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While Jewish Groups Embraced Israel’s Role in Lebanon, American Jewish Opinion Is More Sharply Divided

Allan C. Brownfeld, Editor
Special Interest Report
September - October 2006

Israel’s role in Lebanon was embraced without any apparent reservations by most major American Jewish organizations. The New York Times (July 28, 2006) reported that, “With Israel at war again, American Jewish groups immediately swung into action, sending lobbyists to Washington, solidarity delegations to Jerusalem and millions of dollars for ambulances and trauma counseling.”  
Rabbi Steve Gutow, executive director of the Jewish Council for Public Affairs, an umbrella group for 125 local councils and 13 national groups, said: “The world in which I live is filled with people who are deeply connected to Israel. For almost everyone I know, there’s no distance.”  
William Daroff, vice president of public policy for United Jewish Communities, which represents 155 Jewish federations around the U.S., helped organize a lobbying campaign in Washington expressing their thanks to officials in the White House, the State Department and Capitol Hill for their support of Israel.  
According to The Forward (July 21, 2006), “Bucking calls in the international community for a cease-fire in the Middle East, Jewish organizations launched a major lobbying offensive in the nation’s capital ... to give Israel more time to deal a decisive blow to Islamic militants in Lebanon and Gaza ...”  
Malcolm Hoenlein, executive vice president of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, declared that, “This is a unique moment of broad consensus in the community in support of Israel’s right to defend itself and to take the measures necessary to stop the reign of terror.”  
Beneath the surface of Jewish unity with regard to Israel’s Lebanon campaign, there was widespread dissent and expressions of concern for what many believe to be Israel’s disproportionate use of force against civilians.  
A full page ad with the headline, “Stop The Slaughter in Lebanon, Israel and the Occupied Territories” (New York Times, July 31, 2006) was sponsored by the bimonthly Jewish magazine Tikkun. Among those signing this ad were Rabbis Michael Feinberg, Mordechai Liebling, David Schneyer, and Arthur Waskow. It declared, in part: “We demand that the Israeli government immediately halt its attacks on Lebanon. We join with the Israeli peace movement and the thousands of Israelis who demonstrated against this war in Tel Aviv on July 23, 2006 in their insistence that these attacks are utterly disproportionate to the initial provocation by Hezbollah, have killed innumerable innocent civilians, displaced half a million people, destroyed billions of dollars of Lebanon’s infrastructure and will not, in the long run, secure peace or security for Israel. We also call upon the Israeli government to supply food, electricity, water and funds to repair the humanitarian crisis caused by its invasion of Gaza.”  
Tikkun also demanded that “Hezbollah and Hamas immediately stop shelling or otherwise engaging in violence against Israel” and urged “Israel not only to return to its 1967 borders (with minor modifications mutually agreed upon including a sharing of Jerusalem and its holy sites) but to do so in a spirit of generosity and caring for the other before it is forced to return to those borders by the international community and before thousands more young Israelis and Palestinians die in these senseless wars that will otherwise continue in the coming years.”  
In a column entitled “Was There Really No Other Way?,” Leonard Fein, a respected voice in Reform Judaism, writes in The Forward (Aug. 11, 2006): “After all the justifications for the war are recited, and all the anguish over casualties in Israel, after all the talk of how Hezbollah uses human shields and how genuinely anti-Semitic Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah is ... the queasiness remains ... There’s Lebanon, and too many ‘mistakes,’ too many dead children. Quite incredibly, a popular (American born) Israeli author wrote — after it had become well-known that very many of the war-dead in Lebanon were children — that she had no tears for them. ‘Save your sympathy,’ Naomi Ragan writes in Ha’aretz, ‘for the mothers and sisters and girlfriends of our young soldiers who would rather be sitting in study halls learning Torah ... Make your choice, and save your tears.’ I prefer to believe, that we do not ration our tears, that whoever bears ultimate responsibility for the death of innocents, we are not indifferent to the anguish of bereaved parents or of new orphans. I prefer to believe, and to embrace those who see the television reports of the rubble and remains and shudder — and, yes, even cry. And I know that the Torah the young Israeli soldiers are learning teaches that the lives of others, too, are precious.”  
Kenneth Roth, executive director of Human Rights Watch wrote in The Forward (Aug. 4, 2006) responding to frequent declarations that the Israeli military exercises great care to avoid harming Lebanese civilians: “Not always. Human Rights Watch investigators in Lebanon have recorded an appalling number of incidents in which civilians and civilian objects were hit with no apparent military justification: 12 civilians, including nine children, killed in Dweir; at least 16 civilians, including nine children, killed while fleeing Marwahin; nine civilians, including four children, killed in Beflay; as many as 42 civilians, including many children, killed in Srifa; some 60% of nine square blocks of southern Beirut, composed mostly of eight-to-10 story apartment buildings, destroyed; and now the tragedy of civilians, many of them children, killed in Qana. This list goes on. With hundreds of Lebanese civilians killed ... Israel clearly isn’t doing enough to avoid such loss of life. ... The many civilian victims of Israeli bombing have been a political boon to Hezbollah, cementing loyalty among its followers. Is Israel really better off fighting the war with such reckless disregard for the fate of civilians?”  
Roth was the subject of harsh criticism for this article and for Human Rights Watch reports. Rabbi Avi Shafran of Agudath Israel called him “loathsome.” Rabbi Aryeh Spero in Human Events Online referred to Roth as a “human rights imposter” and likened him to “Nazis and Communists.” The Jerusalem Post published an article entitled “Ken Roth’s Blood Libel.” Abe Foxman of the Anti-Defamation League accused Human Rights Watch of “immorality at the highest level.”  
Responding to such critics, Kathleen Peratis, a lawyer in New York and a member of the board of Human Rights Watch and a regular columnist for The Forward, wrote an article in The Washington Post (August 30, 2006) entitled: “Diversionary Strike On A Rights Group.”  
Peratis declared: “The critics of reports on this subject — Amnesty International made similar charges — have been ferocious. They have not only deployed the common defense of accusing the accusers of getting the facts wrong. They have gone much further and accused the accusers of bad intent ... It simply will not do to ‘rebut’ a detailed report such as the group produced by accusing Human Rights Watch, or its executive director, whose father fled Nazi Germany, of anti-Semitism (or other bad motives) and let it go at that, indeed, the critics barely mention, much less discuss, the 24 incidents described in the report. ... At least some of the report’s critics seem to believe that Israel should be exempted from the rules of war. ... I don’t think Foxman and NGO Monitor and others who want selective exemption of Israel from the rules of war have faced the implications of getting what they wish for, such as: Who will decide when the law can be ignored? And: if the law is mowed down, where will we find refuge when the devil turns on us ... Israel’s strength lies not only in its might but in its moral principle, which it should not abandon, even in time of war.”  
Tikkun’s Rabbi Michael Lerner lamented the narrowness of the concerns of the organized Jewish community: “This is a time for the Jewish community of the United States to signal a new open-heartedness toward those who’ve been our adversaries if we want to break through the cycle of violence. so we should be raising funds for Israel as well as for Lebanon, as well as for Gaza, as well as for the West Bank. Donations to the federation at this point are simply a ‘yes’ vote to continued Israeli militarism and a ‘no’ vote to the Israeli peace movement that is calling for ... a negotiated settlement of all the issues that have led to war in the past 60 years.”

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