Non-Violence Advocates Continue to Single Out Israel Unfairly
By Richard Friedman,
BJF Executive Director
Members of our Jewish community are well aware of Sis and Jerry Levin, who for years have been at the forefront of criticizing Israel.
Jerry, once a Birmingham newsman and later CNN’s Middle East Bureau Chief, rose to international fame when in the 1980s he was kidnapped and held hostage in southern Lebanon. He later escaped and both Jerry and Sis, who worked tirelessly for his release, became well-known personalities, especially in Birmingham where they continue to live.
They recently addressed a gathering of “New Horizons at UAB,” a lecture and discussion group for retirees that met at a local church. (The group’s meeting space on the UAB campus is being renovated.)
Long-time Jewish community members and Birmingham Jewish Federation supporters Marsha Asman and Sandra Vinik invited me to come.
The theme of the Levins’ talk was “non-violence” though they skillfully wove in comments and photos to defame Israel. Their images and comments were without context, and clearly were designed to imply that Israel is an aggressor and oppressor of the Palestinian people.
There were about 80 people present — mostly retired professionals, about 15 of them Jewish — and I worried that they were getting a skewed picture of Israel and, especially, Israel’s complex conflict with the Palestinians.
Hardly anybody challenged the Levins, except for me, which I did respectfully. The Levins are to be admired for their idealism when it comes to non-violence and the strength and perseverance they displayed when Jerry was held hostage. Still, some of their assertions merited questioning.
For example, I asked them if they thought violence was ever justified — such as when the US and its allies had to resort to violence to stop Adolph Hitler? Both Sis, Jerry and a Christian clergy leader who was present acknowledged that this was a difficult question fraught with moral and theological challenges.
I also challenged the one-sided, skewed photographs that they used to portray the Israeli-Palestinian conflict; several of their pictures of Israel’s security barrier, taken literally from a Palestinian perspective, simplified the conflict and clearly were designed to evoke sympathy for the Palestinians.
I reminded the Levins and the audience that the security buffer was built reluctantly by Israel at enormous cost as a last resort to stop Palestinian suicide bombers from coming into Israel to kill and maim innocent civilians. I saw people throughout the crowd nodding their heads in agreement.
Then I noted an ironic juxtaposition. The security barrier is actually an instrument of non-violence because it has saved lives on both sides. Suicide bombers can no longer infiltrate into Israel to commit mass murder and blow themselves up in the process, and the Israeli army does not have to resort to violent means to seek out and thwart future suicide bombers or other terrorists sneaking into Israel to murder civilians.
Certainly the separation barrier creates auxiliary complications — especially for the Palestinians, but for the Israelis as well. However, most importantly, as statistics demonstrate, it has saved lives.
The New Horizons gathering was a cordial and interesting one. When the Levins stick to their personal saga, it makes for an interesting narrative and one that engenders admiration.
But when they bash Israel unfairly, portray it inaccurately and marginalize the country’s genuine security concerns, these things weaken their overall presentation and take away from their credibility. Those who strive to promote non-violence and reconciliation work against their goals when they negatively and unfairly single out one of the parties as the Levins do when it comes to Israel.
I shared this observation with Sis and Jerry. What impact it will have remains to be seen.