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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.

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"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. KEVIN

    Stop talking and making wishes and promises but instead actuate. Honor your agreements. Do not look for ways to back out of your agreements. Do not act passively agressive and agitate your neihbors. Be consistantly honost with them and follow through with your promises. This is what every leader in the world wants Israel to do.

    November 21, 2012 at 11:02 pm |
  2. harry

    I am for human rights for everyone, regardless of his looks or belief. In case of Israel, it is not about the Jews. many of my Jewish friends, while they support the rights of the Jews, including the idea of a peaceful Israel, they are against the Zionist ideas bordering on the lines of Hitler days Germany. I support my friends fully.

    I hope someday, Palestinians and the Jews can live together as they did for centuries before Israel was formed.

    November 21, 2012 at 11:01 pm |
    • Mtka

      Well put Harry!

      November 21, 2012 at 11:14 pm |
    • slapshotbob

      Bordering on Hitler? Are you crazy? Did you know that 20% of Israel's legal residents are Arabs? Did you know for comparison that Saudi Arabia does not even allow Jews to set foot in their country?

      Israel treats the Arabs much, much better than the Arabs would treat the Israelis if it was the Arabs flying F-16s. That's the bottom line. And if you can't understand that, you're an idiot.

      November 22, 2012 at 12:58 am |
  3. Josh

    How is calling yourself a chosen people any different than calling youself the master race?

    November 21, 2012 at 10:57 pm |
    • Apple Bush

      We have a winner.

      November 21, 2012 at 11:11 pm |
    • DarkMarcsun

      Uniforms aren't as decorative?

      November 21, 2012 at 11:12 pm |
  4. Clarke

    Wishing everyone a Happy Thanksgiving!

    November 21, 2012 at 10:50 pm |
    • Apple Bush

      Clarke, thank you and you have a wonderful Thanksgiving yourself.

      November 21, 2012 at 11:12 pm |
  5. r a irving

    what a bunch of crap. how can they sleep at night knowing that they are murdering the palestinians and stealing their land.

    November 21, 2012 at 10:48 pm |
    • anchorite

      Because every moment of every day every media outlet and every government press release is devoted to portraying Israel as a victim surrounded by tons of bullies until they believe their own lies. They equate the powerless, nationless Palestinians with all Arabs. In fact, they don't even use the word Palestinian, they say Arab so as to group them in with powerful countries that can defend themselves.

      November 21, 2012 at 10:51 pm |
  6. opinionated

    http://www.jaagit.com/blog/2012/11/is-israel-going-to-the-same-path-as-hitler/

    November 21, 2012 at 10:48 pm |
  7. Mike D

    Judaism is a religion no different than the white supremacist religions.

    November 21, 2012 at 10:38 pm |
    • Apple Bush

      Exactly the same only completely different.

      November 21, 2012 at 10:40 pm |
    • Mike D

      Jews call themselves Gods chosen one, everyone else is animals according to them. The religion is a very centered around Jews are loved by God and everyone else are beneath Jews. Not really different at all from white supremacists.

      November 21, 2012 at 10:44 pm |
    • anchorite

      Don't confuse Judaism with Zionism. In fact a return to Israel and a homeland for the Jewish people was a left wing dream until it began to involve shooting villages full of unarmed Palestinians into mass graves to make room.

      November 21, 2012 at 10:44 pm |
    • anchorite

      Every people considers themselves the chosen people if you read through their sacred texts. Zionism is a political rather than religious movement. There are many Jews, even from the US, who go to Israel to stand witness to Israeli atrocities against Palestinians and do not support the occupation. You can support Israel without supporting the settlements. One day it was thought impossible that blacks would be accepted as full citizens along side whites in South Africa.

      November 21, 2012 at 10:46 pm |
    • Josh

      @anchorite – chosen people according to sacred texts... which is one of many reasons why all sacred texts are BS, especially the hebrew ones. A religion of double standards.

      November 21, 2012 at 10:53 pm |
  8. Clarke

    Happy thanksgi

    November 21, 2012 at 10:37 pm |
  9. Sushi Kanji

    Mesopotamia Monkey Brain Roll

    Inside, crab meat and avocado. Outside, salmon and spicy tuna. Deep fried. Ask for Jalapeno if you want it with a kick!

    $7.99

    November 21, 2012 at 10:35 pm |
    • Sushi Kanji

      Akira, get on the jet, I'm buying!

      November 21, 2012 at 10:37 pm |
    • Apple Bush

      I am using Toshi's iPhone lol.

      November 21, 2012 at 10:39 pm |
    • Akira

      Hey! I'll be there in a bit!
      The Monkey Brain Roll sounds delicious, as long as there isn't, you know, actual monkey brains in it.
      That's kind of a deal-breaker.
      Gotta be back before the festivities begin tomorrow, though.

      November 21, 2012 at 10:48 pm |
    • Apple Bush

      No problem, party tonight, T-day tomorrow! Saki-Bomb!!!

      November 21, 2012 at 10:52 pm |
    • Apple Bush

      All friends are invited! Let's celebrate that we don't have to live in that god-forsaken middle east shit hole. Happy Thanksgiving!

      November 21, 2012 at 10:54 pm |
    • End Religion

      Cheers!

      November 21, 2012 at 11:26 pm |
    • Sushi Kanji

      Kampaii!!

      November 21, 2012 at 11:40 pm |
  10. American Thinker

    I am pro Jewish but anti-zionism.

    November 21, 2012 at 10:28 pm |
    • anchorite

      I'm glad you are brave enough to say it. Actually about 90% of the Jews I know are the same way. They are anti-war, even if the war is against Iraqis, Iranians, or Palestinians. They generally take the side of the underdog in any conflict, which means in this case they do not support occupation of Palestine.

      November 21, 2012 at 10:39 pm |
  11. Descarado

    There is no middle ground with this conflict. As mentioned in the article, there are only two solutions.

    Either Hamas and its allies will completely destroy the nation of Israel or Israel will completely clear Gaza of its inhabitants. One way or the other.

    November 21, 2012 at 10:26 pm |
    • anchorite

      In fact there are many solutions. A two state solution, a one state solution with Palestinians accepted as full citizens of Israel, a genocide whereby Palestinians are all killed or expelled, which the world will not stand for, or continuation of the low grade conflict and humiliation of Palestinians on a day to day basis, which the world appears to be just fine with.

      November 21, 2012 at 10:48 pm |
  12. hzzvnh

    I was more supportive of the state of Israel before the election but seeing how American Jews turned their backs on the Republican party that has been a stalwart supporter of Israel while Democrats and Obama have snubbed Israel and Israeli leadership has changed my mind. If the American Jews don't support those who have always supported them, then why should we give them our support?

    November 21, 2012 at 10:25 pm |
    • Clarke

      Really?

      November 21, 2012 at 10:34 pm |
    • JB

      support Israel and the conservative and liberty loving jews that live their not the idiots here that vote against their own interest

      November 21, 2012 at 10:46 pm |
    • Akira

      Oh, for fux sake, Obama didn't snub Israel.
      He just didn't feel like taking the lead in a preemptive strike against Iran, which is what Netanyahu wanted.
      You're pist because Romney didn't win; admit it and go on...the ONLY reason that the GOP was gung-ho to get behind Israel so they could get into another bloody war and keep their coffers filled with more war cash and our troops blood...

      November 21, 2012 at 11:04 pm |
    • DarkMarcsun

      If only the Democrats has someone who understands jewish cares to push for the inclusion of Jerusalem as the official capitol of Israel in the DNC platform. Too bad Debbie Wasserman Schultz isn't Jewish...oh wait....

      November 21, 2012 at 11:11 pm |
  13. Same old story

    We are just TIRED of this nonsense. Good thing we left. Nobody i know gives a hoot.

    November 21, 2012 at 10:25 pm |
  14. American Taxpayer

    The parti-tioning of Palestine was the UN's Edsel. They totally blew it. What could they possibly have thought would have happened? Did they think that the Palestinians would welcome the European Jewish refugees, who would take over their territory and move them out of their communities, with open arms? The UN's decision was the worst, most destabilizing thing to happen to world since the end of WW2. What concerns me as much as the untold billions of American taxpayer dollars the US has bestowed on Israel, is the American born Jews who are more concerned about a country that most have never set foot in, than the country of their birth.

    November 21, 2012 at 10:22 pm |
    • lionlylamb

      How many jews would it take to destroy the world?

      answer, Why would they do that? They own over 50% of it and are trying ever harder to gain more of it!

      November 21, 2012 at 10:42 pm |
  15. Descarado

    One can never reconcile Islam with women's rights, universal suffrage or Western democracy and Islam had no intentions, what-so-ever, of dismantling its precepts to accommodate Western civilization although there are plenty of politicians in Europe and America willing to compromise those basic fundamentals for the votes of the growing Muslim voting blocs.

    November 21, 2012 at 10:21 pm |
    • Oh

      So you believe a final showdown war is the solution?

      November 21, 2012 at 10:34 pm |
    • anchorite

      What does Islam have to do with it? Many Palestinians are Christian and some are even Jewish. Some of the original villages that Israeli terrorists Stern and Irgun wiped out totally in 1947 to make room for Jewish settlements were entirely Christian.

      November 21, 2012 at 10:41 pm |
  16. bribarian

    Who cares? Imo America needs to stop funding apartheid.

    November 21, 2012 at 10:18 pm |
  17. Oh

    The most powerful force for war that exists today is religion. Why is that?

    November 21, 2012 at 10:11 pm |
  18. PGelsman

    As a non-religous American Jew, I am humbled by the support of the Christian communities around the world that show support for Israel.

    November 21, 2012 at 10:09 pm |
    • Dave

      Christians hate and fear Muslims more than Jews.

      November 21, 2012 at 10:46 pm |
    • Devoneco

      Jews condemned and killed Jesus. Jews still harrass Christians and Messianic Jews (the Jews who believe in Jesus) in Israel. Jews forcefully collected Bibles from Christians and Messianic Jews and burnt them in a bon fire in 2008. Cannot understand why Christians in USA support those who are against their faith.

      November 21, 2012 at 11:10 pm |
    • MrsFizzy

      Don't be humbled. Many of them are just brainwashed & feel they have more in common with Jews than Muslims.

      November 21, 2012 at 11:28 pm |
  19. 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 unjustifications 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 10:05 pm |
    • Apple Bush

      Fascinating Mr. Lamb. I enjoyed your post even more than usual.

      November 21, 2012 at 10:06 pm |
    • Oh

      Abandon religion and the world will become less lunatical.

      November 21, 2012 at 10:14 pm |
    • cincinnatidavid

      Oh, humans are too inflexible to abandon (quickly enough) even the most ridiculous beliefs as written in the sacred texts.

      November 22, 2012 at 5:10 am |
  20. goldie

    Just think how much sense it makes and how wonderful the world would be if we could swap mexico for israel geographically!

    November 21, 2012 at 10:02 pm |
    • RayV

      Goldie, God forbid. We have enough problems. By the way, did you know that there's a significant Jewish population in Mexico? Perhaps your ignorant ass didn't know that.

      November 21, 2012 at 10:09 pm |
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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.