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

There Is No "Unity" About Middle East Policy Among American Jews, Columnist Declares

Allan Brownfeld, Editor
Special Interest Report
May-June 2001

Discussing those who proclaim Jewish "unity" with regard to events in the Middle East, columnist Letty Cottin Pogrebin, writing in Moment (June 2001), provides this analysis: "Unity. You hear the word everywhere. Because of the Palestinian Intifada and international condemnation of Israel's military response, all Jews are supposed to present a united front, rally around, and stifle our famously contentious differences in the interest of solidarity. But one person's solidarity is another person's suppression."  

Pogrebin is particularly critical of a speech given by author Elie Wiesel before a meeting of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) in March.  

Wiesel called for solidarity with Israel and lamented that "anti-Semitism" is alive among Jewish critics of Israel who are guilty of embracing "cheap universalism." The Washington Jewish Week (March 22, 2001) reports that Wiesel stated that, "Compared to Israel's neighbors and to most democracies, Israel has little to be ashamed of." He called on his audience to remember, among others, French atrocities in Algeria and American actions in Vietnam. "Whatever is being done in Israel, never would it come to the level of things done in those countries," he said.  

Letty Pogrebin argues that the expression of a variety of views about the best path to achieve Middle East peace, even if it means sharply challenging the Israeli government's policies ".... doesn't add up to unity. But neither does it add up to tragedy. And it certainly doesn't require our leaders to sell solidarity as if it were snake oil. Or demand silence as the price of admission to the Jewish people, as Elie Wiesel did at AIPAC's spring conference. Astonishingly, the Holocaust icon publicly defamed Jews who take issue with Israeli government policy, characterizing it as `anti-Semitism in Jewish leftist circles'...The charge of `anti-Semitism' against Jews is nothing short of shocking coming from the man who, of all people, ought to know the difference between Jew-hating and honest political dissent...Coerced unity, like counterfeit money, cannot be the currency of a mature society. It's time to retire the phony rhetoric and face the facts...there has always been passionate disputation in Jewish life, and true to form, right now, Jews are not of one mind about almost anything...Not only are we not united but, barring a genocidal threat, we probably never will be, which is arguably a healthy trait. Instead of trying to ram unity down our throats, Jewish leaders would be wiser to mount a campaign for amity...selling respect for difference, delight in diversity...If only we could all unite around that."  

The Israeli newspaper Ha'aretz reports that, "Thirty-five percent of American Jews are willing to see Jerusalem divided in order to secure a peace agreement between Israel and the Palestinians, according to a survey conducted in January and February on behalf of a joint committee representing five of the largest Jewish organizations in the U.S. Chairing the committee is Malcolm Hoenlein, executive vice chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations....Senior Jewish community leaders in New York said the survey results contradict the official position of the leadership of the Presidents Conference, which asserts that the Jewish community is united in its refusal to consider concessions over Jerusalem." (reprinted in The Forward, March 9, 2001)  

In May, a conference was sponsored in Chicago by a group called Jewish Unity For A Just Peace. Organizers included Joel Beinin, professor of Middle East History at Stanford and a member of the Faculty Advisory Board of the Program in Jewish Studies; Marcia Freedman, who served in the Knesset from 1973 to 1977 and has taught philosophy at Haifa University; Rabbi Rebecca Lillian, a leader of Chicago's Jewish Peace Forum,and Professor Frank Rosenthal of Purdue University.  

The Chicago Tribune (May 6, 2001) reports that, "When violence broke out in Israel last fall, Rabbi Rebecca Lillian held a prayer service in her Rogers Park synagogue and later flew to Israel with a delegation of Jews to show support...So it is unusual that Lillian won't be joining fellow Jews...for Chicago's annual Walk With Israel...Instead, she is opting for what she calls `an alternative way to show solidarity with Israel.' She is attending the first conference of Jewish Unity for a Just Peace, a group that hopes to build support in the Jewish community for Israel's withdrawal from the West Bank, Gaza Strip and East Jerusalem....`If criticism doesn't come from within the family, it will come from without with violence and hate,' Lillian said."  

At the meeting, Arnold Jacob Wolf, rabbi emeritus of Chicago's K.A.M. Isaiah Israel Congregation, said that Israel's occupation of the West Bank "prevents anything like security and anything like peace." Jeff Halper, an anthropology professor at Ben Gurion University and coordinator of the Israeli Committee Against Home Demolitions, said that few Israelis, let alone Americans, know firsthand the reality of life in Palestinian communities, where land is confiscated and homes destroyed. Rela Mazali, a founder of New Profile, a women's movement for the demilitarization of Israel, declared: "Either we end the occupation or it ends us."  

Rabbi Wolf said that many Jews will dismiss such views but that "there is a very large group who are suspicious of Israeli chauvinism...They are afraid to hurt Israel so they keep silent."

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