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Zamir: A poisonous new year

Published September 9, 2013 10:08 am

This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2013, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

Welcoming the Jewish New Year has always been a time for personal introspection. For Jews around the world, Rosh Hashanah heralds the beginning of the road to atonement.

As the year dawned this week, the use by the Syrian regime of poison gas to murder its citizens harkens back to an easily recalled evil.

We cannot be ambivalent that while the use of gas since World War II has been practiced in North Yemen in 1966 and Iraq in 1980 and 1988, the deteriorating situation in Syria presents a new year reality.

The Assad regime has amassed a stockpile of such weapons and the delivery systems to use them. Much as with the proliferation of weapons with the fall of Libya, we are concerned about their dispersal to Hezbollah.

Soon after World War II, a Jewish academic of German decent, Hans Morgenthau, published his influential "Politics among the Nations." The book examines the acts of nations, not by moral proclamations or idealism, but by choices made in the national interest and often in conflict with other nations.

We must reconcile international politics with our personal morals and aspirations for a new year. Use of nerve gas by one or both sides in the Syrian conflict has not led to any agreed upon approach in the UN, NATO or any other international organization of note.

The results of the Iraq war and its toll on American lives and resources easily dominate the agenda of an international system facing the most blatant use of poisonous gas since the Second World War.

We are asked to choose between the specter of the Holocaust, the use by Secretary of State John Kerry of "Never again," and our concerns for another Iraq or Afghanistan.

For Jews, every New Year brings hope for positive change. We are given an opportunity to look into the past and recognize, atone and break with the transgressions we have committed.

While we make the case that inaction in Syria is a product of an international arena of national interests, Jews and non-Jews face a moral dilemma that should be addressed openly and directly. Are we atoning for the mistakes of past U.S. interventions in the Middle East by making acceptable the use of chemical warfare as the world norm?

At what point does any nation look to the value of all people, not just its own citizens or a particular national interest. As Jews, we can take pause and remember the horror of poison gas that wiped out generations of our brethren, over multiple years though it was known to governments at the time.

How shall we atone for the silence of many good people not believing stories of gas chambers in Poland. They did not have CNN to show them the overwhelming evidence we see today.

Some may point out that American action or inaction on Iran's quest for its own weapons of mass murder has a direct correlation with how we act today or in the future when faced with similar atrocities.

No atonement is complete without utter repudiation of our transgressions. By chance or by providence this New Year, some of us are caught between national interests and our own moral interests.

In a year born under the shadow of poison gas, we must reject a world governed by national interests that cause history to repeat itself.

Ron Zamir is a member of the Utah Jewish Community and CEO of Allen Communication Learning Services in Salt Lake City. He holds a degree in international relations from the Hebrew University in Jerusalem.