Mr. Levinson is national chairman of the Anti-Defamation League; Mr. Foxman is national director.
What to do about terrorism? The question came up again this week with a ferocity following the murder of Lt. Col. William Higgins by his radical Shiite captors.
There is much lip service paid to the notion that we shouldn't capitulate to the terrorists, that to appease them is to whet their appetite, that to reward their behavior is to cause them to repeat their behavior. Is doing nothing, however, not a form of appeasement? It may not be as blatant as paying money to the terrorists for hostages, but doesn't it amount to much the same thing? Terrorism can go on without sanction, that is the message of passivity.
Israel is the one country that does not merely pay lip service to the anti-terrorist struggle. It takes the splendid ideas formulated by former Secretary of State George Shultz and converts them to a living policy. Shultz said that we must take the offensive against terrorism. He said that we must use our intelligence networks. He said we must identify the terrorists, develop a consensus concerning the terrorist threat, and then take action.
Israel acted last week. Little violence was involved. A major initiator of Lebanese terrorism was seized. Not for revenge, but as a means to obtain the release of Israeli soldiers and Western hostages.
Now Lt. Col. Higgins is dead and some are doing exactly what the terrorists had in mind: directing their anger not at the source of this evil but at our Israeli ally.
How self-destructive can we be? Are we upset with Israel because she has the nerve to take actions that we are reluctant to take?
There is no easy way out of the terrorist bind. If we are not to capitulate, then there are limited ways to act. We can bomb, as we did in Libya. Many criticized us then. We can conduct a commando raid, but how many Entebbes are possible? Or we can look to beat the terrorists at their game, without succumbing to the abandonment of values endemic to terrorism.
Israel took the latter road, surely knowing that there were risks--to Israelis held in Lebanon as well as Americans. They sought, however, the most effective way to impress upon the terrorists that there is a price to be paid for their actions--the loss of their leader--without automatically causing the deaths of those held in captivity (as would have resulted, for example, from Israeli bombing).
Those who criticize Israel apparently want to do nothing or even want to appease the terrorists more directly. They are not interested in national interest. They are not interested in how their appeasement will lead to others being taken hostage. They are simply interested in the here and now--avoidance at all costs of the horrible feeling that came upon all of us with the news of William Higgins' death.
It is a reminder of what appeasement was about in the 1930s. People and governments were ready to do anything to avoid the horrible feeling that could come if there were conflict between Hitler and the democracies. They were ready to condemn Churchill, the leader of the anti-appeasement camp, sooner than Hitler himself. For Hitler the democratic refusal to face hard truths, to take risks, played right into his hands. And then it was too late.
It is legitimate to assess the wisdom of Israel's decision to seize Sheikh Obeid. Such an assessment, however, should not blur the fact that it is Israel above all other countries which is trying to deal in a responsible and serious manner with this scourge of terrorism. America and Americans should make clear that despite the grief surrounding the death of Lt. Col. Higgins, we won't compound the tragedy by handing the terrorists a victory which is their aim--a rift between the two great democracies who are the main foes of terrorism and the main catalysts for democracy and peace in the Middle East.