Tolerance has its limits


[The following is my reply to Beth El Synagogue President Gary Krupp’s Star Tribune op-ed, which in turn was a response to an American Jewish World opinion piece by Phil Freshman, republished on this site and in a shorter version by the Star Tribune.]

Gary J. Krupp, president of Beth El Synagogue, in defense of Sec. Condoleezza Rice’s invitation to speak in its National Speaker Series, argues against political polarization and demonization of those with opposing viewpoints. He writes of the Jewish tradition’s “strong support for a diversity of…perspectives that encourage dialogue as a pathway to tolerate differences.” (West Extra section, Oct. 7, 2009)
Tolerating differences is good. But surely there are lines that should not be crossed. I would be utterly shocked if Beth El Synagogue invited a national neo-Nazi leader to speak so we can hear from those with a differing viewpoint. It wouldn’t do so, and it shouldn’t do so. There are limits to toleration.
The question is whether Sec. Rice crosses that line. I think she does. She was intimately involved in decisions that led to torturing detainees, in violation of international law by any rational measuring stick. She sat in meetings where this was discussed, she conveyed authorizations to participate in such practices, and she still refuses to say that waterboarding is torture, against the judgment of virtually every international jurist. Make no mistake about it: In future years, Sec. Rice will do considerable advance work to determine where and when she will be able to travel abroad. Legal authorities in many countries will not be as tolerant as Beth El Synagogue.
Moreover, Sec. Rice was complicit in dozens of misstatements of facts, gross exaggerations, and outright lies leading up to the invasion of Iraq. That has led to several hundred thousand deaths. She continues to be an apologist for the Bush administration with false statements about the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe calling Guantanamo a model medium security prison, and misleading claims that the ICRC made no allegations about interrogations at Guantanamo. She still says that we did not torture, in spite of ICRC reports, contrary claims by F.B.I. interrogators, Bush administration withdrawals of Office of Legal Counsel torture memos, and statements of dismissal by our own Military Commission judges.

I realize Beth El Synagogue leaders do not feel they can disinvite Sec. Rice at this time. However, if they were truly interested in having a dialogue on “difficult topics,” they could easily invite a second speaker to appear along with Sec. Rice. Locally, we have an internationally renowned expert on torture issues in Dr. Steven Miles, a University of Minnesota bioethicist. I am sure he would be willing to discuss these “difficult topics” with the Secretary at a fraction of the price she must have required.
Fifty years ago this December I was bar mitzvahed at Beth El Synagogue. I expect more from it than to traffic in war criminals to assist in its fundraising efforts. I apologize for the demonization.

I am part of a group, Tackling Torture at the Top, which will be peacefully demonstrating its opposition to the appearance of Sec. Rice in a rally outside Beth El Synagogue at 5:15 p.m. on Nov. 8. We would especially welcome members of Beth El who share our view and do not wish to contribute toward Sec. Rice’s no-doubt extravagant fee to join us.