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American Jewish Voices Both Support And Oppose Prime Minister Sharon’s Policies

Allan C. Brownfeld, Editor
Special Interest Report
March-April 2002

The escalation of violence in Israel and the occupied West Bank has brought forth a variety of viewpoints from leading American Jewish spokesmen.  

In a full-page advertisement in The New York Times (March 21, 2002), the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations together with United Jewish Communities, the UJA-Federation of New York and the Jewish Community Relations Council, embrace the Israeli government response to recent developments.  

The ad declares, “We stand with the people and the State of Israel at this critical time. We share their pain and outrage at the terrible loss of life and limb as a result of the Palestinian campaign of terror and violence launched against Israel eighteen months ago ... We stand with Israel in demanding that the Palestinian Authority end the violence and terror, arrest and prosecute the perpetrators, dismantle the terrorist infrastructure, and the incitement against Israel and Jews, and live up to all its previous commitments.”  

In another full-page New York Times ad (March 22, 2002), the Tikkun community, headed by Rabbi Michael Lerner and including Rabbis Marcelo Bronstein, Steven Jacobs, Irwin Kula, and Jeremy Milgrom, sharply criticizes Israeli policy.  

The ad declares: “No, Mr. Sharon! Many Americans do not support your policies in the West Bank and Gaza, which are immoral and have decreased Israeli security. As a step forward ending the cycle of violence, we urge our fellow citizens to support the Israeli Army Reservists who say ‘No’ to the Occupation. Over 370 courageous Israeli Army Reserve Officers have risked their careers and some have already been sent to jail because they publicly refuse to serve in the West Bank and Gaza. These soldiers have witnessed their own army violate human rights, practice torture, destroy homes, and perpetuate violence against civilians, acts that have become ‘necessary’ to maintain an oppressive Occupation. They won’t be silent partners to the Occupation any longer. Nor will tens of thousands of Israelis who have taken to the streets in demonstrations against the Occupation. Neither will we!”  

Another group, Jewish Voices Against The Occupation (P.O. Box 11606, Berkeley, CA 94712) issued a statement declaring: “The occupation of the West Bank, Gaza Strip and East Jerusalem is killing Palestinians and Israelis alike and destroying Israel from within. There can be no peace or security for either until Israel completely evacuates its settlements in the Palestinian territories, ends its military occupation, and returns to its pre-1967 borders. As Jews, we call upon Israel to agree to the immediate establishment of an international peacekeeping force in the occupied territories to protect civilians from violence by the Israeli military and settlers and to cease building or expanding settlements as a first step toward their complete evacuation ... Israel’s security policies ... make Israel less secure, not more.”  

Discussing the Reservists who challenged Israeli West Bank policies, columnist Leonard Fein, writing in The Forward (March 1, 2002) notes that, “...the current response of the Israeli government to all that has happened these last 16 months is sheer idiocy. It has accomplished nothing save death. It has not enhanced security, not advanced peace, and it has crippled the Israeli economy. And the waning support for Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, as registered in public opinion polls, indicates that this dissatisfaction is not limited to a few thousand veterans of Israel’s protest movements.”  

Fein points out that, “Refusal to serve in the army wherever one has been ordered to serve is a very serious action. In the Israeli context, it is also a courageous action. One need not endorse the action to respect it. And one need not endorse it to welcome its lifting of the veil on what the occupation signifies. For years, the journalists who cover events in the territories, along with Peace Now’s Settlement Watch and the human rights group B’Tselem, have known that the incidents of inhumanity, the continuing humiliation of the Palestinians, and more recently, the thoughtlessness of the Israeli army’s actions in the territories, are not the incidental by-products of the occupation. They are its inevitable consequences. Howev­er despicable the Palestinian response, one cannot expect servile acquiescence from a subjugated population...”  

Jeffrey V. Mallow, national president of the Labor Zionist Alliance, writes that, “It has been one year since Ariel Sharon was elected prime minister on a platform of peace with security, the same platform on which Benjamin Netanyahu rose to power in 1996. Both platforms emerged from similar circumstances: a frustrated Israeli electorate, confronted with daily terror, turned to a putative tough guy for salvation. Mr. Sharon’s platform has had the same degree of success as Mr. Netanyahu’s: no peace, no security ... There is a solution. Its approximate parameters were proposed in 2000 by former Prime Minister Ehud Barak. His proposal is the elephant in the living room, no matter how much the Palestinians, their Arab and European supporters and even some in the Zionist peace camp wish to ignore it ... One day, if all goes well, there will be peace. Sadly, it will most likely be a peace we could have had almost two miserable, bloody years ago.” (The Forward, March 8, 2002).  

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