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Ask A Jew: Why do Israelis support the current war against Hamas but American Jews do not?

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Why do the overwhelming majority of Israelis support the current war against Hamas but it seems many American Jews do not?

HyphenHuffmanparent
HyphenHuffmanparent

Response by Conservative Jewish Writer, Dorothy “Hyphen” Huffmanparent

In my experience and research, the majority of American Jews support Israel and the recent military actions there. There have been Pro-Israel rallies all over the United States in recent weeks (including here in Spokane) which have been attended by large numbers of Jews of every branch.

Support for Israel is not popular among certain political groups in the U.S. So many American Jews who have certain political leanings do not advertise their support of Israel for this reason. You may not see them share posts on Facebook in support of Israel. You may see them sit quietly while others discuss the matter.  Yet, if you look hard enough, you may find their faces among the crowd at those pro-Israel rallies.

Although, some statistics say 95 percent of Israeli Jews support the military action against Hamas, I’d venture to say the percentage of American Jews who do is not that high. I assume that’s because Israeli Jews are subjected to the constant threat from Hamas whereas American Jews are not. For Israeli Jews, it’s a constant threat. Some American Jews can view it as a political debate rather than an overwhelming fear.

Neal Schindler
Neal Schindler

Response by Reconstructionist Jewish Writer, Neal Schindler

According to a recent Washington Post story, you’re right about Israeli sentiment: “A poll this week for Israel’s Channel 10 news, conducted by the Sarid Institute, found that 87 percent of Jewish Israelis support continuing the Gaza operation. A survey by the Israel Democracy Institute found that 95 percent of Israeli Jews think the operation in Gaza is just, and 4 of 5 oppose a unilateral withdrawal.” However, it’s worth noting that this question, which is really two statements in the form of a question, came in before the ceasefire began.

Why such strong support? According to the Post, “more powerful rocket fire from Gaza” and “the Israeli military’s discovery of more than 30 tunnels, built and used by Palestinian militants to enter Israel and attack soldiers” are among the main reasons Israelis back the war. How do they feel today, in light of the ceasefire? That story, as far as I can tell, is still being written.

On to the second part of your question: Why do “many American Jews” appear not to support the Gaza war? Vocal organizations such as Jewish Voice for Peace seem at times to monopolize the American Jewish discourse. In contrast, the Israeli newspaper Haaretz recently published an opinion piece titled “Gaza: The American Jewish community’s Vietnam.” In American Jewish circles, the author states, “[t]here is little space for Jews such as myself, who are deeply committed to Israel and its right to defend itself — yet abhor some of its actions and its disrespect of the U.S. and President Obama.”

In so many matters political, it’s much easier to see things in black and white. That stance, after all, doesn’t demand that we sit with ambiguity. As an American Jew, I can attest to the fact that we all bring cultural, spiritual, and personal baggage to Israel-Palestine. My father’s ambivalence about certain aspects of Judaism and my negative experience of Hebrew school both affect my view of the Gaza war, such as it is. More often than not, I feel unqualified to even hold an opinion on the subject. I imagine this to be a common state of mind among American Jews who aren’t professional historians or politics professors.

Ultimately, I can only speak for myself, and here’s what I think is going on with me. I am quite liberal. I married a pacifist and was raised by pacifists. I was bullied as a child. I see headlines that describe the Israeli government and military as bullies, and possibly committers of war crimes. I understand that historically oppressed peoples, like bullied or abused individuals, may pass that rough treatment along, consciously or not, to whatever vulnerable population happens to be in their midst.

I have never been to the Middle East. I haven’t talked to Israelis about their experience of the war or Palestinians about theirs. I was raised not to support Israel (or any nation) uncritically, and that’s my approach today. But in certain ways I go further than that: I assume that at least some of the terrible things Israel stands accused of have actually happened. Hamas is a highly controversial entity, but do the majority of Palestinians support it? Are they in favor of violence against Israel? The elimination of Israel? These are questions I don’t know the answers to.

I’ll leave you with what seems like a strong analysis by journalist Noam Sheizaf. Its title asks another key question: “Why do Palestinians continue to support Hamas despite such devastating losses?” Like countless others, Sheizaf sees the situation as a matter of mutual misunderstanding, but at least he can put words to it: “Israelis are convinced they are fighting a terror organization driven by a fundamentalist Islamic ideology. Palestinians are convinced Israelis are looking to enslave them, and that as soon as the war is over the siege will be reinforced. Since this is exactly what Israel intends to do, as our government has repeatedly stated, they have no reason to stop fighting.” Empathy, Sheizaf suggests, is what’s lacking on both sides. Presumably, the development of same is a prerequisite for lasting peace.

About Neal Schindler

A native of Detroit, Neal Schindler has lived in the Pacific Northwest since 2002. He has held staff positions at Seattle Weekly and The Seattle Times and was a freelance writer for Jew-ish.com from 2007 to 2011. Schindler was raised in a Reconstructionist Jewish congregation and is now a member of Spokane's Reform congregation, Emanu-El. He is the director of Spokane Area Jewish Family Services. His interests include movies, Scrabble, and indie rock. He lives with his wife, son, and two cats in West Central Spokane.

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