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August 10, 2006

Cracks Appear in Jewish Support of Israel Offensive

http://www.jewishjournal.com/articles/item/cracks_appear_in_jewish_support_of_israel_offensive_20060811

As a Jew, Marcy Winograd grew up deeply supportive of Israel and even visited the Jewish state in her mid-20s. But as Israel continues to pound Lebanon and Gaza, the founder of a new progressive group, L.A. Jews for Peace, said her feelings have changed. The country's actions in Lebanon and Gaza, she said, have gone "beyond the pale" and stained Israel's reputation worldwide.

To Shifra Hastings, Israel's actions haven't gone far enough. The stalwart Israel supporter and anti-disengagement activist said Israel needs to step up its offensive in Lebanon to deal a decisive blow to the terrorist group Hezbollah and its allies. That hundreds of Hezbollah rockets continue to rain down on northern Israel shows that the Jewish state has failed, so far, to employ enough force.

"If they're [still] killing us," Hastings said, "then we're not doing enough to stop them."

At a time when the majority of Jews around the world have banded together as perhaps never before to support beleaguered Israel (see July 25 story, "Thousands Rally in L.A. to Support Israel"), cracks of dissent have appeared as Israel's two-front war in Lebanon and Gaza becomes increasingly bloody and costly.

On the left, a growing number of Jews have begun voicing opposition to Israel's military campaign, which they consider brutal, immoral and an impediment to a negotiated settlement in the Middle East. On the right, some Jews complain that Israel needs to worry less about world opinion and more about delivering a knockout blow to Hezbollah and Hamas. They say the absence of such a clear-cut victory jeopardizes the Jewish state's security by emboldening Syria, Iran and Israel's other enemies, they say.

Arthur P. Stern, regional chair of Americans for Peace Now, said he has "a complete devotion to Israel," its right to exist and its need to defend itself. Still, he characterized Israel's response to Hamas' and Hezbollah's killing and abducting of Israeli soldiers in Israel proper as "harsh."

In Gaza, he said, Israel's destruction of Palestinian power plants and roads represented nothing less than a form of collective punishment, which Jews have historically opposed. In Lebanon, Israel's killing of civilians and destruction of much of the country's infrastructure have rallied the country around Hezbollah. That has made it "very hard to work one's way out of the hate that's been generated by Israel," Stern said.

Instead of trying to subdue Israel's enemies by force, Israel should consider diplomacy. After agreeing to an immediate, unconditional cease-fire, Stern said, Israel might want to seek out Hamas officials amenable to cutting a wide-ranging deal that, among other issues, would address the plight of the Palestinians.

Hezbollah, by contrast, cannot be negotiated with, he said. Instead, Israel should begin talks with the Syrians in the hope of reaching an agreement that, among other things, would weaken Syria's tight links with its client, Hezbollah. Bad idea, said Rabbi David Eliezrie of Congregation Beth Meir HaCohen in Yorba Linda. Israel, he said, is fighting for its very existence against Hamas, Hezbollah and other implacable enemies.

"There's nothing to talk about with people whose sole goal is killing you," Eliezrie said. "Sadly, they only understand force, and therefore, we must respond with strong force."

That means unshackling Israel's military and even launching limited strikes on Syria, if the Israel Defense Forces requests them, he said. Unfortunately, Israel's politicians have, at times, "seemed more concerned with world opinion than [with] the immediate defense needs of Israel" during the current conflict, Eliezrie said.

That, he said, might explain the delay in a major ground offensive in Lebanon. Unfortunately, that pause might have cost Israel the chance to rout Hezbollah. Overall, Eliezrie said, he'd give the Israeli army an A-plus for its performance on the battlefield and the Israeli government a C.

Like Eliezrie, Allyson Rowen Taylor wishes Israel could do more. However, the associate director of the American Jewish Congress, Western region, said international and U.S. pressure inhibit Israel, a reality to which she has resigned herself. In a "perfect world," she said, Israeli forces would send a massive ground force door-to-door in Hezbollah strongholds throughout Lebanon to root out the enemy. Israel would also destroy Iran's nuclear facilities to preempt a potential nuclear strike against the Jewish state.

"If Israel loses this war, I believe this will be the beginning of the end of Western civilization, and this radicalism will spread to France, Spain, Britain and beyond until it reaches the shores of America," said Taylor, whose American-born son now serves in the IDF.

Winograd, the Jewish peace activist, believes Israel has already lost the war. Israel's "aggressive" actions have succeeded only in galvanizing Arab opposition and support for Hezbollah. The "trajectory of violence," she added, has further destabilized the region and made Israel less secure than before it began "mercilessly killing civilians" and creating a humanitarian crisis.

"I'm proud to be a Jew, but I'm not proud of what the state of Israel is doing," said Winograd, who also serves as president of the Los Angeles chapter of the Progressive Democrats of America. "In fact, I'm ashamed of it."

The overwhelming majority of Jews feel differently, said Jon Hambourger, founder and president of SaveGushKatif.org, a now defunct national organization that opposed Israel's unilateral pullout from Gaza. He said he has never seen the Jewish community more united in its support for Israel. Just a year ago, Hambourger said, the looming Gaza pullout pitted Jew against Jew. And Israel teetered on the brink of a civil war.

No more.

"I'm telling you; I see all the signs coming for a new era where white is white and black is black and the Jewish people stay together on the same page and with the same goals," said Hambourger, an Orthodox Jew. "It makes me proud and gives me hope for the future."

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