February 2, 2006
Hamas Win Brings Mixed Reaction
Two days after the terrorist group Hamas swept last week's Palestinian elections, Rabbi Steve Jacobs ended Shabbat services at Kol Tikvah in Woodland Hills with this striking comparison.
"Mr. Begin was a terrorist, Mr. Shamir was a terrorist, Mr. Sharon was a terrorist," Jacobs said to his Reform congregation. "History is replete with negotiations that took place with terrorists. Two days ago, Hamas didn't have to worry about paying civilians and creating an infrastructure."
Jacobs' branding of three Israeli prime ministers as onetime terrorists was jolting, even upsetting, to some in the audience. But Jacobs' point was clear: The Hamas victory did not necessarily spell doom to a negotiated peace between Israel and Palestinians.
Elsewhere in the Jewish community, reaction to the Hamas election sweep included concern, bewilderment and even some I-told-you-so's from activists who last summer protested against Israel's forced withdrawal of settlers from the Gaza Strip.
Jacobs couched a message of cautious optimism in his reference to Menachem Begin and Yitzhak Shamir, who were resistance fighters -- and labeled as terrorists -- against the British occupation of Palestine prior to Israel's 1948 War of Independence.
Jacobs' comments came before a more diverse audience than a typical Friday night Shabbat service. His shul was hosting an interfaith dialogue with several Muslims, including two from the Council on American Islamic Relations (CAIR). Also present were Rabbi David Baron and congregants from the independent Temple of the Arts in Beverly Hills.
The Hamas elections created an undercurrent of tension at Kol Tikvah's interfaith event, with Baron issuing a polite but firm demand that the shul's Muslim guests denounce Hamas.
"Hamas has won a major election in Gaza and the West Bank," Baron said. "Now is the time we want to see every American Muslim rise up and say to Hamas, 'Put down your weapons. Amend the charter that calls for the elimination of the State of Israel.'.... We need to see not just words of conciliation but real actions that give us strength in the belief that dialogue is meaningful beyond the moments we spend together, that the friendship we create is real."
"We ask for and plead for positions, protests, demonstrations and open and direct confrontation by Muslims, American Muslims, of their brothers who are of the more extreme bent. I know we did it during the days of Rabbi Kahane," said Baron, who was referring to opposition in the Jewish community toward the late Meier Kahane, who promulgated stridently anti-Arab views.
CAIR's Southern California public relations director Ra'id Faraj did not respond directly to Baron's challenge: "As far as the issue of suicide bombing, again, that is a very, very difficult situation. And that's why I wanted to focus on the fact that Muslims and Jews have lived for hundreds of years together, side by side.... What is happening today is a new phenomenon."
One notable reaction occurred even before the Palestinian elections. Israeli politician Natan Sharansky, who was visiting Los Angeles, predicted a stronger Hamas.
"What I see is exactly what I was afraid of," Sharansky told The Jewish Journal in a telephone interview. He said he had warned Sharon against his unilateral withdrawal from occupied Gaza. He said he told Sharon "that one-sided concessions never can strengthen moderates -- they will strengthen only extremists."
That sentiment was echoed by Jon Hambourger, founder of the anti-withdrawal SaveGushKatif organization. Hambourger and his group spent thousands of dollars last summer on flyers and newspaper advertising warning that the pullout would strengthen Palestinian terrorists.
"And that's what happened," Hambourger said. "Every single thing that we said would happen happened."
Orthodox community activist Daryl Temkin said he still is asking the question: "What has been the value of the Gaza disengagement? The negatives have been just glaring. This organization [Hamas] is so clear about its desire to wipe Israel off the map."
Simon Wiesenthal Center founder and dean Rabbi Marvin Hier said in a statement that Hamas members must decide between peace or terrorism: "You cannot be a bank teller by day and a bank robber by night. You cannot be a parliamentarian and a terrorist at the same time. This is a moment for them to choose their uniform."
At the UCLA Hillel, Rabbi Chaim Seidler-Feller said he has noticed students appearing worn down.
"They're hit from both sides," Seidler-Feller said. "There is uncertainty in Israel regarding the future government and the Palestinian situation has been turned upside down."
The Palestinian elections results presented nothing truly different, said UCLA computer science professor Judea Pearl, whose son, Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl, was kidnapped and murdered by Pakistani terrorists in 2002.
"My friends in Israel say, 'So what's new?'" Pearl said. "There is no change of mind. There is only a change of tactics. What happened was just a removal of the veneer."
Rabbi Harold Schulweis, of Valley Beth Shalom in Encino, said in an interview that Jewish causes beyond Israel -- such as stopping the genocide in Sudan's Darfur region -- are being pushed aside by fear over an empowered Hamas.
"That's understandable. What hurts your people takes priority," Schulweis said. "When it's my child, my wife, it gains my total attention."