An American's Move in Jerusalem Strains Relations between Jews Furor over Decision to Put Settlers in Arab Part of City Shows Gap between Israelis and the Diaspora

By Ilene R. Prusher, Monitor | The Christian Science Monitor, September 22, 1997 | Go to article overview

An American's Move in Jerusalem Strains Relations between Jews Furor over Decision to Put Settlers in Arab Part of City Shows Gap between Israelis and the Diaspora


Ilene R. Prusher, Monitor, The Christian Science Monitor


When a group of ultranationalist Jews moved into an all-Arab neighborhood of East Jerusalem last week, enraging Palestinians, Israelis were divided in typical dove-versus-hawk fashion over whether the settlers should be allowed to stay.

But what they weren't divided about was their aversion to the idea that a Jew who is not an Israeli citizen could wield such influence on their side of the equation in the Middle East peace process. Jewish-American millionaire Irving Moskowitz, a patron of Israeli far right-wing causes - such as buying up Arab properties in parts of Jerusalem that Palestinians see as their future capital - was responsible for bankrolling the move of settlers into East Jerusalem's Ras al-Amud.

At a time when it doesn't take much to rock the teetering peace process, many Israelis were furious that a Miami-based financier saw fit to interfere with Jerusalem's map for the future. Mr. Moskowitz helped finance the move of 11 Jewish settlers into an 11,000-member Arab district to prevent it from being turned over to Palestinian rule in a final peace settlement. "It violates the most basic principles of the social contract," says Amotz Asa-El, a political commentator and columnist at the Jerusalem Post. "It goes far beyond whether we think the state of {Palestinian} territories should be this or that. It's inconceivable that someone who's not a citizen can dictate what will happen in terms of the larger scheme." The controversy highlights the underlying tensions in the relationship between Israel and the Jewish Diaspora, especially - but not limited to - Americans. And, somewhat resonant of the recent focus on alleged foreign influence peddling at the White House, this melee could lead to stricter controls of donations from abroad. American Jew's Land Buys Touch Off a Prickly Debate Resentment toward Moskowitz was palpable at the scene of the homes last week where Israeli protesters shouted "Moskowitz go home" and compared the Ateret Cohanim organization he funds to Hamas, the radical Palestinian group. "He should go back to America - we don't want him to come here and dig our graves for us," says Yossi Gazit, an official in the left-wing Meretz party. "He would be much better if he would not disturb us, and leave it to we who live here and have to deal with this issue." Mixed feelings about 'distant cousins' At the roots of such sentiments are the strained relations between Israel and Jews who support the state from afar. Early Zionists once hoped that all Jews would come to live in Israel once the state was founded. That ideology has given way to the realization that most Jews living in the West do not want to immigrate to Israel. But some Israelis still have mixed feelings about their distant cousins who are only interested in visiting the Jewish state, if that. Even the emphasis on giving political and financial support to Israel has waned. Expressing the Israeli view that Jews who do not take citizenship here should not meddle in political affairs of the Jewish state, the late Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin shocked the AIPAC, the American-Israel Public Affair Committee, when he scolded it a few years ago for trying to conduct Israel's foreign policy on Capitol Hill. …

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