Despite the violence, democracy is alive and...

THE BALTIMORE SUN

Despite the violence, democracy is alive and well in Israel

Neve Gordon gives a highly distorted and politicized view of one of the most vibrant democracies in the world and the only one in the Middle East ("Israel must face threat from within," Opinion*Commentary, Jan. 23).

Contrary to Mr. Gordon's statements, the debates in Israel's media about social policy, military actions and relations with the Palestinians are still as hot as ever, as anyone who logs on to the Web sites of that country's newspapers will readily see.

And the fact that police and army abuses are openly investigated by citizen groups, with considerable media attention, confirms that political discourse in Israel is open and dynamic, no matter how painful the subject.

The opinions of the political right that Mr. Gordon dislikes have been expressed openly in Israel for many years. For better or worse, they have now gained currency in a democratic process of give and take, thanks in no small part to the actions of the Palestinian Authority and its allies.

Mr. Gordon's disapproval does not justify his charge of "fascism."

Robert J. Bloch

Baltimore

That the United States - during two world wars and in its battle against terrorism - has sometimes had to resort to defensive measures that make civil libertarians wince does not mean that fascism was, or is, on the horizon.

Similarly, when Israel, a country that has not known a day of peace in its history, takes strong measures designed to stop the killing of innocents by political and religious extremists, it does not portend that Israeli democracy is threatened, despite the contentions of Neve Gordon.

Israelis live in a terrible neighborhood, a place where fanaticism, irrationality and hate are dominant motifs of political life. In such conditions, democracies are obligated to do what they have to to survive.

Israel has done just that, and remains the only place in the Middle East where democracy thrives, Muslims, Christians and Jews are allowed to practice their religions without state interference and citizens regularly use the ballot, not the bullet, to express political differences.

America is not prepared to sacrifice its security to appease naive critics - neither is Israel. Thank heaven.

Howard E. Friedman

Baltimore

The writer is president of the Baltimore Jewish Council.

Ending Israel's occupation would be good for everyone

Neve Gordon's column "Israel must face threat from within" (Opinion* Commentary Jan. 23) about the irrationality of Israeli public opinion on peace and war was very illuminating.

An Israeli friend told me that, on a recent trip back home, she sensed that most Israelis knew that ending the occupation of Palestinian land was a necessary condition for peace. A cab driver who expressed this very thought to her also said that he had voted for Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and would vote for him again.

A Palestinian lawyer friend told me of a similar irrationality from the other side: A client of his who committed a terrorist act against Israeli civilians admitted such acts would only make the Palestinian goal of ending occupation more distant.

Popular sentiment on both sides is far from enlightened or benevolent, and neither side is intrinsically more virtuous than the other. However, the Israelis are vastly more powerful and have far greater control of the situation.

While it should be very clear to Palestinians that they cannot achieve their goals through military means, it should also be clear to Israel (and the United States) that the Palestinians will never submit to Israeli occupation.

Ending the occupation is good for everybody - as much for Israeli Jews as for Palestinian Arabs.

Philip Farah

Vienna, Va.

Resolve the differences clouding racing's future

As one of an estimated 15,000 Marylanders whose livelihood is derived from the Maryland racing industry, I implore the governor and the members of the Maryland Racing Commission to set aside their personal feelings and vendettas against the Maryland Jockey Club, and make an attempt to resolve the longstanding differences that continue to cloud the future of Maryland racing ("Rancor in racing reaches new low," Jan. 24).

Morris T. Murray

Baltimore

MSPAP critic deserves credit for his honesty

Hooray for Phil Greenfield ("Cutting through the MSPAP spin," Opinion* Commentary, Jan. 28).

Such honesty is not condoned by the Maryland State Department of Education, nor by the school districts. I hope he can continue to teach at Annapolis High School without penalty for his frankness.

Congratulations also to The Sun for publishing this column despite the paper's support of the MSPAP.

Stephen H. Knox

Baltimore

Candidate Kaufman proposes 'taking profits out of drugs'

Considering the long, laudatory article Michael Olesker wrote about my candidacy for the 7th Congressional District ("Candidate speaks truth about war on drugs," Jan. 17), I really don't have much to complain about.

Nonetheless, the brief announcement of my candidacy the previous day ("Activist, repeat candidate seeking public office again," Jan. 16) may have set a new record by containing two glaring inaccuracies.

First, I was not "last on the ballot as a mayoral candidate in 1999." I came in seventh in a lineup of about a dozen.

Second, I have never been "a supporter of drug decriminalization." I advocate a process in which addicts could go to a clinic and purchase their drugs at cost.

Then it wouldn't make any difference whether the drugs were legal or not. No one would have any financial incentive to sell the stuff on the street. We call this "taking the profits out of drugs."

A. Robert Kaufman

Baltimore

It's the brawny ones who always bail us out

Alec MacGillis had it backward in his column "Brawn may be 'in', but brains will bail us out" (Opinion*Commentary, Jan. 24). In truth, it is always brawn that has to bail us out after the so-called "brains" have gotten us in trouble with goofy ideas that don't work in the real world.

Muscles no more indicate a lack of intelligence than scrawniness indicates intelligence. And in today's politically correct atmosphere, the dumbest among us can get a Ph.D. in some nonsense field.

Firemen, police and military personnel come in all levels of intelligence, but they all have one thing in common: They are really doing something worthwhile for society, rather than just talking about it - and they are the ones our country relies on to save our hides when we're in trouble.

Joan Butler

Owings Mills

Alec MacGillis mocks the current emphasis on the "manly man," the "brawny, masculine" types. He contrasts that type with the American "brainiac geek," the "skinny cerebral" type who will ultimately win us the war against terror.

But it's the geeks that let America down. The entire world tried to tell us that terrorists were going to strike using airplanes as missiles. But we were caught by surprise, and because the cerebral types and brainiacs didn't do their job, 3,000 Americans are dead and countless lives have been ruined.

Because the American geek went to sleep, the brawny, courageous, manly types are coming home in body bags. So much for the intelligentsia.

Ken Hines

Timonium

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