Disobeying Lawful Orders

Disobeying Lawful Orders

During the 1960s, at the height of the American army draft, I was a young rabbi who urged soldiers not to participate in the war in Vietnam. And I counseled potential military recruits not to enlist in the armed services at all. Synagogues and churches served as sanctuaries for those who chose not to enter the army. Many were the draft-dodgers we helped get to Canada.

Our opposition to the American adventure in Vietnam saw us chaining ourselves to the gates of recruitment centers, stuffing flowers into the guns of National Guardsmen, blocking traffic and conducting street theater. We wanted to create a new social order; but many of us also loved the thrill and excitement of sit-ins, teach-ins, and sleep-ins. We shut down universities, corporations and hi-tech companies that fed the industrial-military complex. Turning in or burning our draft cards brought a rush of adrenalin beyond compare. Those were heady times.

Only in retrospect did some of us realize how self-righteous we were, even if the withdrawal from Vietnam ultimately justified our opposition to the war.

I can't help but search for parallels in our current dilemma. But are there any?

Vietnam was far from America's shores and was never considered a war of survival. Israel's war with the Palestinians is in our backyard in our malls, restaurants, buses. Our war threatens the existence of the Jewish state.

We do not have the luxury, as we did in the US, of not being intimately affected by war. Here there is virtually no one who has not suffered the loss of a family member or friend to the terrible scourge of terrorism. In Israel, any moral stance we take has immediate, practical consequences. Therefore, the question of what constitutes legitimate protest - for the Left or the Right - is one of profound significance.

For us liberals the issues are far more perplexing than they are for conservatives because we consider ourselves defenders of civil disobedience, from whatever ideology...

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