August 11, 2005
War of Words and Ads Over Gaza
In Israel, settlers are facing off with soldiers as the date nears for the mid-August withdrawal of Jews from Gaza. In the United States, that conflict is playing out in rhetoric as supporters and foes of disengagement buy ads and opponents plan a final local rally.
Supporters of Israel's disengagement policy have run a series of advertisements this week in the Los Angeles Times, Daily News of Los Angeles, the Spanish-language daily La Opinion and The Jewish Journal.
Most of the ads will run before this Sunday's early evening anti-pullout prayer vigil outside the Israeli consulate. This vigil has been organized by the local Web site-based movement www.SaveGushKatif.org, named after the main Jewish settlement bloc in Gaza.
For much of the summer, the pullout debate has been generated by those who oppose the Israeli government's decision to turn over settlement areas to the Palestinian Authority. Most of the major Jewish organizations, in contrast, have been staying on the sidelines. But these organizations have joined the fray as the vocal, orange-clad withdrawal opponents seized media attention.
The pro-withdrawal ad begins by asserting, "more than two-thirds of Americans -- and two-thirds of American Jews -- agree with the Israeli government's decision to withdraw from the Gaza Strip." It continues with a pledge to build support for Israel in the United States and to help Israel achieve security through a peace process that includes the establishment of a democratic Palestinian state.
The pro-disengagement ads take their cue from national ads that have run recently in The New York Times. The local ad campaign, which cost more than $13,000, is sponsored by organizations that collectively represent broad swaths of the organized American Jewish community. The five main sponsors are: the regional offices of the Anti-Defamation League, the American Jewish Congress, the American Jewish Committee and two agencies of The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles -- the Board of Rabbis of Southern California and the Jewish Community Relations Committee.
Federation spokeswoman Deborah Dragon said each sponsor contributed $2,500. The Federation's share did not come from the organization's budget but from private parties who specifically earmarked donations for this purpose.
An official with one sponsoring organization acknowledged internal dissent on the volatile issue of Gaza withdrawal.
"I personally am against disengagement," said Gary Ratner, executive director for the American Jewish Congress' western region. "I think it's going to be a disaster and increase terrorism."
Nonetheless, Ratner oversaw his group's participation in the pro-withdrawal ad campaign: "I made my views known and was overruled by our national executive board."
The ads have been in the making for more than a month and went through numerous revisions.
"We went around and around on the phraseology of the statement," Ratner said. "Initially there was no statement whatsoever on the pain and suffering of the disengaged Gaza settlers. That's in there now."
Word of the ads was spread among local disengagement opponents by Jon Hambourger, the Los Angeles mortgage broker who created SaveGushKatif.org. His group has placed anti-disengagement ads in The Journal. These ads argue that leaving Gaza is unjust to the Jewish settlers and unwise -- even catastrophic -- as policy.
Angered by The Federation's participation, Hambourger sent out an e-mail appeal urging people to complain to The Federation. He sent The Jewish Journal copies of about 40 e-mails sent to the Federation's Board of Rabbis. Some of the e-mails came from as far away as Cooper City, Fla., and Amherst, N.Y.
Beyond the main sponsors, smaller organizations wanting to sign onto the pro-disengagement ad paid on a sliding scale ranging from $250 to $1,000. Rancho Park Reform shul Temple Isaiah contributed $500.
Temple Isaiah's Rabbi Zoë Klein said a goal of the ad is to "to present as united a voice as possible."
But the leadership of Young Israel of Century City declined to participate.
"I don't believe that it's appropriate for American Jews to take public sides on this issue at this juncture," said Rabbi Elazar Muskin of the Orthodox congregation. "We don't live in Israel and therefore we should allow the Israeli system to function. How can we dictate to Israel from America what they should do?"
The ad's sponsors also include Americans for Peace Now and the Progressive Jewish Alliance. Getting involved was "necessary, kind of the first step in de-occupation," said David Pine, West Coast regional director of Peace Now. "Those who are against it have been visible. But they don't represent the majority of Americans or American Jews -- or Israelis, most importantly."
Hambourger said he wished that a more diverse cross-section of Jews was supporting his movement. Most of his backing has come from a segment of the Orthodox community. Still, his organization's July 24 protest at the Israeli consulate attracted more than 500.
"I was hoping to have a smattering of representation from all the Orthodox -- instead it was all Chabad," he said. "The sad part about it is that the rest of the Jewish community was simply [either] against what we were doing or was completely apathetic."