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by Rachel Neuwirth


American Jewish leaders have a dual responsibility concerning the removal of Jews from Gaza. As loyal Americans they should be mindful of how this action affects American security interests and how it impacts America's attempt to promote democracy and the rule of law in the Middle East. As Jews they should know and respect their religious heritage which spans four thousand years from the time of Abraham and is also the mother religion for two billion Christians. As Jews they should also be especially sensitive to the suffering of innocent Jews wherever they are. Unfortunately the American Jewish leaders have failed to meet both of those dual responsibilities.

American Jewry is largely represented by the 52-member Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations. As posted on their official web site[1] they uncritically endorsed Sharon's withdrawal plan. They claimed a "consensus" in support of the withdrawal but failed to reveal who opposed the withdrawal. They did not expend much resources making the opposing arguments clear to their constituents so that people would understand what was at stake. They did not discuss the various warnings against this policy made by intelligence and military experts They did not make known why they believed it was safe to ignore the advice of the experts. They did not examine the policy from a Jewish point of view - they simply sided with opinions from the mainstream media, which are known to be hostile to Israel.

Enough of the consequences of the policy are already sufficiently clear for the leadership to ask whether creating a Jew-free zone was in the best interests of Judaism. The issue isn't academic. It appears Sharon's government plans to extend the disengagement to a large part of Samaria and Judea and possibly Jerusalem.

This article points out some of basic issues related to the Gaza withdrawal which deserve to be addressed by the Conference of Presidents.

Whose territory?

When Prime Minister Sharon announced his intention to remove every Jew from Gaza he also claimed that Gaza was not part of Israel. Making that claim means to ignore history and to violate the Jewish religion as set forth in the Hebrew bible, which is also holy to Christians.

Gaza was an integral part of the land of Israel from ancient times. That was where Samson fought against the Philistines. The Arab invasion of the land of Israel did not occur until the year 638, 1,600 years after Jews first entered that land. The Hebrew bible defined the boundaries reserved for the Jewish tribes when they shall enter the promised land. The bible explicitly warns against dividing the land which belongs to G-d and which He gave to the Jewish People. Even Islam's Qur'an recognizes the Jewish right to the Land of Israel in Suras 5:20; 5:21; and 17:104.

Democracy and the rule of law

"It is especially important at this critical moment to respect and uphold the rule of law. At the same time the principles of democracy and citizens' rights must be preserved." -- from an August 16, 2005 statement titled: "American Jewish Leaders Issue Major Statement on Disengagement."[2]

" ... What he [Sharon] seeks in the name of security and eventual peace is not disengagement, but an illegal territorial withdrawal from integral parts of the Jewish National Home, the uprooting of flourishing Jewish settlements and the forcible transfer of Jews from their sovereign land. The implementation of this plan will infringe Jewish national and political rights to the Land of Israel under international law, Israeli constitutional law and criminal law, as well as Jewish religious law. The Disengagement Plan would never have seen the light of day, if the Attorney-General had threatened to enforce the relevant law governing this Plan." -- Howard Grief, ACPR Policy Paper No.157: "The Transfer Of Jews Under Prime Minister Sharon's Unilateral Disengagement Plan."[3]

Grief's paper presents extensive legal reasons to oppose the Gaza withdrawal. The Conference of Presidents' web site provides no legal arguments in support of their endorsement of Sharon's action.

Secure and defensible borders for Israel

Gaza was among a number of territories that the American Joint Chiefs of Staff cited as the minimum requirements for Israeli security. The article "The Golan Heights And The Facts - UN Security Council Resolution 242 - A Withdrawal To The 1949/1967 Lines?" was published on April 4, 2000 - as a Full Page Ad - by The Ariel Center For Policy Research in the Israeli daily, Ha'aretz[4]. Excerpts from an article[5] by analyst Emanuel Winston published in Think-Israel provides further clarification:

"When President Lyndon B. Johnson ordered the Joint Chiefs of Staff, under Gen. Earle Wheeler, to do a study in June 1967 on what was needed by Israel to survive as a nation, without America needing to come to her rescue, the following was concluded:

"That Israel needed its furthest borders at key positions to be able to withstand the frequent assaults by the Arab nations. This study was to be a top secret document because not only did it advise Israel how to survive but, it was also self-serving for the U.S. who did not want to be called in to fight the Arab armies in order to save the Jewish State. This highly secret study was researched by each of America's Armed Forces including Air Force, Army, Navy and several of its key Intelligence Agencies. ...

"For stable future Arab-Israeli agreements, Israel must feel it can wait out a crisis rather than strike pre-emptively. Israel should retain....the Gaza Strip, mountains and plateaus of the West Bank, the tip of the Sinai, Sharm el Sheikh, the Golan Heights east of Quneitra and ALL of Jerusalem."

Upon learning of Sharon's plan General Moshe Ya'alon, head of Israel's Joint Chiefs of Staff, expressed strong opposition[6]

Gaza withdrawal affects American security

Representative Dan Burton (R-IN) has published an entry[7] in the Congressional Record titled, "The Potential Impact of Israel's Disengagement on U.S. Interests." It lists thirteen dangers that the Gaza withdrawal could generate for America in its war on terror.

The U.S. ignores its own findings on defensible borders

U.S. pressure to evacuate Gaza in return for nothing puts Israel at risk, ignores previous U.S. findings on defensible boundaries and blocks Israel's democratic freedom of action. See for example, "US Pressures Determine Israeli Policy" by David Bedein, Aug 10, 2005.[8]

Abuses of the democratic process by the Sharon government

"The fourteen months since Ariel Sharon unveiled his unilateral disengagement have been for him a personal hurdle race to knock over the political and military opposition to his plan by fair means or foul. In the process, he trampled several values and mores that most Israelis had taken for granted. Critics were punished by the wrecking ball, champions and cronies lavishly rewarded with jobs and handouts from the same 2005 state budget that denies medicines to cancer victims, cuts retirees' pensions, slashes child support, invalid and jobless allowances and pauperizes small businesses and the former backbone of the economy, the middle class." -- from an article from the DEBKAfile titled "Sharon's Payouts for Gaza Pullout," March 30, 2005,

Other pertinent articles include:

"Israeli Police caught on tape brutally beating anti-disengagement demonstrator."[9]

"Is Israel Becoming a Fascist State?" - Part I[10] by Prof. Paul Eidelberg Mar 17, 2005

"You've Won, Mr. Sharon; I'm Disengaged" by Naomi Ragen July 03, 2005.[11]

"Supreme Court Judge Jails Six 13 Year-Olds From Gush Katif" July 04, 2005.[12]

Israeli government corruption.

"Suspicions that PM Sharon's Gaza pullout plan, [a radical left-wing plan that had been overwhelmingly rejected by voters in the January 2003 elections] and which radically contradicts his previous world-view, was concocted to evade corruption charges. ... These suspicions were recently confirmed by two top-notch Israeli reporters....Raviv Druker (Israel Channel 10 TV) and Ofer Shelach (Yediot Ahronot, Israel's largest daily) ... interviewed about their recent book Boomerang. ... They summarize evidence ... according to which the Sharon's disengagement plan was concocted for no better reason than evasion of devastating corruption charges." -- from "GushKatif-Gate - Israel's Watergate!"[13]

"The senior Austrian judicial investigator tracking the flow of funds in the Cyril Kern loan affair strongly suspects that Prime Minister Ariel Sharon was given a bribe in 2002, the official told The Jerusalem Post on Thursday." -- from "Exclusive: PM suspected of taking bribe" -, Sep. 16, 2005.[14]

In addition to the above the world bank recently cited[15] the Israeli government as the second most corrupt among the western countries. It should also be noted that the gap between very rich and very poor in Israel is increasing together with some 20% living under the poverty level with many children going to bed hungry. This suggests close scrutiny of government motivations for the Gaza withdrawal was needed.

Callous Treatment of Gaza's Jews, following expulsion, by the Sharon government

Among numerous reports of suffering of Gaza's Jews are the following accounts:

"Gush Katif Expellees Find the State Unprepared" Aug. 21, 2005.[16]

"Gov't Violates Promise Not to Cut Off Utilities in Gush Katif," Aug 21, 2005.[17]

"MK Porush: Investigate Gov't's Failure to Help Refugees," Aug 26, 2005.[18]

"Gov't Leaves Expulsion Victims Without Work," Sept. 16, 2005.[19]

"Americans shocked Gaza evacuees still homeless - Many living in tents, school dorms, waiting for compensation," Sept. 12, 2005.[20]

An Open Letter to President Bush and Prime Minister Sharon by Pastor James Vineyard. "We wish to give you twelve reasons we are against such deportation of Jews by Jews."[21] The views of an American Christian clergyman. Would that the American Jewish leaders had shown half the compassion and sensitivity as this Christian minister and his followers.

Tisha Be'Av

The Ninth Day of the Jewish month of Av (August 14, 2005) commemorates a series of major Jewish calamities:

Sharon's (August 2005) expulsion began within hours following the observance of Tisha Be'Av which could only intensify the trauma and suffering of expelling Gaza's Jews by combining it with the saddest day of the Jewish calendar.

Sharon acts undemocratically with a secret and unilateral agreement with Egypt

"Sharon Secretly Rewards Egypt with Naval Control of Gaza's Territorial Waters up to Ashkelon: -- DEBKAfile Exclusive Report August 27, 2005.[22] Instead of demonstrating any expected security benefit deriving from the pain of the Gaza withdrawal, Sharon acted unilaterally to further compromise Israeli security.

Published views of the American Jewish leadership

In light of the information cited above, the role of American Jewish leadership must be reviewed.

The website[23] of the Conference of Presidents carries this self-definition on their home page: "The Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations is the voice of organized American Jewry -- the proven, effective advocate on issues of vital international and national concern."

The home page link: "The Disengagement Plan - Information and analysis on PM Ariel Sharon's disengagement plan." connects to the following four statements (listed below in chronological sequence) by the Conference of Presidents and which are current as of September 18, 2005.

Brief excerpts from the above four statements follow:

On October 14, 2004 a News Report was issued in support of the disengagement plan. The first paragraph read:

"After preliminary consultations among its member organizations, the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations convened on October 14, 2004 to discuss Israel's proposed Gaza disengagement plan, which has been endorsed by the government of the United States. All the member organizations recognized the risks and costs that will be entailed as Israel takes the steps it deems necessary to provide security for its citizens." Note their claim to recognize "...risks and costs..." and " provide security..."

That is an implied commitment to monitor all parts of the disengagement process.

From the Oct 26, 2004 statement titled: "Jewish Leaders Support Knesset Decision On Disengagement": "...While we understand that there can be legitimate differences on policy, these must be expressed in responsible and appropriate ways..."

On Feb. 20, 2005 a statement is titled: "Violent Protests Against Disengagement Not Acceptable..." was issued insinuating that only opponents of the disengagement might cause trouble. Perhaps sensing an imbalance the following was then added: "...Government officials and religious and communal and religious leaders have a special responsibility to exercise care in the language they employ, as well as to isolate those who engage in incitement to violence. ..."

An August 16, 2005 statement is titled: "American Jewish Leaders Issue Major Statement on Disengagement." which contained the following quotes:

"It is especially important at this critical moment to respect and uphold the rule of law. At the same time the principles of democracy and citizens' rights must be preserved."

"We should bring to bear all the resources we can muster - political, financial and human - to help ease the burdens." Presumably this includes the burdens faced by the Jewish expellees.

Comments. The Conference of Presidents issued four statements which can be read in full on their web site. By their overwhelming endorsement of Sharon's disengagement plan they assumed a major responsibility to consider all aspects of this plan and to closely monitor all related developments. They express support for such "motherhood" sentiments such as upholding the rule of law, democracy, citizens' rights and easing burdens on people, but little else of genuine substance. Neither before the removals, nor afterwards, has their web site shown any awareness or concern for the issues raised in this article. And they failed to even monitor Sharon's violation of those same "motherhood" sentiments that they explicitly identified in their own statements.

In their own words, "The Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations is the voice of organized American Jewry -- the proven, effective advocate on issues of vital international and national concern." Yet that self-congratulatory "voice" could only issue four statements of uncritical support for a disengagement proposal that is so complex, dangerous and critical for Israel's future. And on "...issues of vital international and national concern." they failed to address any items in the above list of critical and relevant issues concerning Gaza. Only the Zionist Organization of America and Young Israel among that fifty-two member organization exhibited the independence to oppose Sharon's disengagement plan.

The Role of American-Jewish leadership

What should American Jewry expect from their professed leaders? A readiness to critically examine the hard issues in depth and without pretending they do not exist. And also the courage to speak truth to power. It is astonishing and depressing how little Jewish spirit can be found in those words issued by our Jewish leaders. The teachings of our holy Torah are absent as if they are totally irrelevant. We recall how Abraham and Moses even argued with an angry G-d in order to rescind a threat and save human life. Today the collective American Jewish leadership can only express a meek "amen" to whatever President Bush and Prime Minister Sharon decide. Where are the "checks and balances" and the "advise and consent" that we invoke in our secular American government."

We see our American Jewish leaders hiding behind a vote in the Knesset by the bribed and the coerced. Right and wrong, along with the truth, cannot be determined by any vote. Dictatorships also conduct rigged elections, attempting to imitate democracies, to gain credibility. When an Israeli government manipulates and distorts the system to collect Knesset votes to impose its will on the people, the American Jewish leadership cannot remain silent and still retain moral credibility. When the President of the United States undermines Israeli security by breaking promises, aiding Israel's enemies and even compromising American security, the American Jewish leadership cannot remain silent and still retain moral credibility.

Rael Jean Isaac, the editor of Outpost and author of Israel Divided and Party and Politics in Israel recently said:

"At the very least, as Michael Freund has pointed out in The Jerusalem Post, one would have expected a furious debate among American Jews. ...Surely these are issues sufficiently profound to engage American Jewry. Yet the reaction of organized American Jewry and the overwhelming number of Jewish opinion leaders has been silence or worse yet, active endorsement of Sharon's bulldozers."

"When the history of this period is written, the current paralysis of American Jews, left and right, will be a source of incredulity -- and deepest shame." [24]

A list of issues was presented here. Our American Jewish leadership has ignored each and every one of them. If there were a report card to evaluate the collective performance of our Jewish leaders they would have earned a failing grade.

























Also in this issue of Think-Israel.

* Bertram Cohen contributed to this column

An earlier version of this article was published September 25, 2005 on and is archived at

Please visit website for a sane alternative to the Roadmap.


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