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Jewish World Review Oct. 23, 2000 / 24 Tishrei, 5761

Jonathan Tobin

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American Jews must not let Israel be isolated -- DO AMERICAN JEWS care about Israel? Can they community unite to give the world an unambiguous message that American Jewry backs the State of Israel in its hour of need?

These are questions that once were easily dismissed as American Jews did everything in their power to help the Jewish state in its moments of greatest need during the wars of 1948, 1956, 1967 and 1973.

But whether American Jews are ready or not, Israel needs them again. Despite herculean efforts to reach out to its enemies and unprecedented concessions at the peace table, once again Israel is under attack. That means it is up to American Jewry to make it plain to the government of the United States, the national media and to the people of Israel that we stand united with them in this crisis.

Why do we need to stand up for Israel now?

The reason is that more was laid to rest than two battered and mutilated bodies when Israel buried two of its citizen soldiers who were brutally lynched in cold blood last week by a Palestinian Arab mob. Along with them went illusions about the viability of the peace process begun in Oslo, as well as belief that the Palestinian Authority and its leader Yasser Arafat were a true peace partner.

Two weeks of sustained and well-planned attacks on Israeli soldiers and civilians by rock and Molotov-cocktail-throwing Palestinian demonstrators, accompanied by armed Palestinian “police” and Fatah Party Tanzim activists, have taken a fearful toll on Israel’s image and its confidence in a future of peace. The mess has also taken a terrible toll in the form of Jewish and Palestinians lives lost — many of the latter being youngsters deliberately placed in the line of fire by Arafat so as to create a public-relations disaster for Israel.

In addition, Jewish holy places were desecrated and destroyed in Nablus and Jericho, and forests inside of Israel were torched by politically inspired arsonists. On top of that, the P.A. released every Hamas terrorist suspect it had previously arrested. This was a “green light” from Arafat for Hamas to resume its terror bombings against Israel.

As with the sea-change going on in Israel as doves and leftists re-evaluate their beliefs, many American Jewish leaders are similarly questioning whether seven years of blind faith in the shaky logic of the Oslo process was justified.

Describing recent events at a pro-Israel rally in Philadelphia last week, Joseph Smukler, chairman of the Board of Trustees of the Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia, spoke for most American Jews when he said “we have been betrayed” by Arafat. Smukler was also right on target when he branded Arafat a “war criminal” for his despicable tactic of sending children to die to benefit a cynical negotiating strategy.

Although Arafat was finally forced to grudgingly call for an end to the bombing following this week’s emergency summit at Sharm el-Sheikh, the damage to his credibility is already done. Unfortunately, Arafat had already reaped a victory even before the summit as Europe, the Third World countries and much of the international media has seemingly reverted to their pre-Oslo attitudes toward Israel, further isolating and delegitimizing the Jewish state.

Even worse, Israel’s only ally, the United States, has embraced the role of “broker” in the peace talks so fervently that it is unwilling to speak the truth about recent events. Instead, the Clinton administration prefers to stick to an “even-handed” policy that treats the peace polices of Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak and the war policies of Arafat as morally equivalent. Israel’s role as America’s strategic ally has been pushed aside as the drive for a peace agreement at any price takes precedence.

Though we are told that it is time to leave aside the question of which side was right in the progression of the conflict and to forget history, we cannot. Israel is in the right, and we must be neither ashamed nor slow in pointing this out whenever we can.

The lies about Ariel Sharon being the cause of the riots — and not the planning of Arafat — must be refuted.

The disparity of casualties between Israelis and Palestinians must be explained. Israeli soldiers are simply refusing to be stoned, fire-bombed and used for rifle target process by the Palestinians without defending themselves. Do we expect them to allow themselves to be murdered as mobs of Palestinians storm Israeli outposts (which are almost all located far away from places where Palestinians actually live) just to equalize the figures?

Are American Jews capable of mobilizing our political and economic resources to help Israel at this time? The answer is uncertain.

In recent years, many observers have detected a decline in American Jewish interest in Israel as the old secular paradigm of basing Jewish identity on remembrance of the Holocaust and support for Israel was rightly seen as failing. At the same time, those Jews who do care about Israel were increasingly divided by their differences on the peace process as the bitterness of Israeli partisan politics took root among American Jews.

The result was a growing feeling both here and in Israel that the wall-to-wall support across the Jewish spectrum was no longer possible. Too many American Jews were either apathetic to Israel or actively hostile to its policies for the old unity to be rekindled.

But given the stakes involved in the current crisis, it is imperative that those of us who know the truth speak up and make ourselves heard. The partisan, organizational and denominational bickering that divides American Jewry must be forgotten.

It doesn’t matter whether you approve of Barak or Likud Party leader Ariel Sharon, or whether you think the current Israeli government has given too much to the Palestinians or not enough.

After the last month, there are no more Jewish left- or right-wing views of Israel, only those who stand with Israel and those who stand aside while it is attacked. Our leaders, our organizations and each of us as individuals must recognize that in a time of crisis, the political and religious issues that divide us are not as important as those that unite us.

It’s time for American Jewry to close ranks behind the people of Israel. We must tell America’s political leaders, candidates and their parties that we still consider their unqualified support for the security of Israel and the unity of Jerusalem to be our top priority.

We must tell America’s media outlets that we will not let them get away with biased, distorted or false reports of news from the Middle East.

Most of all, we must tell the people of Israel that we will not be silent while Jewish blood is shed and holy places are desecrated.

JWR contributor Jonathan S. Tobin is executive editor of the Philadelphia Jewish Exponent. He was the recipient of the American Jewish Press Association's highest awards in two categories: First Place in the Louis Rapoport Award for Excellence in Commentary and Editorial Writing for his column "Israel's China Syndrome -- and Ours" and First Place for Excellence in Arts and Criticism for his column "Jewish Art, Jewish Artists." The awards were given to Mr. Tobin at the AJPA's 2000 Simon Rockower Awards dinner at Washington D.C. on June 22, 2000. Let him know what you think by clicking here.

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