Monday, September 26, 2005

American Jews and Gaza

THE SILENCE AND WORSE OF AMERICAN JEWS

Rael Jean Isaac


Ariel Sharon’s morally indefensible and strategically suicidal policy has been implemented, uprooting long-established prosperous communities, creating deep fissures in Israeli society and giving enormous impetus to Arab terror groups, which rightly see this retreat as their victory.

At the very least, as
Michael Freund has pointed out in The Jerusalem Post, one would have expected a furious debate among American Jews. After all, even Israel’s far-left Avraham Burg, former speaker of the Knesset, declared “this is not a genuine plan, because it was a momentary caprice of the prime minister” and “the process by which the plan was approved smashed to smithereens what little remained of Israel’s political culture…the prime minister gave the boot to every political convention…the disrespect shown by the prime minister and his associates for resolutions passed by his own party – their contempt and utter disregard—destroyed the basic concept of political life.” Surely these are issues sufficiently profound to engage American Jewry. Yet the reaction of organized American Jewry and the overwhelming number of Jewish opinion leaders has been silence or worse yet, active endorsement of Sharon’s bulldozers.

First to the few honorable exceptions. Americans for a Safe Israel, the Zionist Organization of America, Chabad Lubavich and a few small ad hoc groups that sprang up to support Gush Katif vigorously denounced the evictions, Sharon’s betrayal of his supporters and the undemocratic process by which he railroaded through his cruel and arbitrary decision to destroy the very communities that he had repeatedly said were strategically vital to Israel’s future. Among American Jewish newspapers, The Jewish Press and the Jewish Advocate have been vocal in denouncing
Sharon’s actions. Washington based MEMRI [Middle East Media Research Institute] provided a steady drumbeat of warning by translating Arab media and pronouncements of the various terror groups, which described the approaching destruction of the Gaza and Samaria settlements as their victory and promised much more terror to come, with the announced goal of soon eliminating Israel from the planet.

But otherwise? An indifferent silence, acceptance (at best reluctant, i.e. it’s too bad for the people who lose their homes, but it had to be done), or whole-hearted approval. The Anti-Defamation League took out full page ads fawning over
Sharon’s supposed “vision and courage,” lauding “the risks you are willing to take at this crucial time.” In California, even as the terrible process of uprooting and destruction began, the Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles and the Board of Rabbis of Southern California ran ads in support of “disengagement.” James Tisch, then chairman of the largest American Jewish umbrella organization, the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, announced “We unequivocally support disengagement.”

Freund rightly finds the silence of the Orthodox leadership most perplexing and disturbing, for as he notes, their constituency “has perhaps the strongest ties of any group to the Jews of Gush Katif.” But for all their outspoken stands on a range of issues, Orthodox leaders preferred to sidestep the expulsion of Jewish communities from Gaza and northern Samaria. Writes Freund: “And so, in recent months, the Orthodox Rabbinical Council of America (RCA) chose to release just one statement regarding the withdrawal, the same number of statements that were released on issues such as downloading material from the Internet and utilizing gambling as a fundraising tool in the Jewish community.” But while the RCA at least took a stand against gambling, its single statement on destroying the Gush Katif communities did no such thing: all it said was that “if an evacuation occurs, it should be done with the greatest sensitivity and honor.” The Orthodox Union (OU), the voice of Orthodox Jews in the U.S. and Canada, did little better: while it voiced disapproval of the Sharon government’s “indifference to civil liberties,” it refused to condemn the expulsion itself, citing a “diversity of views” within the membership.

The silence of the large Jewish “liberal” left comes as no surprise, even though many of the issues raised by both the policy itself and the
Sharon government’s methods should, in theory, have mobilized this community. Was not the destruction of communities of Jews because they were Jews an example of much excoriated “ethnic cleansing?” If Israel had uprooted thousands of law-abiding Arabs from communities within Israel, would the American Jewish liberal community have been silent? And what about the singling out of religious Jews, who were pulled off city buses simply because they wore kippot and therefore were more likely than others on the bus to be planning to join some demonstration? How does this differ from much-denounced “profiling?” And what about the young children illegally detained to assert pressures on their parents? What about the Sharon government’s undermining of democratic norms that even someone like Burg finds shocking? Predictably, since the victims were Jews, the policy surrender, and the beneficiaries Arab enemies, Jewish American liberals found nothing to criticize.

To this writer, what has been most astonishing – and painful – has been the acquiescence of the Jewish intellectual right, those who should have been counted upon irrefutably to reveal the perils of
Sharon’s policy both for Israel’s survival and the West’s battle with Islamic terrorism. With the honorable exception of a very few, of whom Daniel Pipes is the best known, the record is dismal. Intellectuals who assailed the Oslo accords when the American Jewish leadership flocked to the White House lawn to celebrate the infamous handshake between Rabin and Arafat have lost their critical faculties.

The level of argument in Commentary Magazine, earlier a forum for the most cogent policy analysis, has become embarrassing. In an article resembling the old Norman Podhoretz only by its length, the “new” Podhoretz announces
Sharon’s policy has his support. Why? Because it has the support of President George Bush and he “trusts” George Bush. That’s all, folks! Nor has Commentary opened its pages to a genuine debate, permitting others to lay out the evils of “disengagement.” Rather we are saddled with the perennially addled Hillel Halkin.

Emotional investment in this president -- and commitment to the war in
Iraq as its troubled course leaves him increasingly embattled -- seems to be the underlying reason for the otherwise inexplicable failure to analyze the transparent flaws of Sharon’s policy. How else explain the tortured mental processes of the normally incisive Charles Krauthammer? He embraces the surrender of Gaza on the grounds that it is part of Sharon’s broader strategy of constructing “a fence” to wall off terror and will permit Sharon to say this is “the end of the concession road for Israel.” The absurdity of the terror-ending-fence overwhelms Krauthammer even as he writes and he concedes that fences don’t stop the rockets which Palestinians have been steadily firing from Gaza into towns within what he calls “Israel proper,” i.e. Israel in the armistice lines of 1949. Krauthammer’s answer is for Israel to fire automatically five rockets for every rocket launched at it. Two at the launch sites and three at assets of the militias.

And when a rocket aimed at
Israel falls harmlessly and the five Israel launches inadvertently kill women and children? What will be the world’s response? As for Israel standing pat, waiting for a transformation of Palestinian Arabs, before the destruction of the Gaza communities was even done, Secretary of State Rice was announcing this was merely the beginning of territorial concessions that must now be stepped up. As for President Bush, his comment on the Gaza evictions at his August 14 news conference suggested he had stepped through the looking glass to join Shimon Peres: “I can understand why people think this decision is one that will create a vacuum into which terrorism will flow. I happen to disagree. I think this will create an opportunity for democracy to emerge. And democracies are peaceful.”

People like Podhoretz and Krauthammer have an importance transcending their impact on their own readers for they serve as touchstones for conservative non-Jewish opinion makers who wish Israel well. If people like columnists Rich Lowry (who edits The National Review) and Emmett Tyrrell, who also edits American Spectator, were not intimidated by those whom they view as possessing the highest credentials when it comes to Israel, they would surely educate their own influential readership concerning the folly of Sharon’s government both in imperiling the future of Israel and in paving the way for a terrorist “Hamastan” or “Hezbollahstan.” To be sure there are Christian supporters of Israel who refused to be blindsided, evangelicals like Cal Thomas (his blunt article was called “The End of Israel?” and Joseph Farah, and others like radio host John Batchelor (who actually went to Gush Katif), the always clear-seeing Frank Gaffney, blogger Jack Wheeler, Sean Hannity and Washington Times editor Wes Pruden.

Even those few Jewish newspapers with intelligent, normally sober editors-–like The Jewish Exponent in
Philadelphia and the Connecticut Jewish Ledger--refused to criticize Sharon’s shameless betrayal of his commitments both to the public which elected him and to the Gaza communities he had so long supported. The New York Sun, edited by Seth Lipsky (who purports to be a disciple of Jabotinsky!) was equally disappointing. Thus an August 5 editorial forcibly outlined the consequences of an American retreat in Iraq, quoting Bin Laden’s 1996 fatwa in which he spoke of Somalia and Lebanon and of Americans who “left the area carrying disappointment, humiliation, defeat and your dead with you.”

Exactly a week later its editorial on
Israel’s surrender of the Gaza and northern Samaria communities was a wishy washy endorsement arguing it was a retreat “a Jewish democracy has decided…needs to be made.” Yet, as celebrating Hamas terrorists joyfully emphasized, Israel was carrying “disappointment, humiliation, defeat” and yes, the exhumed bodies of those who died there. The Sun’s confused editorial page failed to see the blatant contradiction in its warnings against a terror victory in Iraq and its endorsement of that same victory in Israel. The Sun, for all its merits in many areas, has been a disappointment on Israel, where it has not been the bracing antidote to the New York Times many had hoped it would be. Instead of offering columns by clear thinking Israeli writers like Carolyn Glick, Evelyn Gordon, Sarah Honig or Naomi Ragen, The Sun is the platform for Hillel Halkin, an endless fount of rationalizations for Israeli retreats.

Most disappointing of all is Mortimer Zuckerman, former head of the Conference of Presidents, who actually sharply criticized the “disengagement” in his U.S. News and World Report. Incredibly, he followed this up by raising $14 million in 48 hours via phone calls to his old boy network of fellow Jewish billionaires to buy the
Gaza greenhouses, in order to donate them to the Palestinian Authority (this at the request of current White House Middle East envoy James D. Wolfensohn). The PA is awash in money (most recently $3 billion from the Europeans, propelled by British Prime Minister Tony Blair) but specifically refused to buy the greenhouses on the grounds it wanted no money to go to Jews.

Jews have become refugees in the Jewish homeland. They have lost their homes, their synagogues, their livelihoods. Families of ten have been put up by the Israeli government in single hotel rooms. Some, desperate, highlighted their plight by setting up a tent city along the highway to Tel Aviv. Yet as AFSI’s
Ruth King observes: “What do these numbskulled Jewish philanthropists do instead of helping Jews? This is so sickening it is beyond reprehensible. It is the bottom in Jewish dhimmitude.”

With such “leadership,” and the well-nigh total absence of debate, it is little wonder that the average Jew babbles absurdities. Patrons of a kosher deli in White Plains, New York, asked by a local Jewish paper for their views on “disengagement” came up with infantile responses including “It’s definitely a step toward peace,” “if their [the settlers’] misfortune can bring peace then it’s a small sacrifice,” “eventually disengagement will work.”

Soon the blinders will be off, much more quickly, indeed, than the recovery from the
Oslo delusion. The terrible consequences of “disengagement” will be obvious as the front lines move forward to population centers within the old green line, world pressures for more destruction of thriving Jewish communities intensify, the fissures within Israeli society deepen, terrorism grows in every part of the Land of Israel and the threat from the entire Arab world becomes yet more serious.

When the history of this period is written, the current paralysis of American Jews, left and right, will be a source of incredulity -- and deepest shame.

Rael Jean Isaac is editor of Outpost, a publication of Americans For a Safe Israel/AFSI, and author of Israel Divided and Party and Politics in Israel

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