t say Israeli’s right to defend itself is beyond all doubt. He said the rights and wrongs of the war are beyond all doubt. And that’s the problem, isn’t it? This is a war between two groups of aggrieved peoples – the Jews and the Arabs – who are fighting over land that was colonized by Europeans and partitioned by the United Nations without the approval of all the people who live on the land. The rights and wrongs of this larger war couldn’t be more confusing, and any attempt by one side to pulverize the other will be met with the most passionate and resolute resistance imaginable.

Indeed, even the recent month-long fighting in Lebanon is fraught with ambiguities and moral dilemmas. Rabbi Yoffie went on to defend not only Israel’s right to take limited reprisals, but to justify its destroying much of Lebanon’s infrastructure and killing many Lebanese civilians. Was the counter-attack sensible? Did it accomplish its goals? Or was it, as many impartial observers claim, extremely “disproportionate” and foolhardy? Indeed, switching from our left hands to our right, couldn’t it be argued that the only way to have made this counter-attack effective was to commit huge numbers of ground troops and create a battle royal, at tremendous cost to both sides, until finally the Hezbollah cried uncle?

In short, if Israel hopes to defeat the Arabs with air power alone, they will simply replicate the Mess-opotamia, recruiting more and more enemy cells while failing to destroy its nucleus. And I’m not just talking about enemies. I’m talking about passionate, indignant, violent, ends-justify-the-means enemies. If Israel thinks it can win that war, it had better bring more than the old Black and Silver secondary. It would need the vaunted 49ers receivers, the Steel Curtain defensive line, the Dolphins running backs, the Broncos offensive line, the Giants linebackers, and the Vikings’ Fran Tarkenton at quarterback scrambling around using every possible weapon at his disposal. Was Israel willing to use every weapon? If not, what kind of hubris led it to think it could dictate or dominate to a well-armed guerilla force fighting in its own terrain?

War is hell. For both sides. We mustn’t let anyone forget that. And while we’re at it, let’s also remember that when it comes to war, the “rights” and “wrongs” of the matter are rarely as clear as crystal.

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