Jüdisches Leben in EuropaMit der Hilfe des Himmels

Promises - endlich auf Video!


What did you do today, to promote peace?

U.S. Jews and Foreign Policy

William Fisher

There’s an old Jewish saying about what happens when you get three rabbis in a room. You get four opinions… at least. This truism is a useful guide to the complex way in which the interests of American Jews is reflected if at all in U.S. foreign policy.

At a time when the degree of U.S. commitment to the Middle East is increasingly seen as determining what chance if any there is of peace in the region, every nuance of U.S. foreign policy is under scrutiny. And one aspect of that policy albeit a much smaller portion than is often believed reflects the beliefs of American Jews.

But the most interesting point is that current U.S. foreign policy reflects the views of only a small proportion of American Jews. That is, like any other group, American Jews are far from homogenous.

What the world and American Jews themselves doesn’t know about the roughly six million Jewish Diaspora in the U.S. has helped contribute to many missed opportunities for problem solving in the Middle East.

While the political clout of American Jews is often exaggerated, it is true that Washington policy makers often take the views of some U.S.-based Jews those whose views coincide with the beliefs of the administration of the day very seriously. And it is true that Washington, in turn, works to exert influence on Jerusalem.

So, to the extent that it is possible to draw up such generalizations, how does American Jewry broadly divide? There are four major groups of American Jews, each with different political as well as theological views.

The first, Orthodox Jews, are politically close to the right wing in Israeli politics. They see Israel as their God-given homeland, including the lands known biblically as Judea and Samaria Jerusalem and the West Bank.

At the other end of the scale are secular Jews, who call themselves ‘culturally Jewish’ but never enter a synagogue. This group is arguably the most open to political discourse and pragmatic problem solving.

Between these two extremes are two other substantial groups: Reform Jews who take a more contemporary and flexible approach to both Judaic theology and Israeli politics; and Conservative Jews, who have made important modifications to traditional practice, but who ordinarily tend to side with orthodoxy politically.

The combined effects of demographics and the current U.S. political climate have established the Reform and secular blocs as the fastest growing groups of American Jewry. But, like any group united by race, nationality, religion, or any other identity, there is no unanimity of opinion among American Jews as a whole, and there never has been.

Some have an unwavering, unquestioning support for Israel. Others are more nuanced in their views, believing in Israel’s right to exist but frequently questioning the policies of its leaders. And now, more than ever, many American Jews are focused on a debate over how best to help the Israeli government resolve its seemingly intractable standoff with the Palestinian people.

An overwhelming majority of American Jews 73 percent describe themselves as moderate or liberal, with 23 percent calling themselves conservative. But while American Jews have traditionally allied themselves with the Democrats only 19 percent voted for Bush in the 2000 elections there are indications that Jewish support for the Republican Party is on the rise.

So while most American Jews support President Bush’s road map, many criticize him for not giving it the attention they feel it deserves.

Indeed, while a majority of American Jewry is concerned at Israel’s lack of progress in meeting the demands of the Palestinians, one of its fiercest debates concerns the freedom to debate the issue of Israel itself to believe in Israel’s right to exist in peace, but to mount aggressive opposition to the policies of its government.

The Diaspora’s organized political leadership goes to great lengths to present an appearance of unity. But this distorts the reality of Jewish diversity, generates acrimonious and counter-productive bickering, and worst of all hides the genuine and strong convictions of many American Jews that Israel is not in the right in its current handling of the Palestinians.

“The dualism is stark. To be for one side is to be against the other ... to speak on behalf of Palestinians is to desire the annihilation of the state of Israel,” wrote Marc Ellis in the Christian Century.

Another Jewish commentator said: “Jews who argue openly for the freedom of Palestinians are branded as self-haters and traitors. Such pressure to conform to an uncritically pro-Israel position spells the demise of a value-oriented and ethically concerned tradition.”

Yet despite these deep divisions, American Jewry’s most influential lobbying organization, the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), has dropped its long-standing opposition to the creation of a Palestinian state. Moreover, in the 2002 annual survey of American Jewish opinion by the American Jewish Committee, Jews were asked: “As part of a permanent settlement with the Palestinians, should Israel be willing to dismantle all, some, or none of the Jewish settlements in the West Bank?”

Ten percent answered “all,” 55 percent said “some,” and 34 percent thought that none of the settlements should go (2 percent were not sure). That means that 65 percent of American Jews would be comfortable with dismantling all or some of the West Bank settlements.

American Jews have a substantial reservoir of good will for Palestinian statehood and Palestinian aspirations. Of course, this position is in the interests of Israel’s security as much as the Palestinian cause, but its effect would be the same. If the Diaspora can get its act together to advocate pragmatically for a secular reality in the Middle East, the Palestinians will have a powerful and influential friend in Washington.

William Fisher lived in Egypt for a number of years, managing donor projects for USAID in the Middle East and North Africa.
Source: The Middle East Times, January 28, 2004,

With Friends Like These

M.J. Rosenberg, Director of Policy Analysis for Israel Policy Forum and former editor of AIPAC’s (The American Israel Public Affairs Committee) Near East Report, reflects on a recent poll outlining Israeli viewpoints on the current state of affairs and Israeli perceptions of their government’s policies. (Source: Israel Policy Forum, February 20, 2004)

Shopping for a Peace Plan

Highlighting the various recent Middle East peace initiatives, Ksenia Svetlova - Israeli columnist for the Russian language newspaper Novosty Nedeli and Arab affairs reporter for Israel Plus, discusses the proliferation of these initiatives and advocates for “uniting the existing ones and evolving them into an ultimate product, which will unify the peace camp, rather than dividing it”. (Source: AMIN.org, February 25, 2004)

An Animated Discussion of Peace

With the help of Italian officials and artists, a group of Israeli and Palestinian high school students is working to transform the landscape of violence into a “Technicolor fairy tale”. In the fable, a Palestinian and an Israeli teenager are taken on journeys through scenes of terrorism and war, while transforming each scene into one of joy and peace. (Source: Jerusalem Post, February 19, 2004)

Common Ground News Service February 20, 2004
CGNews promotes constructive perspectives and dialogue about current Middle East issues.

From the Common Ground News Service
hagalil.com 22-02-2004



Refusenik Watch,
Gush Shalom
New Profile
Shalom achshav

[Hevenu Schalom

Radio Hebrew:
[Kesher israeli]

Copyright: hagalil.com / 1995...

haGalil onLine