TOP STORY: TERROR IN ISRAEL: U.S. Jews harden their stand in wake of bombings

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c. 1996 Religion News Service

WASHINGTON (RNS)-The recent wave of Palestinian suicide bombings in Israel has considerably hardened American Jewish attitudes toward the Middle East peace process.

Frustration has replaced optimism, and anger has replaced whatever sympathy there was for Palestinian concerns.

American Jewish leaders said Israel should retaliate against Hamas terrorists, even if that means putting the peace process further at risk and giving the militants an excuse for sending more human bombs into downtown Tel Aviv and Jerusalem.

“There’s a qualitatively different attitude prevailing today compared to what was felt prior to these attacks,” said Sidney Clearfield, executive vice president of B’nai B’rith International, a Washington-based agency that aids Jews worldwide.

“There’s far more questioning of the entire peace process now and the wisdom of its continuation.”

Just two weeks ago, a survey found a significant jump in American Jewish support for the peace process in the period following last November’s assassination of Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin. Seventy-nine percent of those polled said they supported the process, an 11 percent increase over September 1995.

David Singer, research director for the American Jewish Committee, the agency that conducted the survey, said this week that support can now be assumed to have nosedived.

“There’s a very strong parallelism between American Jewish attitudes and events on the ground in Israel. The events this week have not been good,” he said.

Land for peace has always been the quid pro quo of the Israeli-Palestinian peace process. Israeli and American-Jewish supporters assumed that relinquishing territory-including land that both right-wing and left-wing Israeli governments have at one time or another called essential to the Jewish state’s continued survival-would end Palestinian attacks.

But rather than experiencing a greater sense of security, Israelis today say they feel as insecure as they have ever felt in their country’s nearly 50-year history.

“Everyone is angry and upset and feeling terribly vulnerable,” American-born Elana Rozenman, who moved from Los Angeles to Jerusalem, said in an e-mail letter to friends and relatives in the United States.

“(The bombings) strip away all our illusions of security and safety and reveal how helpless we are to protect ourselves against such irrational and senseless mania.”

It is this heightened threat to the daily security of Israeli Jews that is turning American Jewish supporters of the peace process against further dealings with Yasser Arafat, said Rabbi Ammiel Hirsch, director of the Association of Reform Zionists, the Israel branch of Reform Judaism.

“The presumption that drove the peace process has broken down. Clearly, the negotiations cannot continue as usual,” he said.

The statements of centrist Jewish groups-strong backers of the peace process through all its earlier ups and downs-issued immediately after the latest attacks this week underscored this hardened attitude.

Missing were calls for Israeli restraint and a redoubled commitment to the peace process that have characterized their statements after earlier terrorist attacks.

The comments this week were decidedly more strident. Groups that previously expressed understanding of Arafat’s political problems and the concerns of average Palestinians this time stressed the immediate security of Israelis to the exclusion of all else.

“In a war, all that matters is winning,” said Hirsch. “All other matters take a back seat until a successful conclusion of that war occurs.”

David A. Harris, executive director of the American Jewish Committee, speaking Monday (March 4) at a memorial service for the bomb victims held at his agency’s New York offices, said:

“Israel is now at war with Hamas. And we … steadfastly support Israel in doing whatever it considers necessary to root out and eliminate this cancer in its midst.”

Only a small percentage of American Jews have relatives or friends living in Israel, and repeated surveys of the 5.8 million-member community have shown that close identification with Israel is waning, particularly among younger Jews.

But seriously threaten Israel, and American Jews’ sense of shared destiny with Israeli Jews comes to the fore.

The Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations took note of this in urging American Jews to go ahead with planned trips to Israel-despite the current danger-as a demonstration “of our solidarity.”

Not to go, said the Conference, an umbrella agency for 52 Jewish groups, “would be to give the terrorists a victory.”


AP-NY-03-05-96 1702EST

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