May 15, 2003
As America sets out on its most fateful hour of Middle East diplomacy and decision-making in a decade, American Jews are sending two clear messages to Washington.
Unfortunately, the messages conflict.
One group is saying, "We support Israel, so we don't support the 'road map.'"
The other group's message is, "We support Israel, so we do support the road map."
First, let's focus on the area of agreement.
The last several weeks in Los Angeles leave no doubt about the intensity of the Jewish community's support for Israel. A nonstop schedule of lectures, meetings, receptions and banquets have filled the communal calendar on either side of Israel Independence Day. The events ranged from well-attended Yom HaAtzmaut parties to a series of talks by the Israeli journalist David Landau to memorial services for Israel's fallen soldiers to a rally against media bias at National Public Radio to visits by Israeli officials like MK Natan Sharansky and MK Matan Vilnai.
The range of attendees demonstrated the breadth and depth of concern. There were packed meetings held just for the Persian Jewish community, expatriate Israelis, Century City lawyers, Hollywood insiders, UCLA students, single professionals, area rabbis, wealthy donors and grass-roots activists.
People who, a year ago, were lamenting the seeming apathy of the Jewish community toward Israel were amazed by the turnouts.
At the Israeli Consulate's birthday bash for Israel, held annually at the Beverly Hills Hotel, Yariv Ovadia, consul for communication and public affairs, gazed out at the huge crowd, a mix of wealthy activists, politicians and diplomats, and said that the pro-Israel spirit has reawakened in Los Angeles.
"It took a while for the situation to sink in," he said, "but it took a while in Israel, too."
A suspicious package left at the front desk led to a bomb scare and a one-hour lockdown, but didn't faze the guests, who kept chatting even as the package was exploded in a bomb-squad container outside.
Concerns over terror didn't keep the crowds away from last Sunday's Israel Festival, which drew 35,000 people to Woodley Park. It was an enormous and spirited turnout, demonstrating both the coming of age of Los Angeles' Israeli Jewish community, which spearheaded the event, and the across-the-board support Israel enjoys.
On her recent visit to Israel, Managing Editor Amy Klein interviewed Tahg Adler, an Angeleno who recently immigrated to Israel.
"World Jewry is the body," Adler said, "and Israel is the heart. You need a strong heart to keep the body going."
The aptness of the metaphor was apparent over these past weeks. Our identity as Jews, the very strength of the community, is bound up in the fate of the Jewish nation. You can't underestimate the power of Israel to shape the Jewish community here. Israel is the issue that even roused the latent activism -- the latent Jewishness -- of Hollywood Jewry. It wasn't a sense of social action or kabbalah that prompted their activity, it was a sense of Israel in crisis.
Now for the disagreement. While our support for Israel is deep and growing, the consensus on what to do in the face of the crisis is fractured.
Those who oppose the "road map to peace" that President George W. Bush has proposed for the Israelis and the Palestinians say it endangers Israel's security and rewards two years of Palestinian terror with a place at the negotiating table. "The U.S. is back in the mode of pressuring Israel for real concessions or the Palestinians for phony promises," a message from the Jewish Institute for National Security Affairs read.
Those who support it say the road map is calibrated to Palestinian rejection of terror -- if terror continues, the process stops -- and provides the best way out of a dire situation.
There are strong ideological and religious arguments on the left and the right. But the greatest argument for those of us in the center isn't a matter of ideology, religion or politics. It's a matter of third-grade math.
This week, Israel's largest newspaper, Yediot Aharanot, reported on recent figures released by Israel's Central Bureau of Statistics (www.cbs.gov.il/engindex.htm) on the population of greater Israel, from the Jordan River to the Mediterranean Sea: West Bank Arabs -- 2.2 million; Gaza Arabs -- 1.3 million; non-Arab Christians -- 0.3 million; Israeli Arabs -- 1.3 million; Jews -- 5.1 million.
Numbers never tell the whole story, but these come close. By retaining control of the West Bank, Gaza and the Palestinian populations therein, Israel will either cease to be a primarily Jewish State, or will become an undemocratic one, where a Jewish minority rules an Arab majority.
"The Jews, therefore, are barely 50 percent of the empire," wrote the (centrist) editors of Yediot. "This was the last Independence Day when we could try to breathe the fragrance of a Jewish majority. Starting next week -- we're the minority."
The road map is not the perfect way out of this looming disaster, but it is the best option available, put forward by a president who is one of Israel's staunchest supporters.
That's a message that I, for one, hope Washington hears.