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January 16, 2009

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,HERITAGE ,FLORIDA JEWISH NEWS, JANUARY 16, 2009 By Gary Rosenblatt New York Jewish Week Even as Israel's war with Hamas in Gaza grinds on, at- tracting headlines around the world and sulbport among pro- Israel advocates. I have the disturbing but distinct sense that the Jewish state is on the way tobecoming increasingly irrelevant to the majority of American Jews. It's a feeling based on a com- bination of events that I fear is driving the Israel-Diaspora connection further apart-- not just the current conflict in Gaza, which underscores the ambivalence so many Jews have on seeing the results of Israel's firepower aimed at Palestinian- terrorists. The chief culprit is the economy. The monetary meltdown in this country over the last few months, made more dramatic by the Bernard Madoff scandal that scored a direct hit on Jewish chari- ties and funders, has turned American Jewry inward. It's only natural for people to focus on their own concerns Israel support is a casualty of recession first, and that is what is hap- peningas so many of us worry aboutjobsecurity, keeping up with the mortgage, paying our bills and rebuilding our savings accounts. Next comes taking care of our families and community institutions, from school tu- itions to synagogue dues and projects, to local charities. Will Israel become a luxury we can no longerafford to sup- port as we have until now? One of the negative ripple effects of the economic cri- sis at home is that projects to strengthen ties between Israeli and American Jews will suffer. Most dramatic is the case of Birthright Israel, which has been so successful this last decade in bringing tens of thousands of young Diaspora Jews to Israel on free 10-day trips each year. Studies have shown that these visits have had a positive and lasting impact on Birthright alumni, instilling them with a feeling of connectedness to the people, state and land of Israel. But some of Birthright's most prominent funders, including Las Vegas entre- preneur Sheldon Adelson, have been hit hard by the Wall Street collapse, and it seems clear that trips to Israel this year will bring far fewer people or may even be suspended. That means a whole cohort of tens of thousands may miss out on the opportunity to experience Israel firsthand and, as a result, not come to understand and appreciate the valiant efforts Israelis make to live in peace in the region. And that's just for this year. What if Birthright and other Israel-Diaspora pro- grams are curtailed or ended for the foreseeable future due to economic conditions that are chronic and ongoing, not just due to a limited crisis? The impact would be devastating on younger Jews who are that much more removed from the warm feelings and memories that their parents and grand- parents have of a brave and struggling Israel. Israel today is, thank God, far stronger than it was as a fledgling state grasping for survival, but in many ways it is still seeking to prove its legitimacy six decades after statehood--and that is an outrage. Few can watch the foot- age of Palestinian suffering in Gaza these days without feeling great sadness and empathy. Butwhile some of us blame the cynicism and bru- tality of Hamas for purposely putting civilians in harm's way as part of their strategy, appealing to the world to stop Israel in its tracks, others blame Israel without consid- ering the contextmor worse yet. are convinced that Israel is the aggressor here, not an independent state fighting terrorist thugs whose sol purpose is to destroy it. and Jews everywhere. I am well aware and proud that so many in my extended community not only follow the news from Israel closely during thi time of crisis, but as a regular part of their day, every day of every year. These are the people who participate in grass-roots efforts on behalf of the IDF soldiers now (from taking part in special prayer sessions, at synagogues to sending them pizza). They are the ones who visit Israel regularly, give generously to charities in and on behalf of the Jewish state, and are the backbone ofraUies on behalf of kidnapped soldiers or military campaigns. On the other extreme are a vocal but relatively "small portion of the communitywho oppose Israel's campaign in Gaza, more concerned about unintended casualties among the Palestinian population than security for the citizens of Israel's South who have been the target of thousands of rockets from Gaza over the last few years. (And a note to journalists and editors in the general press who often use the gentle word "lobbed" to describe those rockets coming out of Gaza: a "lobbed" rocket kills, just as one that is "fired" or "launched.") I suspect that the majority of American Jews are somewhere in the middle, supportive of Israel's effort to protect its PAGE 5A citizens, butuncomfortable with the IDF campaign and the painful images they see of the results of the bombings. "Can't you find another way?" they might be asking of Israel, as if the government and people had not endured years of at- tacks and provocation before striking back. "We'd love to, but this is the Mideast not the Midwest," would come the reply. The reality, of course, is that those of us who have been to Israel, seen its borders, met its people and understood its challenges are the most compassionate in times like this. My worry is that with an ongoing economic con- traction at home, and fewer projects and programs to bring Israeli and American Jews closer together, the gap between us will only widen, and that level of compassion will decline. I hope I'm wrong. Gary Rosenblatt is editor and publisher of the New York Jewish Week, from which this article was reprinted by permission. By Marry Kaplan Jewish Journal of Greater Los Angeles First I saw a young protester telling a CNN reporter in Tra- falgar Square, "Every single day, as soon as we turn on the TV, we see children there die in the hospitals, adults dying, children dying on the floor. Why, why, why? Why do children have to die? Why do innocent children have to die on the floor? Why?" And I thought, She's right, those children in Gaza are innocent, every human life is precious, civilians aren't combatants. Doesn't everyone deserve basic human rights like food and water and life itself? But then I thought, Where was she when 80 or 90 Hamas rockets a day were raining down on Israel? Where were all the television cameras When innocent children in Ashkelon and Sderot were being maimed and killed? But then I saw pictures of massive devastation in Gaza on the front pages of the news- papers, and I thought, What good does it do if Israel appears to act like its enemies? But then I heard Shimon Peres tell George Stepha= nopoulos that Hamas "did things which are unprec- edented in the history even of terror. They made mosques into headquarters. They put bombs in the kindergartens. in their own homes. They are hiding in hospitals." Where were all the people of Gaza rising up in outrage when Hamas used them as human shields? Then I heard Palestinian negotiator Hannan Ashwari say that Gaza was a secondary issue, that the real imperative was to reach a lasting political agreement, not a temporary military outcome, and I thought, She's right, there will be no peace and security for Israel unless a viable two- state solution is reached. But then I read a blog by At- lar/tic writer Jeffrey Goldberg recounting his interview with Nizzar Rayyan. the Hamas leaderwho was killed by Israeli bombs two weeks ago. "This is what he said when I asked him if he could envision a 50-year hudna (cease-fire) with Israel: 'The only reason to have a hudna is to prepare yourself for the final battle. We don't need 50 years to prepare ourselves for the final battle with Israel.' There is no chance, he said, that true Is- Eyeless in Gaza lam would ever allow a Jewish state to survive in the Muslim Middle East. 'Israel is an impossibility. It is an offense against God... You [Jews] are murderers of the prophets and you have closed your ears to the Messenger of Allah... Jews tried to kill the Prophet, peace be unto him. All throughout history, you have stood in opposition to the word of God.'" And I thought, How can you negotiate with people who reject your nation's right to exist, and whose version of religion calls you a murderous race? If someone claimed that the best way for America to deal with Bin Laden is to reach a political agreement with al-Qaeda. I'd say that they're nuts. that there can be no negotiation or accommoda- tion with people lusting for a final battle to rid your people from the earth. But then I heard an Arab diplomat railing against Is- rael's continuing tolerance of illegal settlements, and I thought, As long as Knesset coalition governments are dependent on ultra-Orthodox parties who have no respect for the law, how can anyone expectArab moderates to gain enough political power for Israel to negotiate with them, when Israeli moderates can't muster that clout either? Then I reminded myself that the people of Gaza over- whelmingly voted for Hamas in a democratic election, and I thought, What good is democ- racy, if it can put terrorists in charge of governments? But then I read that tens of thousands of Israeli Arabs in the Israeli town of Sakhnin had rallied against Israel's Gaza offensive, and I thought, What Middle East nation ex- cept Israel would ensure that anti-government protesters had the right to hold such a demonstration? And then I remembered reading that former Israeli army chief Moshe Yaalon warned Israelis not to delude themselves about Israel's Arab population, that Israeli Arabs--a fifth of Israel--con- stitute a potential fifth col- umn. Then I saw a Teleseker Institute poll saying that 95 percent of Israeli Jews support Operation Cast Lead against Hamas. But then I saw a Rasmussen poll saying that while 44 percent of Americans think Israel should have taken military action against the Palestinians, 41 percent say it should have tried to find a diplomatic solution es- sentially a tie, within the poll's margin of error. And I wondered, How long does diplomacy have to keep failing, how many bombshave to keep dropping, before self-defense finally trumps talk? I wish I didn't believe that the events now unfolding in the Middle East are too complicated for unalloyed outrage. I wish the arguments of only one side rang wholly true to me. I am the first to accuse myself of paralyzing moral generosity the fatal empathy that terrorists prey on. But ambivalence is not the same as moral equivalence, and holy war, no matter who is waging it. makes my flesh crawl. In Milton's poem "Samson Agonistes," Samson blind- ed, in chains--cries out, "Promise was that I/Should Israel from Philistian yoke deliver:/Ask for this great deliverer now, and find him/ Eyeless in Gaza at the mill with slaves." But when Sam- son shows the strength to shun Delilah, God restores his power, enabling him to pull down the temple and kill the Philistines, though along with himself. What makes "Samson Agonistes" a tragedy is the self-destruction that vic- tory entails. I passionately assert Israel's right to exist in peace with its neighbors and within secure borders. But I can't help fearing that its military success in Gaza. should it come. 'will also entail a tragic cost. Marty Kaplan holds the Norman Lear chair at the USC Annenberg School for Communication. His column appears weekly in the Jewish Journal of Greater Los Ange- les, from which this article was reprinted by permission. Reach him at martyk@jew- Dry Bones ' THE Lq00A00.I ARMY [(WE ARE 5AgE AM) When it comes to Israel, memory is selective By Sarah N. Stern cerns the Israeli-Palestinian was killed in an operation in all, we are all praying to the Washington Jewish Week conflict. Jenin. andIhavenotbeenable same God." In the summer of 2005, I to enter it ever since." As soon as the gates closed, "The struggle of man was in Israel during the dis- Israeli soldiers had been these greenhouses and tem- against power is the struggle engagement from Gaza, an programmed not to feel any pies were savagely destroyed of memory against forget- excruciatinglydifficultperiod emotion as they tore people in a frenzy of anarchy. ting"--MilanKundera, "The for the nation of Israel. from their homes. Some of On Jan. 25, 2006, free, .. _ _. _ _ 0- Book of Laughter and For- Pitting brother against these people are languish- democratic elections were ,.. getting" brother, the Israeli govern- ing in temporary housing, held for the Palestinians. I / lu.ROu '1 / THE  'lJ : I have always been fas- ment decidedthatitwasnec- without anv nrosnects Of Hamas won 74  ,, h I / k,.n,,,v vw / i o, nPaJ I J l c' ated by the question of essary to take the bold step of employment, ruling Fatah party s 45. I ! H00ASl GAZe. ]/I what makes certain memo- removing every soldier, every By the fall of 2005, the Bythesummerof2007,Fa- I \\; WALL OF [ x,y, I storries endure for lifetimes,, civilian, every remnant of a Israeli flag was lowered, and tah and Hamas were engaged [ \\; -,['E,! _ i ed within the brain s Jewish presence from Gaza. the last soldier and the last inacivilwarinGaza, resulting [ _""I/A ,,,1' / '1 i prefrontal lobe, while oth- It is difficult to overstate settler was evacuated, inthecompleteandtotaltake- [ NmNItlh-lr ----' I -]R,'x - -'q, ] t ers quickly fade, not even the amount of internal angst Afewphilanthropistsspent over of the area by the radical l l  I ! relegating etrance into the this created for the people of millions for greenhouses and Islamist organization. [ synapses of one's short-term Israel. donated them to the Palestin- Since then, life in the Israeli [, .m... [ 5--[ memory. I remember listening to -ians as an economic basis, neighboring town of Sderot, [/q' ar " TF..'h] , h*g.o I This occurs on the indi- radio interviews where moth- Some synagogues were left, where more than 3,600 Ira- [,  o )')[ ', o Jo. ]'" '[ . I vidual level, as well as on ers had called in, and said, under the delusion that they nian missiles have been lobbed ] d[ tf the collective level. It most "Mr. Prime Minister, will you would be used as mosques. /B W[  t certainly occurs when it con- pack up my son's room? He As one rabbi put it, "After Stern on page 19A ' i i -! : l