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A "Sea Change" In American Jewish Opinion Toward U.S. Middle East Policy Is Found

Allan Brownfeld, Editor
Special Interest Report
November-December 1997

A "sea change" in American Jewish opinion concerning U.S. Middle East policy is now taking place, writes Michael W. Sonnenfeldt in The Christian Science Monitor (Nov. 19, 1997), and a majority now favors "even-handedness" and does not oppose U.S. pressure upon Israel to move forward with the peace process.  

Sonnenfeldt, chair of the Israel Policy Forum, writes: "As an ardent supporter of Israel, I, for one, find any disagreement between U.S. and Israeli governments very painful. Maintaining the special relationship that Israel has with the U.S. is important to me. At the same time, American prodding of both Israel and the Palestinian Authority (PA) — which must do more to fight terror and bears major responsibility for the current impasse — is the only way to foster the mutual compromises needed to stop more bloodshed. I support it. And a new poll shows that, contrary to conventional wisdom, the vast majority of American Jews do. A survey . . . commissioned by Israel Policy Forum, shows that 84 percent agree that the U.S. should ‘apply pressure’ on both Mr. Netanyahu and Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat to get the peace process moving . . ."  

These results, Sonnenfeldt declares, "directly contradict the message conveyed to the Clinton administration and Congress by some American Jews, who continue to warn that most of us do not want the U.S. to be evenhanded. Many in Congress routinely embrace resolutions that echo the views of hard-liners, such as recent calls for cutting back U.S. aid to the PA (a move that 6 out of 10 American Jews believe will lead to increased terrorism). To its credit, the administration has listened to an increasing number of Jewish community leaders who say, for Israel’s sake, the time has come for a new U.S. approach to the Arab-Israeli conflict."  

Whatever precise policy path is taken, Sonnenfeldt argues that "one thing is beyond dispute: the U.S. has the leeway from American Jews to praise, blame, cajole, criticize and even make explicit suggestions to both Israel and the PA about ‘final status’ issues . . . A sea change has taken place in the American Jewish community. America’s Middle East policy has begun to change along with it. But it must transform itself even more to stave off a looming catastrophe . . ."  

Discussing President Clinton’s refusal to invite Benjamin Netanyahu to the White House during the prime minister’s U.S. visit in November, Douglas Bloomfield, writing in The Washington Jewish Week (Nov. 20, 1997) makes this point: "The most remarkable thing . . . was the uncharacteristic silence of American Jewry. In fact, the community has given the tacit approval for the cold shoulder to a politician who was once its darling — another sign of how far Netanyahu’s political fortunes have plunged . . . Most American Jews are siding with President Clinton. There is no doubt this politically sensitive president . . . would not be snubbing a prime minister of Israel unless he felt confident the Jewish community was on his side, and he had evidence to support that."  

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