Does Jewish Law Permit Torture?

In the wake of the Senate report on the CIA’s post-9/11 interrogation procedures, some Jewish organizations rushed to declare that torture always and in all forms conflicts with Jewish values. A handful of Orthodox rabbis and legal scholars have produced more nuanced views, as Shlomo Brody writes:

[Michael] Broyde, for example, has claimed that the “wholesale suspension of the sanctity of life that occurs in wartime also entails the suspension of such secondary human-rights issues as the notion of human dignity, the fear of the ethical decline of our soldiers, or even the historical fear of our ongoing victimhood.” This logic would justify water boarding and similar interrogative tactics. But Broyde is quick to note that just because some actions might be allowed under Jewish war ethics, that doesn’t make them strategically prudent or legal under national law or international accords. . .

Yet even if Broyde is correct regarding his broader claim about Jewish war ethics (a disputed argument), the particular implications of his “war-necessity” thesis for torture make many uneasy.

Read more at Tablet

More about: CIA, Halakhah, Jewish ethics, Torture, War on Terror

Recognizing a Palestinian State Won’t Help Palestinians, or Even Make Palestinian Statehood More Likely

While Shira Efron and Michael Koplow are more sanguine about the possibility of a two-state solution to the Israel-Palestinian conflict, and more critical of Israel’s policies in the West Bank, than I am, I found much worth considering in their recent article on the condition of the Palestinian Authority (PA). Particularly perceptive are their comments on the drive to grant diplomatic recognition to a fictive Palestinian state, a step taken by nine countries in the past few months, and almost as many in total as recognize Israel.

Efron and Koplow argue that this move isn’t a mere empty gesture, but one that would actually make things worse, while providing “no tangible benefits for Palestinians.”

In areas under its direct control—Areas A and B of the West Bank, comprising 40 percent of the territory—the PA struggles severely to provide services, livelihoods, and dignity to inhabitants. This is only partly due to its budgetary woes; it has also never established a properly functioning West Bank economy. President Mahmoud Abbas, who will turn ninety next year, administers the PA almost exclusively by executive decrees, with little transparency or oversight. Security is a particular problem, as militants from different factions now openly defy the underfunded and undermotivated PA security forces in cities such as Jenin, Nablus, and Tulkarm.

Turning the Palestinian Authority (PA) from a transitional authority into a permanent state with the stroke of a pen will not make [its] litany of problems go away. The risk that the state of Palestine would become a failed state is very real given the PA’s dysfunctional, insolvent status and its dearth of public legitimacy. Further declines in its ability to provide social services and maintain law and order could yield a situation in which warlords and gangs become de-facto rulers in some areas of the West Bank.

Otherwise, any steps toward realizing two states will be fanciful, built atop a crumbling foundation—and likely to help turn the West Bank into a third front in the current war.

Read more at Foreign Affairs

More about: Palestinian Authority, Palestinian statehood