American Jewish Opinion Divided over Israel's Role in Lebanon

By Brownfeld, Allan C. | Washington Report on Middle East Affairs, November 2006 | Go to article overview

American Jewish Opinion Divided over Israel's Role in Lebanon


Brownfeld, Allan C., Washington Report on Middle East Affairs


Israel's role in Lebanon was embraced without any apparent reservations by most major American Jewish organizations. On July 28, 2006 The New York Times 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."

Observed Rabbi Steve Gutow, executive director of the Jewish Council for Public Affairs, an umbrella group for 125 local councils and 13 national groups: "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 Congress for their support of Israel.

According to the July 21, 2006 Forward: "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 Islamist militants in Lebanon and Gaza...In an effort to head off calls in Washington for a quick cease-fire, some officials with Jewish groups have spent the past few days urging policymakers to make sure that Israel is given ample time and freedom of action to inflict as much damage as possible on Hezbollah's infrastructure in southern Lebanon."

Malcolm Hoenlein, executive vice president of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, declared, "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, however, the reality of widespread dissent and of concern for what many believe to be Israel's disproportionate use of force against civilians slowly became clear. Even as Israel was bombing its northern neighbor, dissenting voices expressed concern about mounting civilian casualties and attacks upon Lebanon's infrastructure which seemed to have little to do with defending Israel against Hezbollah.

Tikkun, a widely read bi-monthly Jewish magazine, sponsored a full-page ad in the July 31, 2006 New York Times headlined, "Stop The Slaughter in Lebanon, Israel and the Occupied Territories." It declared, in part: "We demand that the Israeli government immediately halt its attacks on Lebanon....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." Among those signing the ad were Rabbis Michael Feinberg, Mordechai liebling, David Schneyer and Arthur Waskow.

Editorialized the July 19, 2006 National Jewish Post and Opinion: "Israel now is dealing death and making life miserable for innocents in Gaza and Lebanon, all ostensibly to retrieve a few Israeli soldiers captured-presumably not yet slain-by Hamas and Hezbollah terrorists....Simple arithmetic says the killing of scores of civilians and endangering thousands more does not equate with the loss of a few soldiers to terrorist captors."

Scores of Civilians for a Few Soldiers

Responding to the frequent declaration that the Israeli military exercises great care to avoid harming Lebanese civilians, Kenneth Roth, executive director of Human Rights Watch, wrote in the Aug. 4, 2006 Forward: "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 chil- ; dren, killed in Beflay; as many as 42 civilians, including many children, killed in Srifa; some 60 percent 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. …

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