Jews Try to Sell Withdrawal Plan to Jews


The hardest sell for American Jewish groups signed on to promote Israel’s planned withdrawal from the Gaza Strip might be other Jews.

Many of the major Jewish religious streams, lobbying groups and civil rights groups are encouraging the Bush administration, lawmakers and opinion makers to maintain political support for Israel’s July 20 withdrawal from the Gaza Strip and four West Bank settlements.

In Washington, the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), the pro-Israel lobby, is working to help win approval of $200 million in aid money for the Palestinians when the U.S. Senate returns next week.

The U.S. House of Representatives already has approved the cash.

“AIPAC is strongly supportive of aid to the Palestinians, provided the proper oversight is in place to ensure the money is not misspent,” AIPAC spokesman Andrew Schwartz said. “Congress is currently working on making sure that such oversight is in place.”

It should be smooth sailing, except that a coalition of Israeli settlers and their U.S. supporters are making themselves heard loud and clear. They are raising hard questions about the historic — and traumatic — removal of thousands of long-established Jewish settlers and whether their removal is worth the risks associated with turning over the region to the Palestinians.

The difficulty of the situation means having to explain the withdrawal to American Jews first of all, said Malcolm Hoenlein, the executive vice chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, the community’s foreign policy umbrella body.

“It’s an internal issue, in that we educate people about what Israel is doing, why it’s doing it,” Hoenlein said. “The trauma is great.”

The conference’s own rocky path to endorsing disengagement reflects the divisions: It held back until late last year — almost a year after Prime Minister Ariel Sharon announced the plan — when it issued a statement of qualified support.

On a recent mission to Israel, the group endorsed the plan more explicitly.

Fierce opposition to the disengagement plan is a concern for the Reform movement, which has emerged as one of its most avid backers.

“We’re always concerned that a fairly small minority of Jews in the United States have a disproportionately loud voice,” said Rabbi David Saperstein, the director of the Reform movement’s Religious Action Center.

“We have an obligation to make clear where the vast majority of Jews are. We must make sure that political leaders, opinion leaders have the right perspective.”

To that end, Saperstein is encouraging hundreds of Reform rabbis meeting this week in Houston at this year’s Central Conference of American Rabbis to tackle the issue.

Much of the American Jewish opposition is being fueled by the Zionist Organization of America (ZOA), and its president, Morton Klein, who calls the ZOA stance “anti-forced deportation,” and was behind an abortive effort in the House earlier this month — led by Rep. Anthony Weiner (D-N.Y.) — to scuttle aid to the Palestinians altogether.

Meanwhile, the Yesha Council, which represents settlers in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, has sent representatives to the United States to enlist support for their opposition to the withdrawal.

They focused especially on the Orthodox Union, which has not taken an official position. Many Orthodox Jews in America have family members in the West Bank and Gaza Strip and feel a particular empathy for those who will be uprooted. Against such determined opposition, getting out the message of support is hard but necessary, said Abraham Foxman, the national director of the Anti-Defamation League (ADL).

“In any situation, those who are pro come out in the tens of thousands, those who are against come out in the hundreds of thousands. We need to find incentives for people to come out there,” said Foxman, whose group supports the disengagement.

Each organization is working its bailiwick: The ADL, which has a long-established presence in Israel, has focused on condemning calls for violent opposition in that country and soliciting pledges of moderation from settler supporters.

The American Jewish Committee, with its extensive ties to international leaders, is mustering overseas support for the transition.

In Washington, support for disengagement has created an unlikely alliance between AIPAC and the dovish pro-Israel groups that work the Hill, Americans for Peace Now and the Israel Policy Forum — although there are substantive differences over the details. AIPAC and the dovish pro-Israel lobby groups disagree over what conditions should be attached to the $200 million in aid for the Palestinians. AIPAC was behind an effort to remove the presidential waiver, which traditionally is attached to such bills, meaning every dollar must be subject to congressional review.

AIPAC was involved in adding provisions that would require additional vetting of any money that went to the Palestinians. Such vetting procedures have in the past led to funding through non-governmental organizations rather than directly to the Palestinian Authority. AIPAC opposes such direct funding to the Palestinian Authority.

Mindful of that outlook, congressional drafters removed the presidential waiver, which traditionally is attached to such bills, meaning every dollar must be subject to congressional review.

Peace Now and the Israel Policy Forum want the Senate to restore the waiver, and make sure it makes the final version that lands on Bush’s desk for his signature.

“Adding new conditions on aid — and eliminating the president’s authority to waive them — sends the Palestinians a message that the U.S. Congress seeks to thwart the president’s efforts to assist them,” Seymour Reich, president of the Israel Policy Forum, said this week in a letter to U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice.

Another difference is over Israel’s continued settlement activity. Peace Now sharply criticized Israel’s recent announcement that it would move ahead with an old plan to build 3,500 new units in Ma’aleh Adumim, a West Bank settlement that serves as a bedroom community for Jerusalem.

Others say Israel is not obliged to freeze settlements until the Palestinians make good on their own commitment to dismantle terrorist groups.

Controversy over the Ma’aleh Adumim expansion underscores another task for Jewish organizations backing disengagement — reminding non-Jewish leaders of Israel’s sacrifice.

“The risks inherent in what Israel is doing, I don’t think people appreciate it,” said Hoenlein of the Conference of Presidents. “It’s taken for granted. We have to remind people what’s involved.”


Say Hello Before They Say Goodbye

Jews for Jesus, Jews attending churches, low synagogue membership, astronomical rates of intermarriage — as complex as these issues are, there is at least one remarkably simple and inexpensive solution to encouraging Jewish participation. It’s called a warm greeting.

A friendly smile, a warm greeting, an invitation to lunch. If you think that is silly and simplistic, think again. As part of their course work, I require my students to interview two Jews. Because many of them — all non-Jews, primarily from the South Bay — lead very narrow lives, they do not know how to find Jews and turn to familiar institutions, one of which is church. Lo and behold — as the most recent National Jewish Population Survey has finally shown — they find Jews there.

Over the years, of the 40 or so of these interviewees, about three-quarters said they were drawn to the church because of the support of their non-Jewish spouse and the friendliness of the Christian congregation. They felt welcomed.

Compare that with my experiences and those of friends. I cannot begin to enumerate all the Shabbat morning (and Friday night) services I have attended where not one single person greeted me. The list includes at least 16 of the major synagogues in Los Angeles County — of all streams. Nor is it just Los Angeles. I received the same reception in the largest Conservative synagogues in Manhattan, Queens, San Diego, Vancouver, Miami, Cleveland and Toronto, as well as the largest synagogues (Orthodox) in Amsterdam, Copenhagen and Istanbul. And in Israel, in Hebrew-speaking congregations — forget it. One is invisible until one attends regularly for six months.

Nor is it just synagogue life. Over the past three years I attended two lectures at the Yiddish Culture Club. In each, I was one of two or three people under 65 years of age. Would it not seem natural that they would greet me warmly? Think again.

Not a word. (The lectures, in Yiddish, were first-rate, so I would go again.)

In the spirit of ecumenicism, I had the same experience at St. Stephen’s Serbian Orthodox Church last month. There were only about 25 people who attended the Vespers (evening) service and not a single one came up to greet me.

Not all synagogues (or churches) are so aloof. I have been approached and invited out at Beth Jacob, Aish HaTorah and some, but not all, Chabad synagogues. At the Movable Minyan, members are required to speak to guests. When I bring students to a Shabbat service, I bring them to Mishkon Tephilo, in part because the people tend to be friendly, a trait not lost on the students. All the students who report on their experiences have a positive predisposition and they invariably mention — indeed emphasize — the friendliness of the congregants.

It’s almost too simple. Among both Jews and Christians, which movements are growing the fastest? Those that engage in outreach and that offer the strongest sense of community — those that are the most welcoming. Indeed, one of the charges against cults is that they are too friendly. Few synagogues have to worry about that charge.

A few years ago, synagogue leaders created a commission, Synagogue 2000, to devise new guidelines that would make stagnant synagogues more alive. Among the suggestions was making synagogues more friendly. But when, in July 2001, I went to services on a Shabbat morning to the synagogue of a Synagogue 2000 leader, there were 23 people, not a single one of whom greeted me. Maybe that’s why there were only 23 people.

It is not as though we need to seek out the secrets of evangelical Christian churches.

Hospitality goes back to the first Jew, Abraham, who even in extreme discomfort, welcomed the wayfarers to his home. One of the common themes throughout the Hebrew Scriptures, especially for the patriarchs and matriarchs, is that of hospitality. The Hebrew, hachnasat orchim, literally means “causing guests to enter [one’s home].”

Nor did this virtue escape the sages. We say a special blessing for guests on Sukkot. We start the seder with an invitation to all who are hungry to join us at the table, an Aramaic expression taken directly from Rabbi Huna who, according to legend, went outside and publicly invited all the needy (koll ditzrich yatay v’lechol) to join him at every meal (Taanit 20b). Rabbi Yochanan avers that hospitality is equal to prayer; Rabbi Dimi disagrees, stating that hospitality is greater (Shabbat 127a-b). In a passage included in the morning service of traditional prayer books, the rabbis included hospitality as one of the major mitzvot.

Will a smile, friendly greeting and an invitation to lunch solve all synagogue problems? Hardly. But it’s a better start than what we are doing now. If you don’t believe me, then I can recommend lots of churches where Jewish-born men and women now belong. Ask them.

Alan Fisher is a political science professor at California State University Dominguez Hills.

Conquest by Birthrate

A leading Arab think tank is backing an old strategy — to defeat the Jewish State from within by encouraging the growth of its Arab population.

The prime proponent of the conquest-by-demography theory is Wahid Abdel Maguid, chief editor of the Arab Strategic Report, the publication of Egypt’s premier think tank, the Al-Ahram Institute. The institute is part of the group that runs Egypt’s semiofficial newspaper of record, Al-Ahram.

"We are capable of increasing the demographic threat against Israel, if we demonstrate the necessary determination," Maguid declared in a recent interview with the London-based Al-Hayat Arabic newspaper.

Israel’s Arab population is estimated at some 1.2 million, compared with approximately 5 million Israeli Jews.

However, the Arabs’ birthrate is far higher than the Jews’, and Maguid estimates that Israel’s Arab population will equal its Jewish population in 34 years’ time through natural population increase.

Israel, of course, is not unaware of the demographic threat. Israeli surveys also warn of the dangers the Arab birthrate poses to Israel’s nature as a Jewish State, and Prime Minister Ariel Sharon stresses the need to bring as many Jewish immigrants to Israel as possible.

Maguid outlines a five-pronged strategy for making sure this "population bomb" can be accelerated, thus defeating Israel without another major Arab-Israeli war. Several of these processes already are under way, though not as part of a concerted Arab strategy:

Limit or reverse emigration of Jews from the former Soviet Union. In fact, levels of immigration have fallen sharply from their highs in the early- to mid-1990s;

Bring Arabs living inside Israel’s pre-1967 borders into close alignment with Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, encourage them to spurn their identity as Israeli citizens and give them decision-making roles in the anti-Israel campaign. This development, which began with the Oslo peace process and which has been encouraged by the Palestinian Authority, saw its fullest expression in the Israeli Arab riots that accompanied the outbreak of the Palestinian intifada in the fall of 2000;

Maintain a continual intifada to discourage Jewish immigration to Israel and encourage Israelis to emigrate;

Build worldwide condemnation of Israel as a "racist" state to prevent Israeli pressure on Arabs to leave Israel or to reduce their birthrate. (This fall’s U.N. World Conference Against Racism in Durban, South Africa, was the apex of this effort to date.)

promote an influx of Arabs into pre-1967 Israel through infiltration and marriage. According to Israeli media reports, this is occurring now.

Maguid proposes that future anti-Israeli actions be spearheaded by Arab citizens of Israel, and be coordinated with the Palestinians and other Arab states.

He believes that Arab infiltrators into Israel should focus on marrying Israeli Arabs, making it virtually impossible for Israel to expel the illegal immigrants — at least without opening itself to charges of racism.

The population battle already has been joined, though not yet in the organized way Maguid advocates. According to Israeli estimates, more than 50,000 Arabs have moved into Israel since the signing of the Oslo accords in 1993.

They are mainly Palestinians, Jordanians and Egyptians who enter Israel to find work, and take up residence in Israeli Arab communities. Security sources claim that some have carried out or supported acts of terror, and some are believed to be agents of the Palestinian Authority.

A key battleground of the future may be in the field of aliyah. One plank of the new Arab strategy should be undermining Israeli aliyah efforts, Maguid argues.

He urges Arabs to meet with candidates for immigration to Israel — especially in the ex-Soviet states — and tell them that living in Israel will present more daily hardships and security threats than they currently experience.

This is hardly new, however, as the Arabs and Palestinians mounted a fierce — though unsuccessful — propaganda effort to persuade ex-Soviet leaders not to allow Jewish emigration in the early 1990s.

Key to discouraging aliyah will be continuing the intifada, Maguid says. He also recommends stressing the feelings of "marginalization and disappointment" that some Russian immigrants reportedly feel.

Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon constantly stresses his commitment to Jewish immigration from the Diaspora, often talking of bringing 1 million more Jews to Israel in coming decades, especially from the former Soviet Union, South America and South Africa.

The Palestinian Authority also recognizes the importance to Israel of immigration. Its spokesman condemned Sharon’s proposal for increased immigration as a "powder-keg" likely to set off a new explosion in the tense region — even as the Palestinian Authority insists that some 4 to 5 million Palestinian refugees and their descendants be granted a "right of return" to homes they left in Israel’s 1948 War of Independence.

The Palestinian Authority statement expressed fears that new Jewish immigrants could be placed in settlements in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, but Maguid’s fear is that — even if settled within Israel’s pre-1967 borders, as are the vast majority of immigrants — these immigrants would help Israel maintain a Jewish majority.

Both Sharon and Maguid would agree on one thing: To the winner of the population battle will go control of the state. Should the Arabs become the majority within Israel, Maguid has no doubt about the type of state that would be imposed.

"Palestine can be made Arab again — Arab, and not binational — Arab Palestine," he writes. In a new, Arab-dominated state, those Jews who wished to remain, could live "strong and respected under the umbrella of our Arab culture," he proposes.