A R C H I V E S
Madinat al-Muslimeen Islamic Message Board
|Sharon divides world's Jews|
|04/14/02 at 21:56:20|
A community at bay faces a crisis of conscience Observer Worldview
Jason Burke, Adam Blenford and Ed Helmore
Sunday April 14, 2002
The three security guards under the awning were the only sign that the anonymous building in west London was anything but a block of flats. Young and smartly dressed, they checked their list before letting people through the 10-inch thick metal doors that led to the synagogue.
Inside, a week for the Jewish community seemed a world away as they traded easy smiles and wished each other the traditional 'shabbat shalom'.
But when Rabbi Pini Dunner asked for the traditional toasts of health the sense of bonhomie slipped away. One man spoke in Hebrew, in honour of Israeli soldiers. A younger man offered his toast to innocent people from both sides of the conflict. But it was left to the rabbi, welcoming the hawkish American defence expert Richard Perle to the synagogue, to touch the communal heart.
'As Jews we are facing two challenges. On a daily basis we face a barrage of criticism, even from those we know and respect. But we know that in ourselves, as Jews, we have a tremendous compassion. And somewhere inside us we are uncomfortable with the events that are taking place.'
The last weeks have forced an unprecedented soul-searching among British - and American - Jews. There is even an argument over whether there is any argument.
'There is no fierce debate,' Lord Greville Janner told The Observer. 'While there are views within the Jewish community about how the Israeli government should handle the situation... we are on the defensive... and the community has to stand firm and maintain solidarity with the Jewish state.'
Certainly Jewish communities in America and Europe feel on the defensive. A wave of anti-semitic attacks, ranging from assaults on the streets of London to arson in synagogues in France, have scared many. But though the bulk of opinion has swung squarely behind Ariel Sharon, there are signs that many Jews in Britain and, crucially, in America are increasingly uneasy with the Israeli leader's hard line.
'I think everyone is having a crisis of conscience,' said Jonathan Goddard, deputy editor of London Jewish News. 'Their traditional right-wing background doesn't fit with left-wing sympathies.'
Many young British Jews feel that the traditional leaders of the community are wrong to assume they will back the Israeli government unconditionally. A poll by the website TotallyJewish.com, largely visited by the under-30s, showed 45 per cent against continued military action in the West Bank and Gaza. Peace lobby groups report a flood of new volunteers.
Amanda Bronkhorst, a 23-year-old production assistant from Finchley, north London, told The Observer that she is angry at what she feels is community pressure to back a hard line: 'I think they should pull out of the West Bank, stop killing innocent people and start negotiating. So-called senior members of the community shouldn't force me to back Israel whatever. They never change, never listen to different opinions.'
There are parallels in America. Though the immediate threat to friends and relatives in Israel, and fears of resurgent anti-semitism, have led to hardening of support for Sharon and Israeli military tactics, many are uncomfortable. Organisers of a massive rally in Washington to emphasise that Israel's fight against suicide bombers is part of America's fight against terrorism are already at odds over whether to endorse Sharon's policies.
Ron Rosenbaum of American Jews for Peace, an organisation formed more than 20 years ago to pressurise Israel into withdrawing from the Palestinian territories, says there is a large, unarticulated Jewish majority that believes in the right to self-defence, is disappointed in the Palestinians but finds Sharon's policies unacceptable and counter-productive.
Senior rabbinical figures in the UK share those concerns. Rabbi Mark Solomon, of the Liberal synagogue in London's St John's Wood, said that members of the Jewish establishment often prefer to keep silent if they feel they cannot support Israeli policies. 'I do not think that keeping silent is particularly responsible when Israel is in danger and Israelis are under attack,' he said.
'It is best to defend Israel and the Israeli people by eliminating the hatred, bitterness and hostility that are the causes of the terrorism, and that can only be done by making substantial and courageous moves towards a just peace.'
Solomon said he feared for a Jewish culture that has 'been formed over millennia by a people in exile' and that is 'peaceful, non-aggressive, intellectualistic with a highly ethical approach to life and co-existence with non-Jewish neighbours.'
But while recent events have forced some to reconsider long-held right-wing positions, continuing suicide bombings and a perception of widespread anti-semitism are driving others to a more hardline stance.
'[Many] liberal American Jews are angry at the suicide bombings, worried about growing "anti-anti-semitism", so fully support Sharon's drive to root out terrorism in the territories,' says Rosenbaum. 'They are now less critical of Sharon and more supportive of his policies because they harbour deep doubts about Arab and Palestinian intentions... liberal American Jews are prepared to suspend their belief in civil rights and the concern for humanity they would normally have.'
Orthodox Jews packed New York's JFK airport last week on their way to Israel with the express purpose of showing their unremitting solidarity for the Jewish state region. John Fischel, president of the Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles, recently flew to Tel Aviv with a $1 million cheque in humanitarian aid.
Throughout every debate, however, there is fear and sadness. 'It is a tragedy for everyone,' said Janner.
Madinat al-Muslimeen Islamic Message Board