Home  Principles & Statements  Positions of the ACJ  Articles  DonationsAbout Us  Contact Us  Links                                         

Thousands Rally in Behalf of Israel; Voices of Jewish Dissent Increase

Allan C. Brownfeld, Editor
Special Interest Report
May-June 2002

In April, thousands of people demonstrated in support of Israel in Washington, D.C. The rally was hailed by leaders of U.S. Jewish organizations as the largest pro-Israel gathering ever in the U.S.  

USA Today (April 16, 2002) reported that, “Most speakers saw no ambiguity in the conflict. Former Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu ... condemned Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat as ‘the quintessential terrorist.’ ... He compared Arafat to Osama bin Laden, the suspected mastermind of the terrorist attacks Sept. 11 in New York and Washington. ‘Nothing more than Osama bin Laden with good PR.’”  

The audience, USA Today reported, “booed a Bush administration official who lamented the violence that has claimed lives on both sides of the Middle East conflict. Paul Wolfowitz, deputy defense secretary and President Bush’s representative to the pro-Israel event, was booed after telling the crowd that ‘innocent Palestinians are suffering and dying as well’ as Israelis in the regions’ bloody turmoil. ‘We deplore the deliberate killing of innocents. And I believe in my heart that the majority of Palestinians do so as well,’ Wolfowitz said, prompting the angry crowd reaction. He was forced to stop speaking several times.”  

Malcolm Hoenlein, Executive Vice Chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, the 52-member group that was the lead sponsor of the Washington rally, said: “There are enough people telling Israel what to do. ... Our job is to see that it can do it from a position of strength and to show Israel solidarity and support at this time.” Stephen Hoffman, head of the United Jewish Communities, said: “Either you stand with Israel when we are under attack, or get out of the way. We’re at war.”  

The Jerusalem Report (May 6, 2002) notes that, “... some leaders have questioned whether giving the Israeli government such blanket support - especially when it might lead the U.S. Jewish community into conflict with a U.S. administration that wants Ariel to use more restraint - is the best policy. ‘I’m disappointed with the American Jewish leadership, because I think we are still acting in the old way, which is whatever the Israeli government says goes,’ says one prominent Jewish leader, who is a member of the Conference of Presidents and asked not to be named. ‘Even if we think it’s wrong, there’s nobody who will say it’s wrong.’”  

According to the Report, “Some community observers worry that despite all the new activity, most American Jews are becoming part of an anguished silent majority that is still looking for answers. ‘People don’t want to hear about the conflict, they don’t want to watch the news,’ says Stephen P. Cohen, a Middle East expert at the liberal Israel Policy Forum. ‘There are a lot of people who are descending into a “plague on both your houses” category. It means that the greatest achievement of world Jewish solidarity, which is the relationship between American Jewry and Israel, is losing its meaning, because they feel terrible identification with the Israeli people, but they don’t feel the Israeli people are being led in a direction that makes a lot of sense.’”  

In an advertisement in The Forward (May 10, 2002), Americans for Peace Now states: “Join those of us who support Israel and abhor terrorism, but disagree with the path that Prime Minister Sharon is taking . ... Israelis recognize settlements in the occupied territories as impediments to peace, and they are willing to evacuate all settlements from Gaza and locations near Palestinian population centers in the context of a peace agreement. Yet Prime Minister Sharon is unwilling to even discuss the evacuation of settlements. Meanwhile the lives of Israeli soldiers are being put at risk and hundreds of millions of dollars in the Israeli budget are being wasted each year just to support the settlement movement. ... Enough of the violence and bloodshed, and enough of dead-end policies that only produce more of the same.”  

New York Times columnist Frank Rich, discussing the April rally in Washington, writes (May 11, 2002): “That Paul Wolfowitz, of all Americans in public life, would be vilified for stating the obvious, was a sign, to me anyway, that justifiable rage and horror at Palestinian terrorism is, in some American Jewish quarters, boiling over into something less justifiable. Nor is the heckling of Mr. Wolfowitz the only sign. Earlier in April a Jewish couple in Brooklyn had to flee New York to escape death threats because their son, Adam Shapiro, had gained notoriety as a humanitarian worker among the Palestinians in Ramallah ... However understandable the rage, it gives me pause when it starts to consume some of Judaism’s fundamental values.”  

Writing in The Forward (May 10, 2002) Meredith Tax, author of Rivington Street and a member of the advisory committee of Brit Tzedek v’Shalom/Jewish Alliance for Peace and Justice, argues that there is a “second religion” that many American Jews are practicing: “Unlike the historical Judaism, the second religion practiced by American Jews is one of death and resurrection: Jewish martyrdom in the Holocaust is redeemed by Jewish resurrection in the State of Israel. Its central watchword is ‘never again,’ a slogan of terrible ambiguity -does it mean that we should make sure such horror never happens again to anyone, or that we should get our enemies before they get us?”  

In Tax’s view, “Whatever one might say about this second religion, it is certainly not Judaism. Making a god out of a state looks a lot like idolatry. Worshipping the land, to the point where justice and human lives are insignificant next to ‘facts on the ground’ and a dream of a Greater Israel - isn’t this what the prophets sought to end when they cast down the standing stones? The God of Moses was not a god of land rights but a ‘god of way,’ with a mobile sanctuary. ... It is time to cast down these idols, stop exalting militarism and revenge, and return to ‘That which is hateful to you, do not do to your neighbor.’ Only through justice can we remain true to ourselves. Only through justice can we find peace. ...”  

Columnist Richard Cohen, writing in The Washington Post (May 9, 2002), expresses the view that, “In a sense, Sharon has left the only war that matters in the long run. In the U.S. and Europe, Israel has suffered a public relations debacle. Its leader seems intransigent; the Palestinians pose as innocent victims. The gullible ... rally for the corrupt Arafat - and the American Jewish community ... has lost any ability to distinguish between Israel and its current leadership. It embraces failure as if it were success itself.”

< return to article list
© 2010 The American Council For Judaism.