Israel Report

August 2001         

A Call to American Jewry: Rabbis on the Beach

By Saul Singer - August 13, 2001
This column is targeted at a very specific audience: American rabbis on the beach.

You, too, have a right to some peace and quiet before the deluge - the time that everyone else calls "the holidays," but for you is that tiny window of access to the wide swaths of the Jewish community who only gather at this time of year.

On Rosh Hashana, it will be exactly one year since the Palestinians decided to bury Israel's Camp David offer in blood - their own and that of Israelis.

It is the unavoidable topic of discussion, and you will have to decide what to say about it besides an amorphous call for solidarity with Israel in her time of need.

How can I say something more concrete than a plea to turn down a bigger number on the Israel Bonds card, you might ask.

Actually, there is something that American Jewry can do. More important than contributions, more important even than visiting Israel, is to end the Resounding Silence. For the past year, American Jewry is missing the sense of crisis and outrage that drove the Soviet Jewry movement and support for Israel during the wars of the past. Part of this may be because of a slowly eroding connection to Israel, but more fundamentally, the Silence is caused by confusion over what is happening, how to describe it, and the natural role of the United States.

Think back to the Yom Kippur War, when the Arab states launched a surprise attack on Israel. Imagine if the US State Department's response at that time had been: "We call on both sides to exercise restraint. Both sides must understand that there is no military solution and the only choice is to return to the negotiating table." In such a case, the American Jewish community would have been out in the streets demanding that the US support its ally Israel in repulsing a brutal act of aggression.

True, Israel is not being attacked by multiple Arab armies, but this is a difference in quantity, not in kind. The main explanation of the current paralysis is that it has not fully sunk into the minds of American Jewry that Israel is in fact under attack.

The nub of Israel's strategy has been to walk the tightrope between restraint and military action in a way that maximizes the pressure on Palestinian Authority Chairman Yasser Arafat to call off his offensive. The result is a split picture: Israel fighting with one hand tied behind its back and the other offering an olive branch to the Palestinians. Whether sensible or not, the current Israeli stance has helped sow confusion among American Jewry and "evenhandedness" within the US administration.

Yet this is where you can offer your congregants a diplomatic insight: The schizophrenic Israeli policy is both a cause and a symptom of American "evenhandedness." The constant drumbeat of American moral equivalency between terrorism and killing terrorists fuels Palestinian attacks and punishes Israel for defending itself.

On Wednesday, State Department spokesman Richard Boucher had this to say on the day thousands mourned Jordan Valley resident Zohar Shurgi, gunned down in his car by a Palestinian sniper: "We have seen continued violence and bloodshed in the region, including the shooting death of an Israeli earlier today and an Israeli helicopter strike on the West Bank.... Both sides need to recognize that this path leads to disaster. Violence and escalation are a dead-end street that lead nowhere."

This statement is tantamount to equating the Oklahoma City bombing and the execution of Timothy McVeigh - and such statements have been made day after day for months.

This is where your congregants come in. They should be outraged that the United States, far from supporting Israel's right to self-defense, has criticized every single defensive measure Israel has taken - from economic sanctions to attempting to pinpoint the terrorists and their handlers.

The most urgent item on the pro-Israel agenda should be to banish American moral equivalency between terrorism and Israel's fight against it.

Being an "honest broker" during negotiations is one thing, but American "evenhandedness" under fire is costing Israeli lives, and is a total betrayal of America's commitment to Israeli security, particularly in the wake of extreme Israeli willingness to take risks for peace.

The more the US stands with Israel, the more Arafat will get the picture that his "military solution" is blocked. Nothing could be more un-American than being "evenhanded" between terror and its victims. It is time for some outrage, time to hit the streets demanding that the US not only condemn terrorism, but clearly support Israel's right of self-defense.

©2001 - Jerusalem Post

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