Thursday, November 15, 2007

Jews and Torture

Below is a blurb from the Jewish Daily Forward's 2007 "Forward 50" list:
Michael Mukasey
President Bush's choice of former U.S. District Judge Michael Mukasey for the next attorney general took Washington by surprise. Hardly an insider ― indeed distant from the circles of power ― Mukasey had other qualities that made him the logical Bush pick: a strong record in judging terrorism cases, full support for Bush's post-9/11 U.S.A. Patriot Act and ― having first been proposed by New York Democrat Charles Schumer ― a seeming promise of easy Senate confirmation. Mukasey, 66, an Orthodox Jew, studied at New York's prestigious Ramaz School and is a member of the school's parent congregation, the tony, Modern Orthodox Kehillath Jeshurun. His years on the bench earned him a reputation for toughness both on national security issues and on white-collar criminals. Known among colleagues for his strict impartiality, Mukasey made a point of confining his Jewish involvement to household and congregation while on the bench, and he was never active in Jewish organizations beyond his synagogue. Still, critics said it was no coincidence that his hard-line stance on terrorism-related issues dovetailed closely with the hawkish worldview of his community, and defendants facing him on terrorism charges asked for a different judge ― something that wasn't true of other Jewish judges. During his Senate hearings, a dithering answer on torture cost him some support, but confirmation still seemed likely. Together with another Jewish Cabinet member, Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff, Mukasey will be responsible for shaping America's anti-terrorism policy. He will also be in charge of rebuilding trust in the Department of Justice following the turbulent tenure of his predecessor, Alberto Gonzales.
Michael Mukasey's nomination as US Attorney General was placed in apparent jeopardy when he refused to state in Senate confirmation hearings that the form of torture known as waterboarding was illegal under US law. His nomination was rescued by two Jewish Democrats on the Senate Judiciary Committee, Diane Feinstein and Charles Schumer, who joined with all nine Republicans in an 11-8 vote to send the nomination to the full Senate where they were joined by Joseph Lieberman, another Jew who voted against his caucus. Mukasey was confirmed by a 53-40 vote--"the narrowest margin to confirm an attorney general in more than 50 years."

So, what is it with Jews and torture? You could, of course, draw the same connection about Republicans and probably no one will call you a racist or a hate monger if you do. But, I mean, Alan Dershowitz is one of the world's foremost apologists for torture and the Jewish state--Israel--is one of the few, if not the only, country to formally legalize torture. Norman Finkelstein and others have documented that torture is routine in Israel and the BBC conducted a poll last year that showed that Israel has the highest level of public support for torture with more than half of Israeli Jews in favor of it.

The obvious answer to my question is Zionism and the inextricably related Judaic culture of death drives Jewish support for torture. Even the leaders of Reform Judaism movement--that bastion of liberal, religious Jews--admit: "Jewish law presents some conflicting principles that effect how Jews view torture." They continue by falsely stating that "In 1999, the Supreme Court of Israel ruled that although the war on terrorism requires interrogation of suspected terrorists, torture and physical force must not be used." As Norman Finkelstein has pointed in Beyond Chutzpah (p. 165), even Alan Dershowitz, "himself acknowledged that it did not absolutely prohibit torture: '[T]he Supreme Court left open the possibility that a member of the security service who honestly believed that rough interrogation was the only means available to save lives in imminent danger could raise this defense.' " B'Tselem and the Public Committee Against Torture in Israel have shown that the ruling did virtually nothing to impede the routine use of torture by agents of the Israeli government.

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Last revised: 09/03/2011

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