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President Bush Stirs Controversy by Saying Iraq War Is Good for Israel

Allan C. Brownfeld, Editor
Special Interest Report
January - February 2006

In December, in a major address defending U.S. policy in Iraq and his wider vision for the Middle East, President Bush argued that Israel’s safety depends on democratization in the Arab world.  

“If you’re a supporter of Israel, I would strongly urge you to help other countries become democracies,” the president said. “Israel’s long-term survival depends upon the spread of democracy in the Middle East.”  

According to The Forward (Dec. 16, 2005), “Israeli security officials argued the opposite view at this month’s American- Israeli strategic dialogue, warning that regime change and democratization threatened to destabilize the Middle East. Israel sees its security tied to regimes such as Egypt and Jordan, and fears that democratization could turn those countries against Israel.”  

As the American-Israeli debate quietly heats up, notes The Forward, “The Bush administration’s approach is creating fault lines within the Jewish community ... The Republican Jewish Coalition took out a full page advertisement attacking the Reform synagogue movement over its recent call for the U.S. to develop an exit strategy for the war in Iraq. Neither the Republican Jewish Coalition nor the Reform statement mentioned Israel. But some pro- Israel activists and Israeli observers criticized Bush’s comments, saying they could end up fueling claims that Jerusalem and Jewish groups pushed the U.S. into an unpopular war.”  

Martin Raffel, associate executive director of the Jewish Council of Public Affairs, a public-policy coordinating umbrella group consisting of 13 national organizations and 123 local community-relations councils, said: “American Jews don’t want American soldiers to be dying for Israel. Would Israel benefit from democracy in the Middle East? Yes. But so would Europe and America and the whole international community. So why would the president select supporters of Israel? Supporters of Western civilization would want to see democratization in the Middle East, along with Israel.”  

The Union for Reform Judaism’s resolution adopted at its biennial meeting in November calling for a strategy to end America’s presence in Iraq has resulted in a number of opposing declarations. The Republican Jewish Coalition, in a full-page ad in The New York Times (Dec. 16, 2005) said that it is “misleading and wrong” for the Reform movement to suggest that “American Jews oppose the president on Iraq.”  

Writing in The Wall Street Journal (Dec. 23, 2005), Lawrence F. Kaplan, a senior editor at The New Republic, accused the Union for Reform Judaism of mixing politics and religion in violation of its own position regarding separation of church and state: “The Union, which ‘came to these views based on Jewish teachings on war’ and likens itself to the ‘rabbis of the Talmud,’ has no claim to heightened moral awareness. Not only because it twists the words of those very rabbis (as with any religious text, the Talmud offers ammunition to multiple points of view, invoked to defend everything from Israel’s invasion of Lebanon to the ‘axis of evil’ formulation). And not only because the Union’s intrusion into the public square comes from an organization that claims to be in the midst of an ‘ongoing defense of the wall of separation between church and state.’ No, the real problem is that the Union grounds its arguments squarely in the traditions of secular humanism, and then purposefully conflates them with the traditions of religious Judaism.”  

The Reform union’s president, Rabbi Eric Yoffie, and its chairman of the board, Robert Heller, sent a letter to President Bush: “Respectfully but firmly, Mr. President, we want our leaders to tell us the truth, the whole of it, and there we call on your administration to adopt a policy of transparency. With regard to troop withdrawal, we call not only for a clear exit strategy but also for specific goals for troop withdrawal to commence after the completion of parliamentary elections ...”  

Malcolm Hoenlein, executive vice-chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, said few dispute that a premature pullout would create instability, threatening several U.S. allies, including Israel, and several Arab states. “That is not to say that we went to war because of Israel or we stayed at war because of Israel, but one of the consequences of making the wrong step of leaving Iraq prematurely would be Israel ... I don’t think that there is any division in the Jewish community that I know of on that.”

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