No, Assad is not good for Israel, and he never will be

By far the most shocking thing I heard at the Jerusalem Post conference in New York was former Israel Defense Forces chief of staff Dan Halutz saying that Bashar Assad was good for Israel, because Assad keeps the peace in Syria and a modicum of stability.

Expect that he doesn’t. Syria is a mess of death and destruction.

Even if Assad did keep the peace in Syria, he would never be good for Israel.

The Jewish state is fundamentally different, founded as it is on a dream — a vision of a nation emerging from the cauldron of Auschwitz, an ancient homeland resurrected following eviction from another brutal power, Rome, 2,000 years ago. The Jews are survivors of genocide, and above all else they cherish life. That’s why Israel mourns its dead soldiers perhaps more than any nation on earth.

This past Shabbat, my family and I hosted Aviram Shaul, brother of Oron Shaul, an IDF soldier who was murdered by Hamas in July 2014 in Gaza. Hamas kidnapped his body and is holding it as ransom until today. His family is suffering terribly.

Israel is trying everything to recover his body, because to the Israeli people, its boys must always come home. Sitting with Shaul and with his IDF escort, who helps run the unit that deals with Israel’s 170 MIA families, was painful, but also an inspiration.

I thought of this as I listened to the former IDF head telling a New York City crowd two days later that Israel should support Assad. Halutz has a moral obligation to retract his words. Genocide is the world’s foremost abomination. Assad is guilty of using poison gas against innocent Arab men, women and children. His foremost critics should be not Arabs but Jews. For no one knows better than us what murder by poison gas is like.

In the Torah, we read in Leviticus 19, “Do not stand idly by the blood of your neighbor.” This is the biblical basis for the responsibility to protect, the moral imperative imposed on the powerful to protect the weak.

In the White House a few years ago I studied this passage, along with its commentaries, with Samantha Power before she became America’s ambassador to the United Nations. Samantha had earned a global reputation fighting genocide, only to see it undermined by the Obama administration’s refusal to take action against Assad, once he began gassing his people in August of 2013. Her name has been forever compromised by Syria, just as Donald Trump’s name was greatly enhanced through his decisive action against Assad once the butcher decided to gas his people again.

Israel must be on the right side of history. Choosing the political stability of a neighbor while its people are massacred is not something the Jewish state can countenance. Israel should be calling loudly for an end to Assad’s atrocities against his people.

Yes, ISIS is a real danger, and yes, Assad might serve as a bulwark against it. But not at the price of gassing children.

I’m surprised that an IDF chief of staff doesn’t understand this. Israel is strong primarily because it has morality on its side, which is what brings people of goodwill throughout the world to its defense. It can never lose the moral argument.

Yes, Israel is loathed by a great many around the world. But compare them to the 80 million born-again American Christians whose support for Israel is stalwart. And this is precisely because Israel is the realization of a biblical dream of justice and righteousness.

Just imagine how we Jews would have reacted if Halutz were speaking 70 years earlier as the head of the American military, telling us that stopping Hitler’s slaughter of the Jews is subordinate to the overarching war aims of defeating the Third Reich. Our response would be, “Are you kidding? You can’t at least bomb the train tracks to Auschwitz, where 10,000 people are gassed every day? And if you can’t, are you still moral?”

FDR has a claim to being the greatest president of the 20th century because it was he who defeated Hitler. But his legacy will be forever stained, even among progressives, by his refusal to take decisive action to stop the Holocaust.

I recognize that Israel’s options in Syria are limited. Any action the Jewish state takes against Assad will be interpreted by many in the Arab world as an aggressive rather than a compassionate action. But I also understand that Israel’s voice is still robust.

No senior IDF officer should be on the wrong side of history.

Halutz should reconsider his words and publicly repudiate such misguided sentiments.

On May 21 our organization will be hosting a tribute to Elie Wiesel at Cipriani in New York City. It will feature his son Elisha delivering a keynote address. In attendance will be President Paul Kagame of Rwanda and some of Israel’s leading diplomats. We will focus on the human responsibility to oppose genocide. No doubt Syria will be on everyone’s mind.

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