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Divisions Grow Among American Jews Over Latest Developments In The Middle East

Allan Brownfeld, Editor
Special Interest Report
March-April 2001

In the wake of Ariel Sharon's election as Prime Minister of Israel and the continuing turmoil in the Middle East, divisions among American Jews have been growing.  

Washington Jewish Week (March 1, 2001) reports: "American Jewry`s leading organizations are formulating a nationwide network to better promote pro-Israel messages throughout the United States." Malcolm Hoenlein, executive vice chair of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, states that, "Every morning a message goes out and every Palestinian has the right message," when he or she talks to CNN or newspapers. Hoenlein "envisioned the new network as a counterpoint to that...He mentioned daily e-mail alerts and the posting of extensive information on the Internet as two of a number of ideas to improve advocacy for Israel in the media and elsewhere."  

The Forward (March 23, 2001) reported about the talk Sen. Joseph Lieberman (D-CT) gave before the annual policy conference of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) in behalf of the peace process, and the negative reception he received: Mr. Lieberman, a longtime stalwart in AIPAC's pro-Israel cause...devoted much of his speech to an emotional defense of the Israeli-Palestinian peace process, which he said remained vital despite the violence shaking the region. `I wish the year 2000 had ended not with an intifada, but with the signing of final status agreements,' he said, to thunderous silence. The silence continued for minutes on end, as the senator explained the value of the Oslo accords, insisted that peace was in America's best interest as well as Israel's and called for the Bush administration not to `walk away' from its `responsibility' as an active mediator. By the time he ended his speech with a quote from Zionist legend Theodor Herzl—`If you will it,' he said, referring to Israeli-Palestinian peace, `it is no fantasy'—the crowd was visibly distressed. Individuals around the hall could be heard coughing, seemingly restraining the impulse to jeer."  

The Forward states: "AIPAC theoretically is an extension of the national Jewish organizational community, and exists to lobby for American Jews' consensus views on Israel. Political insiders have long considered that a polite fiction, covering the lobby's true role as a voice of the Israeli government...Cynics say it is the love of the fight that drives AIPAC's top leaders. In this view, nothing frightens the lobby as much as a world at peace, in which Israel is no longer threatened and AIPAC`s services are no longer needed. That view of the lobby is too harsh...This week, though, it was hard not to think in those terms, as hundreds of the organization's top activists gathered in high spirits to welcome the triumph of Ariel Sharon, the collapse of the peace process and the rebirth of fortress Israel. Israelis may be despondent over the escalating violence...Not so Israel's friends in Washington...It is right for Jews to spring to Israel's defense. It is wrong to so revel in the fight that one regrets the very prospect of peace."  

Early in March, some 100 rabbis signed a letter to Prime Minister Sharon and President Bush, calling on Sharon not to take steps to expand Jewish neighborhoods in eastern Jerusalem and to Bush "to vigorously express American opposition to such unilateral steps." Professor Jerome Segal, president of the Jewish Peace Lobby, under whose auspices the letter was sent, says "the rabbis' letter raises the fundamental question: Does Sharon, in his pursuit of an interim agreement, mean a timeout on the final status issues, or does he want to stop talking about them, while attempting unilaterally to foreclose the possibility of an interim agreement on shared sovereignty in Jerusalem through construction?"  

A new group, Not In My Name (NIMN) has been formed to represent Jews who are critical of the Israeli government`s posture toward Palestinians. Cindy Levitt, a member of the group, says: "It all started when Steven Feuerstein, one of our members, went to one of the earlier demonstrations in front of the Israeli consulate in Chicago and held a sign reading, `I'm Jewish and I want Israel to stop killing Palestinians.' Many Jews saw this as they walked along Michigan Avenue, or as they watched news coverage of the demonstrations and they discovered they were not alone in their strong feelings against Israel's policies."  

The group set up a Web site (www.notinmyname.org) and has attracted much interest. A major goal, reads a statement on the Web site, is to open up debate within the Jewish community: "We feel that unconditional support of the Israeli government at this time is in direct conflict with Jewish values that we hold so dear."

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