What Syria’s refugees think about Israel might surprise you


Israel’s government is in cahoots with Syrian President Bashar Assad. America wants to keep the Syrian civil war going for as long as possible. Russia is outmaneuvering the United States on the global stage.

Those are some of the viewpoints you’re likely to hear if you talk politics with Syrians pouring out of their war-torn country and into Europe.

When I went to Berlin recently to write about the wave of migrants arriving in Germany, one of the questions I was most curious about was something that had nagged at me since the regime of Syrian President Bashar Assad began bombing its own people back in 2011: Now that you see the true face of your government, do you look at its longtime adversary, Israel, any differently? Could the enemy of your enemy be your friend?

But when it came to their views on Israel, there seemed to be more conspiracy theory than political theory. And I was surprised (though I probably shouldn’t have been) that for many Syrians, the defining element of their identity is sectarian rather than national, and therefore they’re more concerned with the divides among Alawites, Sunnis, Shiites and Kurds than the divide between Arab and Jew.

“Israel and Bashar [Assad] – same-same,” said Khalid el-Hassan, a 17-year-old from the Syrian coastal city of Tartus who recently made his way to Berlin.

El-Hassan cited the quietude that for years prevailed along the Syria-Israel border and Assad’s repeated failure to respond to Israeli airstrikes in Syria both during the civil war and before it.

Emad Khalil, a 22-year-old law student from Aleppo, repeated a myth that is widely accepted as fact across the Arab Middle East: that the two stripes on the Israeli flag represent the Nile and the Euphrates rivers, and the Star of David is a sign that the Jews seek to control all the land in between, from Egypt to Iraq.

“You come to visit Syria, OK. You come to take our land, not OK,” he said.

Some of the Syrian refugees interviewed in Berlin insisted on taking selfies with JTA's Uriel Heilman, in Yankees cap. (Uriel Heilman)

Some of the Syrian refugees interviewed in Berlin insisted on taking selfies with JTA’s Uriel Heilman, in Yankees cap. 

When I told Khalil the myth about the flag had no truth to it, he shrugged.

“I saw it on a documentary,” he said.

To be sure, I heard a range of viewpoints expressed, from the Syrian Kurd who was curious about teachers’ salaries in Tel Aviv to the bereaved Syrian mother who asked me why, if we’re all children of Adam and Eve, can’t we just get along?

To my Western ear, many of the Syrians’ convictions sounded outlandish, incoherent or ignorant. I mostly suppressed the urge to argue, however. My aim wasn’t to convince them why they were wrong, but to get a sense of how they see the world.

Given their experiences over the past four-plus years of civil war, the Syrians I met were less interested in talking about Israel than what they said was the West’s failure to help them.

Hadiya Suleiman, 45, a native of Deir ez-Zur in eastern Syria whose 18-year-old son was killed by a roadside bomb she said was rigged by ISIS, said she and other Syrians were happy when President Barack Obama was elected. But his inaction following the Syrian revolution changed her mind.

“I think what’s happening now is Obama’s responsibility; if Obama wanted he could stop the war,” said Suleiman, who has five surviving children.

Suleiman accused the “Jewish lobby” in America of thwarting any action on Syria, saying that U.S. policy favors seeing the civil war drag on so that the Syrians continue killing each other. She also blamed the rise of ISIS on America’s mismanagement of its invasion of Iraq.

Idris Abdulah, 30, an unemployed Syrian Kurd who came to Germany a year ago, said it wasn’t fair to blame America for ISIS; he fingered Assad for creating the ISIS problem by releasing Islamic militants from Syrian prisons shortly after the outbreak of the civil war. But Abdulah said America’s failure to act decisively in Syria shows American weakness, especially in contrast to Russia.

Noting Russia’s success at wresting Crimea from Western-backed Ukraine, Abdulah declared, “America is losing. Russia is winning.”

He added, “We all hate the American government because it’s not doing anything for the Syrian people even though it can. We don’t hate American people.”

Then he offered me the hot cup of tea a friend had just thrust into his hand.

El-Hassan said he was disappointed by the shoddy welcome Syrian refugees have received in Europe — especially given Syria’s “magnanimous” welcome of refugees in decades past from Iraq, Lebanon and Palestine. Until he reached Germany, el-Hassan said, he encountered mostly hostility, from the Hungarian guards who beat and detained him to the Serbians who refused to provide lodging and other assistance.

“In Serbia, in Macedonia, we sleep in the street, but nobody cared,” el-Hassan said. “Here in Germany, we sleep in the street, but people come to bring us food, sleeping bags. Here they are very good men.”

When I asked why Persian Gulf states weren’t taking in Syrian refugees, the answer was straightforward: “The Arabs don’t love us,” el-Hassan said.

Idris Abdulah, a Syrian Kurd who arrived in Germany in 2014 and still hasn't found a job, says he hopes one day to work helping refugees like himself. (Uriel Heilman)

Idris Abdulah, a Syrian Kurd who arrived in Germany in 2014 and still hasn’t found a job, says he hopes one day to work helping refugees like himself. 

Abdulah said he believes Gulf countries like Saudi Arabia are afraid that incoming Syrian refugees could destabilize their tightly controlled societies by pushing for more freedoms.

So far, Syria’s Muslim neighbors have borne the brunt of the Syrian refugee crisis. Approximately half of Syria’s 17 million citizens have been displaced by the civil war. Aside from the millions who have been internally displaced, some 2 million have gone to Turkey, more than 1 million have fled to Lebanon, over 600,000 have found shelter in Jordan and about 250,000 have gone to Iraq.

Many of those countries have balked at taking in more Syrians due to dwindling international funding for Syrian refugees and concerns about the destabilizing effect of an even greater influx.

When Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany announced six weeks ago that her nation would take in 800,000 asylum seekers, it prompted a fresh wave of Syrians to risk the perilous journey to Europe. (By contrast, the United States has accepted 1,500 Syrian refugees over the past four years. The Obama administration announced in September that by 2017 it would increase the number of asylum seekers it accepts annually to 100,000 from 70,000. That figure includes not just Syrians but refugees from all over the world.)

Syrians aren’t the only ones heading to Germany. The refugee camps I visited in Berlin are full of Iraqis, Pakistanis, Eritreans and citizens of too many other countries to count – including Russian speakers from Central Asia. Some are fleeing war, violence or repression, but many are economic migrants seeking better opportunities. It’s a point of consternation for many of the Syrians, who accuse others of misrepresenting the dangers they face back home – and even acquiring fake Syrian identity papers – in an effort to be granted asylum in Germany.

Despite her hopes for a new life in Germany free of war and peril, Suleiman said she’d go back to Syria in a heartbeat if the war ended. But there may not be much to go back to.

“For 10 years I worked to build a house, and now it’s all crushed by Assad’s bombs,” she said. “I tried living under ISIS control, but anybody who said anything that disagreed with ISIS was beheaded.”

Suleiman said she tried to gain admission to Kuwait, where her husband has worked for the past 13 years, but she was denied entry. The same thing happened when she tried Saudi Arabia. Now she has one child in Austria and four with her in Germany, where she arrived in late September.

“But Syria,” she said, “is still my home.”

Fifteen percent of West Bank settlers are American citizens.


Fifteen percent of West Bank settlers are American citizens.

According to an Oxford University professor, approximately 60,000 American Jews live in Jewish settlements in the West Bank, Haaretz reported Thursday.

“This provides hard evidence that this constituency is strikingly over-represented, both within the settler population itself and within the total population of Jewish American immigrants in Israel,” Sara Yael Hirschhorn, the author of the forthcoming book “City on a Hilltop: Jewish-American Settlers in the Occupied Territories Since 1967,” said during a presentation at Jerusalem’s Limmud conference, Haaretz reported.

The book will be published by Harvard University Press next year.

An estimated 170,000 American immigrants and their children live in Israel, according to Haaretz.

Hirschhorn said her findings contradict much of the conventional wisdom about American Israelis who immigrated in the 1960s and ‘70s, particularly that they came to Israel for lack of any other options, that they were very Orthodox and that they had supported right-wing causes in America.

Hirschhorn said her research reveals that most American Jewish settlers came when they “were young, single, highly-educated – something like 10 percent of American settlers in the occupied territories hold PhDs, they’re upwardly mobile, they’re traditional but not necessarily Orthodox in their religious practice, and most importantly, they were politically active in the leftist socialist movements in the U.S. in the 1960s and 70s and voted for the Democratic Party prior to their immigration to Israel.”

She said her 10 years of research reveal a portrait that “is one of young, idealistic, intelligent and seasoned liberal Americans who were Zionist activists, and who were eager to apply their values and experiences to the Israeli settler movement.”

According to Haaretz, Hirschhorn said at Limmud that she reached the following conclusion about this group of immigrants: “They’re not only compelled by some biblical imperative to live in the Holy Land of Israel and hasten the coming of the messiah, but also deeply inspired by an American vision of pioneering and building new suburbanized utopian communities in the occupied territories. They draw on their American background and mobilize the language they were comfortable with, discourses about human rights and civil liberties that justify the kind of work that they’re doing.”

Many American settlers “use the values and language of the left to justify projects on the right,” she added.

Gallup shows split in backing for Israel in Gaza war, with younger Americans unsupportive


A Gallup poll shows that support among Americans for Israel during the Gaza Strip conflict is divided, and is low among younger Americans.

The poll posted on the pollster’s website Thursday showed a statistical dead heat between those who believe Israel’s actions against Hamas are justified, 42 percent, and those who believe they are unjustified, 39 percent. The difference was within the poll’s margin of error of four percentage points.

Reactions to Hamas were lopsided, with 70 percent calling the group’s actions unjustified and just 11 percent describing them as justified.

Older Americans were much likelier to say Israel’s actions were justified: 55 percent of those over 65; 53 percent of those between 50 and 64; 36 percent of those 30-49 and just 25 percent of those 18-29.

There were other dramatic differences in how subgroups measured support for Israel, with 65 percent of Republicans calling Israel’s actions justified and just 31 percent of Democrats and 36 percent of Independents saying they were justified; 50 percent of whites said Israel was justified, while just 25 percent of non-whites agreed with that characterization; 51 percent of men agreed and 33 percent of women.

The poll was based on 1,018 phone interviews conducted from July 22-23.

Israel launched Operation Protective Edge on July 8 after an intensification of rocket fire from the Gaza Strip. More than 820 Palestinians, most of them civilians, have been killed since then, as have 36 Israelis, including 33 troops.

Americans oppose unilateral statehood, poll finds


A majority of Americans oppose a declaration of Palestinian statehood absent a peace agreement with Israel, a new poll finds.

The poll released this week by the Israel Project showed 51 percent of registered U.S. voters oppose a proposal that the Palestinian Authority “unilaterally declare an independent Palestinian state WITHOUT a signed peace treaty with Israel,” while 31 percent support it.

Republicans were likelier to oppose such a proposal, at 66 opposed to 21 percent in favor,  in constrast to Democrats, with 44 percent opposed and 33 percent in favor, and independents, with 48 percent opposed and 37 percent in favor.

The question is looming because Palestinians are pushing for UNited Nations recognition of statehood in September as a means of pressing Israel to freeze settlements.

Palestinians walked away from direct talks last September when Israel would not extend a 10-month settlement freeze.

The poll also found that voters perceive Israel as working harder for peace.

Respondents who said Israel was making an effort outnumbered those who said it was not, 61 percent to 29 percent. Those who said Palestinians were not making an effort to achieve peace outnumbered those who did 53 percent to 46 percent.

The poll, carried out by Public Opinion Strategies, surveyed 800 voters between April 5 and 7 and has a margin of error of 3.46 percentage points.

9/11/02


Now a year has passed. We have bombed. We have infiltrated. We have analyzed and rallied and written.

And through it all we have avoided one sad truth: the terrorists have already won. They haven’t won the war, but they have won a crucial battle.

My first memory of terror goes back to the Palestinian terrorist takeover of a school in the northern Israeli town of Ma’alot in 1974. It was incomprehensible to me that a man, a fellow human being, could kill children. But that’s what happened in Ma’alot, where the terrorist takeover left more than 20 schoolchildren dead.

The world was horrified. Reaction followed a script that by now is well-rehearsed: Shock, outrage, condemnation and a knee-jerk search for explanations.

What would drive people to do such things, Americans reflexively asked. That question is one of terrorism’s goals: an attack’s success can be measured partly, of course, by how much it spreads terror, but more importantly, by how much it spreads curiosity. Why are these people so angry? Why do they hate us? Who are these guys?

Ma’alot and the 1972 massacre of Israeli Olympic athletes in Munich — 30 years ago this week — planted the Palestinian cause in the mind of the Western world. Violence perpetrated upon innocents jolted the West into awareness. Evil succeeded.

And if awareness is a goal of terrorism, then Osama bin Laden, too, has already won.

"I’m mad at bin Laden," a Santa Monica physician told me recently. "I didn’t want to know about the rest of the world’s problems, but he forced me to. I liked my ignorance."

The attacks shattered our bliss and shoved the reality of the world’s 1 billion Muslims in our face. Thanks to a newly awakened media, America now has a bachelor’s in Islam and a master’s in Muslim grievance.

All this would be fair and maybe even good were the education equal. The fact is, thanks to bin Laden, we now know more about them than they know about us. The Saudis might have blown enough oil money to buy every Palestinian refugee a Harvard education; Muslims might control nine sovereign states and armies, but somehow too many of them cherish their self-perception as victims of the West. And victims, they figure, need redress, not re-education. Just ask the Arab League.

Bin Laden and his minions don’t care how aware we are, how much we learn about Islam. They only care that we convert to their brand of it. Barring that, we are all targets for annihilation, whether we are Donald Rumsfeld or Noam Chomsky, Arab or Christian or Jew, soldier or infant.

Whenever I look back on Sept. 11, this logic strands me on the same depressing shore. Certainly, as William Safire wrote so forcefully on Sept. 12, 2001, we need to "carry the war to the enemy." We’ve done that. But beyond shooting back, how can we avoid handing victory to the terrorists? I had no answer to that, until I heard Judea Pearl speak.

He was receiving an award in honor of his son, Daniel, who was murdered in Pakistan in the wake of Sept. 11 (see story p. 20). Here was a man whose own pain was immeasurable, whose reasons for bitterness and despair dwarfed my own. "On the surface," he said, "[the terrorists] seem to have won on all fronts — and this thought caused me great pain." But many agonizing weeks later, as people touched by the son’s death reached out to the father, Judea Pearl put into place specific ways to spread the good his son brought into the world. "If Danny’s death can give humanity, or whatever is left of her, the banner that she needs to defend herself, then something good may come out of it," he concluded.

Not long after I heard Judea Pearl speak, I visited an exhibition at the Skirball Cultural Center, "Faces of Ground Zero." The larger-than-life-size Polaroid images of men and women who survived the attack — firefighters who rushed to help, stockbrokers who searched for loved ones, steelworkers who tried to rescue the dying — were themselves an attack on the inhumanity of the perpetrators of the crimes. They were, almost literally, the banners humanity needs to defend herself. Visitors to the exhibit waited in line to write their impressions in a guest book — their hands shook and tears rolled down their cheeks. "I feel I am on holy ground," one person wrote.

The High Holidays are traditionally a time for prayer and introspection, a chance to reattach ourselves to what is true and holy and good. Of course, the violent fanatics who continue to plan our demise also pray, they also believe what they are doing is true and holy and good. I know — and you know — they are wrong, but evidently knowing is no longer enough. We must, like Judea Pearl and the heroes of Sept. 11, actively wave the banner of humanity. Wherever we stand and do that, we stand on holy ground.

Shana Tova.

Use Law to Respond to Hebrew University Attack


We’ve seen it before — more than 20 dead and hundreds injured as a result of Palestinian Arab terror attacks in Israel within a week of each other. The death of five Americans at Hebrew University on Jerusalem’s Mount Scopus brought the pain home to America once again. President Bush remarked, "We are responding to a murder of Americans. We’re responding all across the globe to murders of Americans….The war on terror is fought on many fronts. And I just — I cannot speak strongly enough about how we must collectively get after those who kill…."

And following a wreath-laying on the Hebrew University campus, Daniel C. Kurtzer, U.S. ambassador to Israel, said, "We are very committed in the war against terrorism and, in addition to the support that we give to the State of Israel as a partner in this war against terrorism, we will do all that we can to fight against terrorists wherever they are."

As the parent of an American killed in a 1995 bombing, I knew there would be an Israeli response to the Hebrew University attack, but I wondered about the response that would come from America. Words are one thing, actions are another. Would anything be done differently by this president from what I witnessed seven years ago when my 20-year-old daughter, Alisa, was murdered by a suicide bomber?

When an American is murdered overseas, U.S. law gives the government the authority to investigate the crime, and to extradite to the United States and prosecute those responsible for it. Indeed, we have seen this law at work in the case of the conspiracy to bomb American airliners, the 1993 World Trade Center attack, and the war against the Taliban and Al Qaeda.

When Palestinian Islamic Jihad killed Alisa in 1995, then-President Clinton immediately announced the dispatch of an FBI team to Israel and Gaza for the purpose of investigating the attack and bringing her killers to justice. When you are mourning your child, you don’t pay attention to such details until they are called to your attention through news reports and a telephone call from the FBI. But when you get the word that the United States is standing up for one of its citizens, you think things are going in the right direction.

Back in 1995, when relations between the Palestinian Authority and the Clinton administration were at their best, one would have expected the Palestinians to show their willingness to work with their American partners at the FBI. That was not to be the case, however, as the Palestinian security service refused to cooperate with the FBI and provide any information on those who killed Alisa. And I do mean "those" because suicide bombers and those who plant bombs and walk away never work alone. In Alisa’s case, the Israelis were able to identify at least 10 men who were responsible for planning and coordinating the attack and a foreign country, the Islamic Republic of Iran, as the financial and moral sponsor of Islamic Jihad.

That lack of cooperation by the Palestinian Authority continues today. And two of Alisa’s killers are still roaming the streets of Gaza despite Israel’s requests for their transfer from the Palestinian Authority to Israel in accordance with provisions of the Oslo accords. Two had a military trial in Israel and are sitting in prison. Regarding the others, let us just say that they will not be able to kill again. As for U.S. action, the United States has never made a request for extradition or transfer.

The U.S. response to the growing number of victims of terrorism in 1995 and 1996 — three more American victims in Palestinian attacks in Israel, the attack in Oklahoma City and the shooting down of four unarmed airplanes being flown by the Brothers to Rescue as they searched the Florida straits for people attempting escape from Cuba — led Congress to pass and President Clinton to sign a far-reaching bill known as the Anti-Terrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996. This bold law created penalties for those who conduct terror against Americans. In addition, it gave us ordinary citizens the ability to bring civil actions against foreign countries designated by the U.S. State Department as state sponsors of terrorism. The purpose of the law is to put state sponsors out of the terrorism business by attaching a financial penalty to their actions. Using that law, I successfully sued the Islamic Republic of Iran as the sponsor of the attack that killed Alisa. Other Americans have followed in my footsteps.

But I am sorry to say that all did not work out as planned, as recent attacks by Islamic Jihad and Hamas demonstrate. The law has not had its intended effect because the U.S. government has blocked me and others from seizing Iranian assets in this country in full satisfaction of our claims. The result of this policy is Iran’s continued support of Palestinian Arab terrorists and the deaths of more innocent civilians.

If President Bush wants to reduce the chance of more deaths in the Middle East and bring some hope to Israelis and Palestinians, he should do what his predecessor was afraid to do — give us access to Iran’s commercial assets in the United States for the purpose of reducing Iran’s ability to sponsor terrorism. He must use the courage that I believe he has to disregard the entrenched policy wonks at the State Department, who tread lightly when it comes to Iran’s financial support of terror, and strike a blow on behalf of those Americans murdered in cold blood by its proxies in the field. If he does that, he will take Islamic Jihad, Hamas and others out of the terrorism game and the world will be a safer place.

15 and Counting


Washington’s official response to the killings of five Americans at Hebrew University can be summed up largely in a word: words.

True, the attacks came as Congress is in recess and President George W. Bush is between vacations. After a meeting with Jordan’s King Abdullah, a day after the bombing, Bush said he was "just as angry as Israel is right now" and said the United States would work to track down the Americans’ killers. He also sent a handwritten condolence message that was read aloud Wednesday at a memorial ceremony in Jerusalem for the bomb victims.

In his public statements following the bombing, Bush pointedly did not warn Israel to refrain from escalating tensions. To some, Bush’s words meant Israel was free to launch a reprisal unchecked by American criticism. "That was a strong signal," Warren Bass, a terrorism expert at the Council on Foreign Relations, told me.

Bush also directed the FBI to send officials to Jerusalem to help Israelis investigate the bombing, the second time America has done so since the Palestinian intifada began in September 2000. The FBI team arrived in Israel on Monday.

But that, folks, is all.

Many experts, Bass included, see these steps as significant. Military action would be all but preposterous, he said. What could the United States do on the ground that Israel isn’t doing already (often with United States-made hardware)? We have troops in Afghanistan and Pakistan, we’re gearing up for something with Iraq. We can’t be everywhere Americans are killed. Sending American troops to root out Hamas terrorists? "I just don’t see it," said Bass.

But short of stronger action, the American response has left many Americans who happen to be Jewish wondering if the president’s war on terror extends to them. Last week’s Hebrew University bombing brings to 15 the number of U.S. citizens killed by Palestinian attacks over the last two years, according to the U.S. Embassy. Some 26 have been wounded or maimed. In response, Bush has listed Hamas as a terrorist organization and closed down United States-based charities funneling monies to the group. Is it enough?

"Our feeling is that there have been numerous American deaths, and holding Palestinian killers of Americans to different standards than other killers of Americans doesn’t help bring peace to the region and help the United States fight terror," Rebecca Needler, a spokeswoman for the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, told the Jewish Telegraphic Agency.

More than a few Jews are wondering if the American response would have been different if the the five Americans killed had been non-Jews studying in Europe or, say, Grenada. In 1983, then-President Ronald Reagan ordered a U.S. invasion of that tiny Caribbean country, claiming that a coup there threatened the lives of American students studying at St. George University medical school. The fighting that ensued left 64 dead, including 19 U.S. soldiers.

Many historians claim the threat to the American students in Grenada was just a pretext for invasion.

Now, administration officials are debating whether Hamas is targeting Americans, a claim Hamas has denied. But waiting for a declaration of policy from a terror organization seems superfluous when not five Americans are threatened, but 15 are killed and 26 wounded. That’s not pretext, that’s proof.

The fear in Washington, of course, is that taking a more active role in combating Palestinian terror will threaten America’s role in any peace process. But it is unclear how any peace process would involve Hamas. Its spiritual leader, Sheikh Ahmed Yassin, was quoted in the Italian newspaper Corriere Della Sera on why students at Hebrew University are ripe targets. "They are considered by us to be enemy soldiers," he said. When a reporter asked Yassin whether Hamas would accept an Israel in its pre-June 1967 borders, Yassin said, "Israel was born in violence and it will die in violence. The Jews have no right to the land of Palestine."

Hamas is a group that, unlike the Palestinian Authority, has never recognized Israel’s right to exist. This is a group bent on the destruction of Israel and its allies. Perhaps Hamas’ destruction was Israel’s problem — now, according to the Bush Doctrine, it should be America’s problem, too. "The military must be ready to strike at a moment’s notice in any dark corner of the world," Bush told cadets at West Point last year. "All nations that decide for aggression and terror will pay a price."

When Washington returns from vacation, Jewish groups will rightly keep an eye on what further concrete steps the administration and Congress take in response to the slaughter of Americans abroad. Will they push for the extradition of Palestinians accused of terrorist acts against Americans to the United States? Will they crack down on Saudi Arabia, which according to Sen. Joseph Lieberman (D-Conn.) has provided "very ample funding" to Hamas? Will they make a strong statement by sending a handful of American forces in to engage Hamas terrorists?

I don’t know the answer to these questions. The truth is, I haven’t thought through all the ramifications of this whole Bush Doctrine.

But I wonder, has Bush?

The Christian Right, Conservatism and the Jews


For generations, Jews have viewed religious conservatives with a combination of fear and disdain. Yet the recent events in the Middle East — and the steadfast support given Israel by religious conservatives — has gone a long way to correcting many often exaggerated, if not misplaced, assumptions about this large, and politically significant, group.

To the horror of reflexive Jewish liberals, organizations long suspicious of the religious right, such as the Anti-Defamation League (ADL), have now been making more of a common cause with them. This adds another dimension to an already strong linkage, based on shared values beyond Israel, between conservative Christians and Orthodox Jews.

Although more secular Jews may continue to conflict with Christian conservatives on many issues, such as prayer in school and abortion, the more pressing concerns over Israel impel our community to develop closer ties to a broad spectrum of this large American constituency. We need also to be aware that there are elements among Christians whose apocalyptic ideological reasons for backing Israel — largely that it brings them closer to the Second Coming of Jesus — should be viewed with concern. They often identify overly much with the Jewish messianic elements of the settlement movement, whose fanaticism and state support remain a continuing obstacle to peace.

Yet, whatever our misgivings, this is not a time for Jews and other supporters of Israel to nitpick over motivations. The Jewish state, and one could also say the Jewish people, are under attack, more so than perhaps anytime since the late 1940s. The Middle East is filled with people and governments screaming for Israel’s obliteration, and much of Europe seems more than willing to stand by as the Arabs finish Hitler’s handiwork.

In such a context, we need to know who our friends are — and equally important, who they are not. On this score, the Republicans, with the exception of an increasingly isolated and irrelevant Pat Buchanan, and their allies among the Christian conservatives have been exemplary, supporting Israel down the line.

Take a look at the vote on the recently passed “Solidarity With Israel Act.” One can quibble that Congress should not have taken this stand while the president and his administration are trying to bring about a peaceful settlement. But the vote was very useful in that it “outed” those whose sentiments toward the embattled Jewish state are at best, lukewarm.

The resolution, which backed Israel and denounced Palestinian terrorism, passed among Republicans 194 to 4, with only two voting “present,” which was a somewhat less than forthright way of saying “no.” Democrats also supported the measure, but with considerably less unanimity. The party that holds the loyalty of the vast majority of Jews supported Israel by 157 to 17, with a hefty 26 registering a present-but-not-voting stance.

Drilling down more deeply into the vote reveals some disturbing trends. Generally the further the “left” the congressmember, the more likely it was for them to oppose or at least refuse to support Israel. In California, for example, the no votes came from the Bay Area’s liberal fringe, including Berkeley Rep. Barbara Lee (a particular heroine of the left) and Reps. Pete Stark and George Miller of East San Francisco Bay. The “present” crowd, who should be held in equal if not greater contempt, include such liberal luminaries as Sonoma and Marin Rep. Lynn Woolsey, as well as Los Angeles Reps. Hilda Solis and Xavier Becerra.

This leftward drift against Israel represents the culmination of successful agitation against the Jewish state by Palestinians, Arabs and their allies. Today anti-Zionism — sometimes associated with anti-Semitism — is increasingly de rigueur among the campus and media left here, as it already has become in Europe.

Recent incidents at San Francisco State, where pro-Israel demonstrators were recently harassed with openly anti-Semitic slogans from Muslim students and their allies, reveal an underpinning of intolerance brewing on campuses across the country. Pro-Israel students there last month were surrounded by a mob of students shouting, “Hitler didn’t finish the job!” and “Get out or we’ll kill you!” Not to be outdone, the English department at my alma mater, the University of California at Berkeley, is even offering a course on “The Politics and Poetics of the Palestinian Resistance.” The course takes an avowed pro-Palestinian position and even urges “conservative thinkers,” which may now include those favoring Israel, to “seek other sections.”

As time passes since Sept. 11, one can expect the left to become ever more explicit in its anti-Israel position. Already, the Los Angeles Times’ ultra-liberal columnist Robert Scheer has weighed in with a highly critical assault against the Jewish state. Liberal Christians have also joined the bandwagon, with prominent Catholic, Presbyterian, Episcopal and Methodist worthies asking Congress to adopt a more “balanced” Mideast policies.

The coalition against Israel is also gaining support from anti-capitalist, anti-globalist organizers. Most recently, the leaders of the Bus Riders Union, a group lionized by the Times, has shown its far-left mettle by circulating a proposal to have its members go on record demanding the end of U.S. support for Israel. The Union — actually a well-financed “anti-corporate” agitprop group and not a union in the sense of representing the bulk of actual riders — apparently does not feel “solidarity” for Israeli busriders, who risk being blown to bits every day by Palestinian homicidal bombers.

At the same time the left becomes ever more anti-Israel, the Christian right has become more supportive and, one may argue, less and less what we have been brought up to think. Recent research by University of North Carolina sociologist Christian Smith, for example, shows that, in contrast to their early 20th century antecedents, today’s fundamentalists and evangelicals are, on average, better-educated and more affluent than the average American.

Along with their growing affluence and sophistication, notes my Pepperdine colleague Steve Monsma, evangelicals and fundamentalists have also jettisoned the anti-Semitism that characterized some when they were largely ill-educated and rural. “It’s become a pretty well-educated and sophisticated constituency, who share in the general American recognition that anti-Semitism is wrong,” said Monsma, a political scientist specializing in the study of church and state issues.

Survey work done by Smith supports Monsma’s assertion. Even as they hold onto strong positions against abortion and in favor of prayer in school, religious conservatives are actually considerably less likely to oppose, for example, a Jewish president than the American mainstream. They do tend to be far more negative about putting atheists and homosexuals in the highest office than the average American, but are also more open to having an African American in that post.

Indeed, on many issues conservative Christian beliefs may be closer to the Jewish mainstream than those of liberal Christians or “progressive” Democrats. Although we often have felt more comfortable with the ultra-secularism and deconstructionism that dominates the media and, even more so, much of academia, Jewish values about family life, individual achievement, the importance of education and social order actually often far more resemble those of conservative Christians.

Finally, to this, I would like to add my personal experience, which some may weigh against me. For over 15 years I have been associated with Pepperdine University, a school affiliated with the conservative-leaning Church of Christ. Not once in that time have I ever experienced anti-Semitism. There has never even once been an attempt to convert me. In my travels across the country — much of it in the rural Great Plains and the Bible Belt — I have never felt any reluctance to reveal my Jewish identity or affinity for Israel. I am not sure I would be so sanguine these days at a place like San Francisco State or among committed “progressive” activists here in Los Angeles.

What does this mean for the future of Jews, and their relations with the left or right? Of course, like most Jews, I am secular and socially liberal enough to expect never to support Christian conservatives in many of their cherished causes. But unlike the reliably graceless Abe Foxman, our self-appointed Jewish pope, who says all we have to do is simply “say thank you,” I feel the Jewish community should do quite a bit more.

We need now to honor the conservative Christian community and make our best efforts to understand what they are trying to accomplish. We may never agree on everything, but on the issues that matter most, we may have to acknowledge them as not only temporary allies, but, as something far more important, real friends, which is something that increasingly cannot be said of the left, from which many of us found our earlier political direction.

This Land Is Our Land


You cannot remove other people’s anxieties, but sometimes you can help them to understand their feelings of unease and find ways to cope with them.

In my work with rabbinical students, I have faced the challenge in recent weeks of helping one particular group to sort out its fears and emotions about studying in Jerusalem this fall. Recently, we held a videoconference between our students going to study in Israel next year and those who are there now. Next year’s class members are understandably concerned, vacillating between the passion they have for Israel and their fears for their personal safety and security. Seeing and talking to their colleagues in Jerusalem gave them a picture of what life is like in Israel on a daily basis.

After the videoconference, the students felt relief: their colleagues were relaxed; they laughed, they looked great. They studied, shopped, and watched television, living a life of regularity and routine. Yes, there is anxiety, tension, trepidation, grief, anger. But that falls into the background. The tasks of daily living become predominant, allowing them to immerse themselves in their studies and in developing their love for Israel. The students in Israel articulated how profound their year in Israel has been, in spite of the situation. It has strengthened their commitment to Israel, and it will influence how they conduct their rabbinates in the future.

The American students’ experience in Israel is similar to the Israelis who live there permanently. They go about their daily lives in a routine fashion, but always with the knowledge that their world is not truly routine right now. The tension the Americans feel is real. That anxiety is all the more so for the Israeli soldiers, the families of the soldiers, the citizens of the land. This is a picture of Israel today.

The first picture we have of Israel after the Exodus from Egypt is in this week’s Torah portion, "Shelach." Moses sent 12 men to see what kind of country it was. He knew the land was good. After all, God told him at their first meeting that it was "a good and spacious land, a land flowing with milk and honey." What was the purpose of this mission? What could be gained?

The medieval commentator, the Ramban (Nachmanides) cites two possibilities. He reminds us that for anyone waging war in a foreign land, it is prudent to send scouts to survey that land. The Israelites created a reconnaissance party to advise the troops on which city to attack first and from which direction it would be easiest to capture the land. Sending the spies was a wise and pragmatic way to deal with the military factor of entry into the land.

Moses could also have sent the scouts to confirm what he already knew, that it was indeed a good land. The people would surely be feeling insecure, facing unknown dangers. A confirmation such as this would give the people reason to anticipate and rejoice as they approached the unknown. In his wisdom, Moses addressed this psychological uncertainty by providing emotional support.

What did the spies see in this first look at the land? They reported a land of abundance, flowing with milk and honey. They also said it was filled with men who were like giants, a place that would consume its settlers. Yet two of the spies, Joshua and Caleb, vehemently disagreed. They declared the land a good one and that the people should not fear the inhabitants. The Israelites would be able to conquer them, with God’s protection as God had promised.

What do we see when we scout out Israel today? We can either see a land fraught with danger, a place that we would not want to enter. Or we can see the land as Joshua and Caleb did, a land that is very, very good. We can see it through the eyes of A. J. Heschel, the modern philosopher, who said, "Israel is an accord of divine promise and human achievement." This is the picture the students going next year see; this is the perspective of those who live there: a place of inspiration and holiness, our Jewish home.

We can be like Moses, providing needed support to those who dwell in the land. We can lend our voices to the political, strategic arena, remaining informed, being advocates to government officials, and expressing our opinions to the media. We can provide the emotional support that is so greatly needed by making personal contact, attending public events, donating funds, visiting Israel. (See the Federation’s list of 10 Things You Can Do for Israel on www.jewishla.org.) Even though Israel is geographically distant, she is Jewishly close. We can be part of her intimate caring community, sharing her joy as well as her anxiety. Ultimately, we can have hope, faith and belief that the land is good and that she will always remain part of our heritage and our future.

Most Americans Mistrust Saudi Peace Plan


Only 26 percent of Americans believe the Saudi peace initiative is sincere, according to a new poll of more than 1,000 Americans. Thirty-one percent believe the Saudis launched the initiative to improve their image in the United States. Sixty-two percent of respondents believe the Saudis are not ready to accept Israel’s right to exist.

The plan calls for the Arab world to make peace with Israel in return for a withdrawal from all lands Israel captured in the 1967 Six-Day War. The survey, commissioned by the Institute for Jewish & Community Research, has a margin of error of 3 percent.

— Jewish Telegraphic Agency