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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. laboxter

    Ignorant article. Inaccurate and oversimplified. I can't believe it also has a "It's Bush's fault" excuse in it as well. That's sooo 2009.....

    November 22, 2012 at 2:22 pm |
  2. REDFIREBALL

    Armageddon will get "crazy like a fox" - nuclear tunnels - waiting for appropriate time and place.

    November 22, 2012 at 12:59 pm |
    • Pete

      They are crazy. There is no support for either group among average Americans. Officials in Washington support jews, but Americans can't stand either group. They are both the same. Evil.

      November 22, 2012 at 1:03 pm |
  3. REDFIREBALL

    Who is "Boston Hot Lips" Patrick? What does "Dinner and a Movie" look like? Where are you Obambi-poo poo? Happy Thanxgiving –bet you stuffed the Boston Turkey - or did it stuff YOU instead? (wink)

    November 22, 2012 at 12:52 pm |
  4. Jim Weix

    "Since its 1948 founding, Israel has fought wars with its Arab neighbors and the Palestinians."
    That would much explain the problem. How can you just "create" a place for Jewish people?

    November 22, 2012 at 12:50 pm |
    • REDFIREBALL

      the jews lost all rights to a "homeland" afterb 70 C.E. - punishment for rejecting Jesus as the "promised seed" - the Romans destroyed everything including temple. The jews know why they were punished. Once the door opened for Gentiles, ALL people in world were invited to seek the Kingdom. That is why trying to maintain a political-offered space of land is difficult. Man is bucking God's Will for the Jews - NO LAND AND NO PEACE until Jesus' Second Coming. Don't you know?

      November 22, 2012 at 12:56 pm |
    • Bonnie

      Jerusalem and the land of the Nation of Israel belong to the Jews as per the promises God made to Abraham, Moses and Joshua. Deuteronomy 7:1-2, "When your Almighty God at last brings you into the land to which you are going so as to take possession of it, He must also clear away populous nations from before you.......SEVEN nations more populous and mighty than you are. And your Almighty God will certainly abandon them to you and you must defeat them. You must conclude no covenant with them nor show them any favor." This is the promise of Almighty God that came to be true in 1948-49. Those nations were Egypt, Jordan, Syria, Lybia, Saudi Arabia, Iraq and Yemen.

      November 22, 2012 at 12:59 pm |
    • Dustie

      Most people have no idea of the history of Israel even though it is relatively recent in history. The land that comprises Israel, Jordan, the Palestinian territories and that general area were in British hands, and they divided it up, as well as placing certain leaders in power (like the King of Jordan's family). The Jews were happy with their small portion; the Arabs were not, and were not happy to have Jews in the region, any more than they were to have Christians there. The people in Israel have never started one aggression in their entire history, not one, but they have acted defensively to protect themselves and they have been able to survive as a nation. At one point immediately after the country was founded, Israel was attacked by six countries at once, but survived. Every border in the entire world was the result of a conflict, and a resolution or a conquest in that conflict. Why should Israel be singled out for condemnation by anyone? Anti-semitism is the only answer to that. It's the only democracy in the Middle East. Take a look at the other countries in the ME and how they are treating their own citizens.

      November 22, 2012 at 1:13 pm |
    • lol??

      Bonnie, Israel broke the covenant and ended up divorced. Your version of inheritance is fraudulent.

      November 22, 2012 at 3:08 pm |
  5. REDFIREBALL

    would congress ask Larry Flynt to testify?

    November 22, 2012 at 12:49 pm |
  6. REDFIREBALL

    wait until Larry Flynt's "Obambi-poo and Boston Hot Lips Patrick" pics hit the hot press

    November 22, 2012 at 12:48 pm |
  7. REDFIREBALL

    Boston Hot Lips deval Patrick and obambi-poo poo both say "HI" from down on their knees in their shared "Heart Break Hotel" cell.- no bunks - they don't need them. They have each other to switch off from - soft mattress

    November 22, 2012 at 12:41 pm |
  8. REDFIREBALL

    Congress has a "smoking gun" waiting for Obambi-poo poo - watch CNN/MSNBC/FOX Poo Poo Spies interview and use their most wicked of fishing techniques to try and find out - to warn Obambi-poo poo before C-Day - "come and get it" (IF you can) -yes, we all love to play games huh? Suggestion: "Don't play the game if you don't know the rules" (I will remember the quote if I hear some broadcster repeat it).

    November 22, 2012 at 12:35 pm |

    • Toilet training was a problem for little RFB. Now everything looks like shit to her – I mean POO POO (sorry RFB).

      November 22, 2012 at 1:58 pm |
  9. Arnold from Boston

    RedFireBall should not be allowed to hold this comment section hostage with these repeated blasts insulting the President. It is offensive and has nothing to do with the subject matter, the article. I call on the moderators to please moderate and stop this continued abuse.

    November 22, 2012 at 12:31 pm |
    • REDFIREBALL

      Obambi-poo is still down on his little black knees - your turn now, arnold

      November 22, 2012 at 12:39 pm |
    • Al

      Redfireball is a tea party supporter that is still steaming about the election. His lie about Obama being a muslim from Kenya didn't work.

      November 22, 2012 at 12:43 pm |
    • REDFIREBALL

      Hey Boston Teabag, did you know Deval Patrick was offered the Attorney General position after "dinner and a movie" with obambi-poo poo until Eric Holder found out? Guess what Congress knows "big boy" - crazy as a fox right? 9wink)

      November 22, 2012 at 12:45 pm |
  10. REDFIREBALL

    Congress knows something - and had the solid proof - waiting for Obambi-poo. What did you say sweetie??? "Come and get me"?

    November 22, 2012 at 12:28 pm |
  11. REDFIREBALL

    Peace will come to America after he Congressionl hearings and soon-to-be Special prosecutor are through with obam and all his men/women -- get the handcuffs ready black boy

    November 22, 2012 at 12:25 pm |
  12. REDFIREBALL

    Obama will be spending next Thanx Giving in prison -Susan Rice may join him if she does not shut up (wink)

    November 22, 2012 at 12:23 pm |
  13. Arnold from Boston

    Here is why Jews are concerned of continued violence.

    Hamas Leader Khaled Meshaal celebrated the ceasefire in a CNN interview in which he continues Hamas's refusal to acknowledge Israel's right to exist, despite making continued arguments for the creation of a Palestinian state.

    He stated that Israel needed to accept "a Palestinian state in the 1967 borders, with Jerusalem as its capital and the ‘right to return'."

    So far great – sounds like a two state solution BUT he immediately followed that with:

    "AMANPOUR: So since innocents are being killed by your side and by that side, are you still, after all these years, committed to a one-state solution, as you said, to have Palestine from the Jordan to the sea?

    MESHAAL: Palestine, from the river to the sea, from the north to the south, it is my land. And the land of my fathers and grandfathers, inhibited by the Palestinians from a long time ago. This is my land, my right."

    Hamas is once again claiming ownership over all of British Mandate Palestine of 1923. They reject all the international agreements that ended WW1 including the peace treaty signed by the Ottomans. They disavow all of the actions taken by the League of Nations and its' successor, the UN, that expressly and repeatedly called for the creation of a Jewish Home in Palestine.

    He refuses to acknowledge Israel or make any statement about Israel's right to exist until after the Palestinians have their own state.

    "AMANPOUR: - is are you keeping on making excuses for why you won't recognize...

    MESHAAL: I'm answering. I'm answering. Allow me to answer. I have given you a clear answer. I am - I want - I want my state. After this state is established, it - besides its standing toward Israel, don't ask me when I'm in prison and under pressure, under Israeli pressure. You cannot ask me, as a victim, what is my stand toward Israel. I have mentioned my stand when there is a Palestinian state and the Palestinians are living like any other people in the world."

    November 22, 2012 at 12:12 pm |
  14. Jesse

    Pro Israel pro peace! I love it! We stand by Israel, and Israel loves peace as does America.

    November 22, 2012 at 12:08 pm |
  15. REDFIREBALL

    SORRY OBAMABI-POO POO -- Hillary Clinton already stated that she assumed full responsibility - "full responsibility" for what? Congress will find out next month. James Clapper already perjured himself under oath before Congress, remember? Yes,Obama, they are getting closer to you - care to say, "come get me" again? (wink)

    November 22, 2012 at 11:53 am |
  16. Correctlycenter

    May the LORD God continue to bless the US and Israel. Most American Christians support you! Thank you LORD for providing for our needs. Thanksgiving is about giving thanks to God, not about shopping, eating, watching TV and boozing with the relatives. Thank you LORD...

    November 22, 2012 at 11:47 am |
  17. REDFIREBALL

    New Best Seller - "Barack Obama: Things Never Learned From Abraham Lincoln"

    November 22, 2012 at 11:38 am |
  18. Paul

    And why does the article refer to the jewish-americans as "American Jews" but American Arabs are "arab-American"

    Interesting that CNN uses this language

    November 22, 2012 at 11:35 am |
  19. REDFIREBALL

    CNN MANAGEMENT - Do you believe that Barack Obama would display the valor and honor comparable to that shown by Jesse Jackson Jr.? Probably not.

    November 22, 2012 at 11:35 am |
  20. richard

    We arent "US Jews"; We are American Jews. We've been here a long time and we are Americans first.

    November 22, 2012 at 11:30 am |
    • Paul

      I think the proper term is "Jewish-American" as is the case for all other hyphenated ethnic groups. Perhaps you should educate CNN on the language it uses.

      November 22, 2012 at 11:36 am |
    • floridasboy

      It goes Nationality then ethnicity... example : Barack Hussien Obama is an african-American muslim, Mr Goldstein is an American-Israeli jew and I'm a WASP... American.

      November 22, 2012 at 12:12 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.