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How American Jews view Israel’s latest Gaza assault
Conflict after conflict, U.S. Jewish groups and citizens have wielded grass-roots political clout to garner American support for Israel.
November 21st, 2012
01:30 PM ET

How American Jews view Israel’s latest Gaza assault

By Joe Sterling, CNN

Atlanta (CNN) – The code-red siren blaring in Israel on Tuesday hit close to home for Rabbi Adam Starr.

His wife and daughter were visiting the Jewish state Tuesday, where Israelis have been darting for cover from daily Hamas rocket fire.

Starr breathed easy after he got off the phone with his wife.

"She's in Jerusalem," said Starr, leader of the Young Israel of Toco Hills synagogue in Atlanta. "She called me to tell me she is OK."

But he and others in his congregation and across the country remain anxious over the latest round of fighting between Israel and Hamas.

"We all have many friends and family in Israel," Starr said, referring to his congregants. "We're seeing on Facebook and Twitter our good friends and what they are going through, the complexities in trying to explain this to their young children."

Starr's angst underscores the close bonds between the American Jewish community and Israel, a relationship that predates the founding of the Jewish state in 1948.

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American Jews long have felt an affinity for Israel as a bulwark against anti-Semitism and a refuge for a people escaping persecution and surviving the Holocaust.

Since its 1948 founding, Israel has fought wars with its Arab neighbors and the Palestinians.

Conflict after conflict, U.S. Jewish groups and Jewish citizens have wielded grass-roots political clout to garner American support for Israel.

Latest on the Israel-Gaza conflict

The bonds are underscored by their size. The world's largest Jewish community is in Israel at nearly 6 million people, according to estimates. The U.S. Jewish community is the second most populous at an estimated 5 million plus.

After Israel kicked off its offensive last week to stop Hamas rocket attacks on Israeli communities, Starr and others in the U.S. Jewish community sent an SOS across the United States: Help Israelis. Send donations. Demonstrate for the Jewish state. Let our brothers and sisters in Israel know they're not alone.

Jewish groups staged rallies in cities across the United States, including Chicago, Boston, New York, Philadelphia, and Los Angeles. More than $5 million in pledges to help the battered southern Israel communities has poured in, according to the Jewish Federations of North America. Jewish leaders have traveled to Israel to show their support, it said.

CNN's Belief Blog: The faith angles behind the biggest stories

"You've seen a startling consensus," said Omri Ceren, a senior adviser with the Israel Project, a pro-Israel information group, "from the right to the left, from secular/cultural to religious groups."

Ceren said things were different when Israel launched its Cast Lead offensive in Gaza in December 2008 when, he said, not all American Jews were on board.

"There was naïveté in parts of the Jewish community to the effect that maybe President Bush's unpopularity and his refusal to appease" rejectionist Palestinian elements blocked peace.

Arab-Americans watch conflict with mix of worry, relief

After four years of continued hostility, Ceren said, there is more of a clear-eyed view of the perceived motives of Hamas, regarded by the United States and Israel as a terrorist group that is backed by Iran.

The 2008-09 operation failed to loosen Hamas' hold on power in Gaza. The militant rocket attacks from the territory ramped up year by year.

Hamas remained staunchly anti-Israel, and Israel's economic blockade to choke off the delivery of weapons from abroad has generated grass-roots support for the militant group.

"Now that naïveté has become impossible to justify," Ceren said. "The claim that Hamas can be peeled away from Iran doesn't pass the laugh test."

Israel has massed troops at the Gaza border and has threatened a ground offensive.  Even though American Jews widely support Israel's right to defend itself from rocket fire coming from Gaza, there is disagreement about the best way to do that. Prior to the recently announced cease-fire between Hamas and Israel, there was much hand-wringing over the wisdom of Israeli ground troops re-entering Gaza.

Some hope a ground war will be avoided, but it's a hard call.

"It seems to be a no-win situation," said Max Rosenthal, active in the small Jewish community of Huntsville, Alabama.

Israel can't live with thousands of rockets coming in every single day, he said. And it faces the challenge of trying to thwart Hamas without killing "huge amounts of people."

"If we go in with a truce, it'll be OK for a few months, then they'll start over again, they'll get more rockets in."

But Rosenthal and other U.S. Jews stress that the destruction of Israel is Hamas' avowed goal. And the future he sees is one of constant conflict.

"There's a feeling this is not going to end well, one way or the other," he said.

"My own feeling is a feeling of despair. I don't see any way of resolving it other than going in and wiping out Gaza and that is certainly not what anyone wants to do."

The executive director of J Street, a Washington-based advocacy group which bills itself as "the political home for pro-Israel, pro-peace Americans," questions whether further military action by Israel "would end the rockets and make Israel more secure" after Cast Lead.

"Today, rockets are more numerous and powerful. Israel is more isolated in its region and more ostracized around the world," said Jeremy Ben-Ami, J Street executive director.

"Only a political resolution to the century-old conflict with the Palestinians resulting in two states living side by side can end the conflict. Without that, in a few short years, we'll be right back here again: anger deeper, rockets more powerful, and political forces yet more extreme."

There's no question that Israel has a right to defend itself, just like any other sovereign nation, said Lindy Miller Crane, a member of Atlanta's Jewish community.

"If rockets were fired to the United States from Cuba, I would hope that the U.S. would react," she said.

Yet, like many Jews who consider themselves politically liberal, she is "ambivalent and conflicted" about how to achieve peace.

If and when a cease-fire comes together, she's worried about the follow-through.

She said that's because it seems as though no progress has been made to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian issue since the 2008 Israeli military operation in Gaza.

It's like the movie "Groundhog Day," Crane said.

She believes that if Israel can start addressing issues of racism and inequality, this will help the Jewish state initiate a strategy that will bring permanent peace with Palestinians.

"It's something that's going to have to happen," said Crane. "When I think about the future of Israel peace with the Palestinians is one aspect of that."

Israel has negotiated with the Fatah-dominated Palestinian Authority, which runs the government in the West Bank.  A main stumbling block to an Israeli-Palestinian peace has been the existence and expansion of Israeli settlements in the West Bank.

There is vehement disagreement among U.S. Jews about Fatah and its motivations.

Fatah casts itself as distinct from Hamas, which calls for the destruction of Israel (Fatah does not).  But they aren't much different, according to Roz Rothstein, co-founder and CEO of pro-Israel group StandWithUs.

Just read and listen to Fatah's anti-Israel rhetoric, educational system, and media, she said.

They "don't acknowledge there's an Israel next door," she said.

Israel "can get tough on Hamas" and weaken it  politically by working with the Palestinian Authority - which is dominated by Hamas' rival, Fatah - toward creating  an Israel and Palestinian state, wrote Peter Beinart for the Daily Beast.

"The problem is that in order to make Hamas suffer for opposing the two-state solution, Israel's government would have to truly embrace that solution," he wrote.

But he didn't hold out any hope that Israel would do that.

"Taking a hard line against Hamas requires taking a hard line against the settlements and at the end of the day, this Israeli government is soft on them both," he wrote.

Near the war but far from the political ferment, Jodi Mansbach, an Atlanta urban planner, sat in a Tel Aviv cafe this week.

Her 16-year-old son is spending a semester at an Israeli high school, and she was visiting him for the Thanksgiving holiday.

After the conflict started, her son had to be transferred from his school in Be'er Sheva, in the southern Israel danger zone, to Tel Aviv - a relatively safer location, despite a bus bomb and air raid sirens.

Mansbach admires the cool way her son's teachers and counselors and Israelis in general cope with fear. They know how to handle life amid air raid sirens, shelters and rocket fire.

"It's so much more scary on the news," she said.

She also draws inspiration from people of other nations, tourists and business people from places like Sweden and Germany, who share her hotel in Tel Aviv.

"The American Jewish community should take a cue from the rest of the world. They are here," she said, referring to Jewish and non-Jewish visitors.

"They are not letting the conflict get in the way. To me, that's incredibly inspiring."

- CNN Belief Blog

Filed under: Israel • Judaism • Palestinians • United States

soundoff (619 Responses)
  1. lionlylamb

    I do shudder as the days are shortened ever aware of WW3's ever looming presence. Collapsing economies in many countries and nations, all the meanwhile does stand fettered justifications upon mid-east lands. Who soon will win the conflict of the Ages? Does one truly know fates ending? They left Jerusalem so long ago. Why should they the elders of jewish traditions so cheatngly take it back? Zionist paper wranglings did impart upon Arab soils the stolen lands end! rothchild's son is to be blamed! No other jew is to be found out as being the Arab land thief stolen by rothchild's underhandedness foresaking all countries and nations even those in distanced lands!

    November 21, 2012 at 10:02 pm |
  2. Akira

    Hi, Apple Bush.

    November 21, 2012 at 9:55 pm |
    • Apple Bush

      Hi Akira! What is happeining?

      November 21, 2012 at 10:01 pm |
    • Akira

      SSDD.
      Just another glorious day in paradise.
      And you?

      November 21, 2012 at 10:12 pm |
    • Apple Bush

      Good! Took by daughter to see "Rise of the Guardiens" today, It was pretty good.

      I spoke to Toshi, stand by for dinner!!

      November 21, 2012 at 10:30 pm |
  3. Lesley

    Jews in America think all kinds of things about this because Jews don't have groupthink any more than any other group. There can be just as much difference of opinion between an Orthodox Jew and a Secular Jew as there can be between a fundamentalist Protestant and a Secular Humanist. And that's not even accounting for personal idiosyncrasies and so on. Israeli=/=Jew.

    November 21, 2012 at 9:54 pm |
  4. Doc

    There are more than 6 million Jews in the u.s. – more than in Israel.

    November 21, 2012 at 9:45 pm |
  5. Apple Bush

    This war is God's will, like all things. He already knows what will happen next. He is responsible for all things, it is His will.

    November 21, 2012 at 9:39 pm |
  6. Apple Bush

    Christians are the stupidest people on the face of the planet Earth, hands down.

    November 21, 2012 at 9:37 pm |
    • Sam Yaza (wolfydeer)

      .....
      ...........
      ..................

      .............................................

      i really cant find a way to disprove it....

      no there must be someone

      November 21, 2012 at 9:49 pm |
    • Janell

      I guess the muslims who live as if they're still in the 7th century, kill their daughters for "honor" and worship a dead 50 year old pedophile/polygamist/murderer are geniuses.

      November 21, 2012 at 9:56 pm |
    • Apple Bush

      No, Muslims are also in that group of people who are the stupidest people on the face of the planet Earth, hands down.

      November 21, 2012 at 10:04 pm |
    • hinduism by Judaism self center ,secularism source of hindu filthy hinduism, racism.

      hinduism, absurdity of hindu's, ignorant of hind dark ages.

      November 21, 2012 at 10:12 pm |
  7. rs1201

    Israel doesn't have to start doing anything. What it should do is disregard the rest of the world and just do what's necessary to protect its borders and its citizens. If hamas and the gazans think they can continue launching rockets into Israel without real consequences, then maybe Israel should show them exactly what the consequences are going to be. Just annihilate these murderers and teach them a lesson once and for all.

    November 21, 2012 at 9:36 pm |
  8. Avi Shlomo

    We need to ponder...we both Children of Abraham...mor of them than us. Perhaps they did not suffer like us as they learned how to live with other nations. We were broought up on hatred. it is time we examin ourseves in views like these:
    "We walked outside, Ben-Gurion accompanying us. Allon repeated his question, 'What is to be done with the Palestinian population?' Ben-Gurion waved his hand in a gesture which said 'Drive them out!'"
    (Yitzhak Rabin, July 1948)
    " We live in a thunderously failed reality. ... A state lacking justice cannot survive. ... Even if the Arabs lower their heads and swallow their shame and anger for ever, it won't work. A structure built on human callousness will inevitably collapse in on itself. Note this moment well: Zionism's superstructure is already collapsing like a cheap Jerusalem wedding hall."
    (Avraham Burg, 15 September 2003)
    "Following 70 years of intensive excavations in the Land of Israel, archaeologists have found out: The patriarchs' acts are legendary, the Israelites did not sojourn in Egypt or make an exodus, they did not conquer the land. Neither is there any mention of the empire of David and Solomon, nor of the source of belief in the God of Israel. These facts have been known for years, but Israel is a stubborn people and nobody wants to hear about it."
    (Ze'ev Herzog, 29 October 1999) he adds: "All these events [in the biblical books of Exodus and Joshua] are practically contradicted by archaeology."

    "We have not been seeking peace for twenty-five years - all declarations to that effect have been no more than coloured statements or deliberate lies. There is of course no assurance that we could have made peace with the Arabs if we had wanted to. However, it has to be heavily emphasized that we have not only made no attempts to seek peace, but have deliberately and with premeditation, sabotaged every possibility of doing so."
    (Yeshayahu Leibowitz, 30 November 1973)

    November 21, 2012 at 9:30 pm |
    • lionlylamb

      Avi Shlomo,

      I do shudder as the days are shortened ever aware of WW3's ever looming presence. Collapsing economies in many countries and nations, all the meanwhile does stand fettered justifications upon mid-east lands. Who soon will win the conflict of the Ages? Does one truly know fates ending? They left Jerusalem so long ago. Wht should they so cheatngly take it back? Zionist paper wranglings did impart upon Arab soils the stolen lands end! rothchild's son is to be blamed! No other jew is to be found out as being the land theif stolen by rothchild's underhandedness foresaking all countries and nations!

      November 21, 2012 at 9:56 pm |
    • hinduism by Judaism self center ,secularism source of hindu filthy hinduism, racism.

      Stop your hinduism, lies by hindu Judaism, filthy secular ism, hindu Jew's were never children of Abraham but of hindu's pagans of Egypt.

      November 21, 2012 at 10:14 pm |
  9. Sam Yaza

    spam time

    [youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XFWkWib5CTs&w=640&h=390]

    November 21, 2012 at 9:30 pm |
    • Sam Yaza

      destroying hope

      is with out a doubt Tyranny

      Israel destroyed the hope of Palestinian children

      a child should never say this is the way my world is. i suffer because its all i know

      Israel are terrorist, no they are monsters and no matter of past give you the right to do these things

      as a pagan i have suffer persecution to the point were i am incapable of painless motion, and my people have been living this way for 2000 years, but even if the power were to shift it would not give me the right to cause Christians pain and the level Israel dose. and my people has survived a holocaust that continues to this day
      my people are the indigenous of all lands (Pagan) they are the Aztec, the Africans, the Tasmanians, the Ainu ect..

      being treated horribly by monsters does not give you the right to be a monster

      November 21, 2012 at 9:41 pm |
  10. Caligirl

    Applebush, you are an a**hole!!!

    November 21, 2012 at 9:28 pm |
    • Apple Bush

      What did I say?

      November 21, 2012 at 9:34 pm |
  11. Sam Yaza

    unfortunately i can not see a real solution the leaders of Israel must pay for their crimes. if Nutt-in-yahoo is not willing to spend prison time or even face the firing squad for his crimes; there will be no peace no two stat solution.

    Palestine need justice the blood of tyrants must hit the soil of Israel before any healing can be done.
    i suppose it is possible to force a two state and wait till the hatred dissipates; but that is a vary long and bloody road

    November 21, 2012 at 9:26 pm |
    • rs1201

      go back to your hole in the ground...

      November 21, 2012 at 9:30 pm |
    • Sam Yaza

      i don't live in a hole in the ground(i am assuming that is an Arabic insult your attempting

      i am an American

      and a republican

      that how i am well aware of the price of liberty being blood

      November 21, 2012 at 9:44 pm |
    • Tommy G

      I 2nd that- return to your cave

      November 21, 2012 at 9:59 pm |
  12. Holy Bowler

    The Jews are international criminals. Their leaders must be tried for genocide.

    November 21, 2012 at 9:21 pm |
  13. Izzy

    As a reform Jew, all I can say is that Israel needs to start negotiating with the Palestinians for a last peace. This includes dividing Jerusalem equally down the middle, setting up a Joint Powers Authority whereby Jews can live in Palestine and Palestinians in Israel, with some right to return issues addressed. Both these groups are educated to hate one another. Israel is run today by an extreme right wing group as opposed to years past. Until new younger leaders take fold in Israel as oppose to 90 year old men like Perez as President, there is no future long term.

    November 21, 2012 at 9:18 pm |
    • Dan Green

      ...but you are forgetting that the Palestinians refuse to recognize Israel's right to exist. I'm sure you've heard the statement "If the Palestinian put down their arms, there would be peace. If the Israelis put down their arms, there would be no more Israel." Perhaps when the Palestinians officially recognize Israel, there can be serious talks. Until then, Israel has nothing to gain and everything to lose.

      November 21, 2012 at 9:31 pm |
    • Avi Shlomo

      Well said Izzy and I too agree with you

      November 21, 2012 at 9:32 pm |
  14. Avi Shlomo

    ". it's utterly hypocritical for Israelis to wonder aloud why Palestinians don't pursue a non-violent strategy. One obvious reason is that, whenever they have, Israel brutally represses it."
    (Norman G. Finkelstein, 11 September 2003)

    November 21, 2012 at 9:17 pm |
  15. brown

    Although their behavior is admirable, American jews are simply prolonging the violence in the Middle East with their one sided support, monetary donations and political clamoring. It is this outside influence which has significantly contributed towards and ultimately denied Israel peace with its neighbors. Left to their own devices, the Israelis' and their historically combatant neighbors would likely find a path to peace much much sooner.

    The population demographics of Israel will soon favor the Arabs, it is time to find real peace. The alternative is
    a more lethal conflict – for all sides – in the coming years.

    November 21, 2012 at 9:16 pm |
  16. Reality

    Hear Ye, Hear Ye All Global Citizens,

    It is very disturbing that religious narrow- mindedness, intolerance, violence and hatred continues unabated due to randomness of birth. Maybe, just maybe if this fact would be published on the first page of every newspaper every day, that we would finally realize the significant stupidity of all religions.

    Added details:

    “John Hick, a noted British philosopher of religion, estimates that 95 percent of the people of the world owe their religious affiliation to an accident (the randomness) of birth. The faith of the vast majority of believers depends upon where they were born and when. Those born in Saudi Arabia will almost certainly be Moslems, and those born and raised in India will for the most part be Hindus. Nevertheless, the religion of millions of people can sometimes change abruptly in the face of major political and social upheavals. In the middle of the sixth century ce, virtually all the people of the Near East and Northern Africa, including Turkey, Syria, Iraq, and Egypt were Christian. By the end of the following century, the people in these lands were largely Moslem, as a result of the militant spread of Islam.

    The Situation Today
    Barring military conquest, conversion to a faith other than that of one’s birth is rare. Some Jews, Moslems, and Hindus do convert to Christianity, but not often. Similarly, it is not common for Christians to become Moslems or Jews. Most people are satisfied that their own faith is the true one or at least good enough to satisfy their religious and emotional needs. Had St. Augustine or St. Thomas Aquinas been born in Mecca at the start of the present century, the chances are that they would not have been Christians but loyal followers of the prophet Mohammed. “ J. Somerville

    November 21, 2012 at 9:10 pm |
  17. Elbonian

    There will never be peace in Israel until the Jews can view the Arabs as people with just as much right as them to the lands which they must share.

    November 21, 2012 at 9:10 pm |
    • Rational Libertarian

      I guess there'll never be peace in Israel so.

      November 21, 2012 at 9:13 pm |
  18. Apple Bush

    If I may, east coast jews are the stupidest people on the face of the planet Earth.

    November 21, 2012 at 9:09 pm |
    • Sam Yaza

      [youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bOpva_iit-8&w=640&h=390]

      November 21, 2012 at 9:10 pm |
    • Caligirl

      You are the stupidest person on earth. Jealous too.

      November 21, 2012 at 9:21 pm |
    • JoJo

      But you evidently don't live there, so they don't have a monopoly.

      November 21, 2012 at 9:22 pm |
    • Apple Bush

      Hey, I didn't say which east coast jews.

      November 21, 2012 at 9:36 pm |
  19. Bruce

    I dont think the world yet realizes that the Israeli Iron dome system is the biggest game changer in modern warfare

    November 21, 2012 at 9:03 pm |
    • Apple Bush

      I do not realize that yet. Not sure about the world.

      November 21, 2012 at 9:05 pm |
    • hinduism by Judaism self center ,secularism source of hindu filthy hinduism, racism.

      What a joke.

      November 21, 2012 at 9:08 pm |
  20. Pepou27

    http://jewishvoiceforpeace.org/blog/jvp-statement-on-israels-operation-pillar-of-defense

    November 21, 2012 at 9:03 pm |
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About this blog

The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.