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American Jews Are Rethinking Their Relationship with Israel

Allan C. Brownfeld, Editor
Special Interest Report
Year End 2009

“This year has seen a dramatic shift in American Jews’ attitudes toward Israel,” write Adam Horowitz and Philip Weiss in The Nation (Nov. 2, 2009): “In January many liberal Jews were shocked by the Gaza war, in which Israel used overwhelming force against a mostly defenseless civilian population unable to flee. Then came the rise to power of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman, whose explicitly anti-Arab platform was at odds with an American Jewish electorate that had just voted 4 to 1 for a minority president. Throw in angry Israelis writing about the ‘rot in the Diaspora,’ and it’s little wonder young American Jews feel increasingly indifferent about a country that has been at the center of Jewish identity for four decades.”  
M.J. Rosenberg, a longtime Washington analyst who reports for Media Matters Action Network, called Gaza “the worst public relations disaster in Israel’s history.” New York Times columnist Roger Cohen said he was “shamed” by Israel’s actions, while Michelle Goldberg wrote in the Guardian that Israel’s killing of hundreds of civilians as reprisal for rocket attacks was “brutal” and probably “futile.”  
Rabbi Brant Rosen of Evanston, Illinois, says that for years he’d had an “equivocating voice” in his head that rationalized Israel’s actions. “During the first and second intifadas and the war in Lebanon, I would say, ‘It’s complicated.’ Of course, Darfur is complicated, but that doesn’t stop the Jewish community from speaking out. There’s nothing complicated about oppression. When I read the reports on Gaza, I didn’t have the equivocating voice anymore.”  
Rabbi Rosen has initiated an effort called Ta’anit Tzedek, or the Jewish Fast for Gaza. Each month over 70 rabbis across the country along with interfaith leaders and concerned individuals partake in a daylong fast in order “to end the Jewish community’s silence over Israel’s collective punishment in Gaza.”  
The Oakland-based Jewish Voice for Peace (JVP) has seen its mailing list double, to 90,000, with up to 6,000 signing on each month. Jewish youth have played a key role. Horowitz and Weiss report: “A group of young bloggers, notably Ezra Klein, Matt Yglesias, Spencer Akerman and Dana Goldstein have criticized Israel to the point that Marty Peretz of The New Republic felt a need to smear them during the Gaza fighting, saying ‘I pity them their hatred of their inheritance.’”  
In the view of Horowitz and Weiss, “There are signs Washington is feeling the changes. Several mem-bers of Congress visited Gaza, and some dared to criticize Israel. After Democrats Brian Baird, Keith Ellison and Rush Holt returned, they had a press conference on Capitol Hill led by Daniel Levy ... who has played a key role in the emergence of J Street. The Congressmen called for Israel to lift the blockade. After first-term Rep. Donna Edwards (D-MD) visited Gaza and called for a vigorous debate about the conflict there, old-line lobbyists came out against her. But J Street rallied to her side, raising $30,000 for her in a show of support.”  
Horowitz and Weiss conclude that, “The changes are taking place at the grassroots; by and large Jewish leaders are standing fast.”

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© 2010 The American Council For Judaism.