Commentary: Justice Matters, But Whose Justice, and Whose Brutality? By LAWRENCE WHITE

Friday December 09, 2005

A review of the art exhibit, “Justice Matters”, sponsored by the Middle East Children’s Alliance was recently published in the Berkeley Daily Planet (Friday Dec. 2). The writer, Peter Selz, a man with a stellar reputation as an art historian, is an expert in German expressionism as well as many other areas. Unfortunately, in this case, he has stumbled into another world, one that depends not on truth but on propaganda, a world in which art is being misused to serve as a tool to spread hatred and justify violence.  

The show is sponsored by the leaders of the anti-Israel cabal in Berkeley, headed by the Middle East Children’s Alliance (MECA). This is an organization that purports to help children in the Middle East, but has done nothing to condemn the indiscriminate murder of Jewish children, has defended terrorist organizations like Hezbollah, and spends most of its budget on “educational activities” designed to advocate for one side in a tragic conflict. (Despite its name, it spends less that 60 percent of its revenues on humanitarian purposes.) 

Dr. Selz makes the cardinal error of assuming positions that are conventional wisdom among the anti-Israel crowd, but do not withstand examination and a search for actual evidence. These positions include “transgressions of justice” by Israel against Palestinians, and the existence of “brutal acts committed by the occupying power,” To paraphrase the Nazi propaganda Minister, Joseph Goebbels, “If you tell a lie big enough and keep repeating it, people will eventually come to believe it.” The Arab propaganda machine has learned this lesson well.  

Of course, justice matters. But the use of the word justice in this context reminds me of the claim of Humpty Dumpty in Alice in Wonderland, ''When I use a word, it means just what I choose it to mean—neither more nor less.”  

So who defines justice? And who has engaged in the transgression of justice? The Israelis who have built a security barrier with the sole aim of reducing the murder of innocents? Or the Palestinian authority that has done nothing to curb the homicide bombings arising from territory under its control? 

Is it just that we have been talking of the “plight of the Palestinians” for over a half century, when during this entire time wealthy Arab sheikdoms found that it served their purposes to keep the Palestinians in their unfortunate circumstances? When every other refugee group has long since been successfully resettled? Was it just for the Palestinians to be kept as refugees while Jordan occupied the West Bank and Egypt occupied Gaza? Where were the calls for justice then? 

And what brand of justice was served when Yassir Arafat, idol of so many, kept his people in poverty and ignorance by diverting millions to his own bank account. What justice was served when he paid salaries to killers, rather than using his millions to provide housing, education, or health care for his own people? 

And if it is the Israeli occupation that is unjust, why is it that the Arabs launched three wars (1948, 1956, 1967) before the occupation began? And how many remember that there would be no occupation if the Arab states had not tried to destroy Israel?  

Was it justice when a million Jews were forcibly expelled from Egypt, Libya, Iraq, and other Arab countries? Are they not entitled to a right of return, or compensation for the billions in property taken from them? 

Where are the art shows for the Jews who have been murdered in recent years, not only in Israel, but all over the world, precisely because they were Jews? 

The second shibboleth raised by Dr. Selz is the so-called “brutal acts committed by Israel.” What could be more brutal that the murder of children by suicide bombers? Or the brutal lynching of Israelis who accidentally wandered into Ramallah? Or the hatred of homosexuals encouraged by Arab governments? Or the honor killings of unfortunate Arab women by Arab men? Or the summary executions of suspected collaborators in the area occupied by the Palestinian Authority?  

And what exactly are the alleged “brutal crimes of the Israelis?” The invented Jenin massacre, long ago proven to be a myth invented by Palestinian propagandists along with so many other myths, but still believed by so many? The bulldozing of homes used to conceal tunnels used for the smuggling of weapons?  

The commonest “brutal crime” according to the MECA crowd, as shown in one of the exhibitions at the show, has been the building of the so-called “Apartheid Wall,” (Never mind that 95 percent of the security barrier is a fence, not a wall) Why is the fact that the barrier is designed for the sole purpose of saving lives never mentioned? Or the fact that of the hundreds of security fences all over the world, only the security fence in Israel, has been labeled an apartheid wall? And why is it called an apartheid wall when one million Palestinians live in, vote in, and enjoy all the rights and freedoms of Israeli citizens, while not one Jew will be permitted to live in the projected Palestinian state? Which side practices apartheid? 

The art show at the Berkeley Art Center is designed to justify violence. The display is about propaganda, not art. The images shown remind me of the cartoons promulgated by Nazi Germany, designed for the purpose of demonizing Jews and preparing the German people for the massive killings that would soon follow.  

What we need are shows that are committed to both moral righteousness and intellectual truth. We need shows devoted to the concept of living together in harmony, that glorify life rather than death, and that demonstrate the value of loving, not killing, our fellow humans.  


Lawrence W. White is a Berkeley resident, a physician and a bioethicist.