Caught in the Crossfire
The September 11 attacks have brought out much anti-Israel sentiment in America. Can Jews still unite behind Israel?
BY: Sheldon Teitelbaum
Among Americans, 58 percent said that U.S. support for Israel was a key motive behind the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, according to a Pew Research Center poll done for Newsweek. And 46 percent of respondents agreed that it might be time to reconsider America's traditional support for the Jewish State. Yet despite these findings, nine out of 10 Americans support the campaign in Afghanistan, while 81 percent would like to see the president move into Iraq to clean up the mess left a decade earlier by his father. And nearly three out of every four Americans asked say they'd like to see terrorists pursued as far afield as the Sudan or the Philippines.
"Sure, it looks a little nuts at first," says Rabbi Abraham Cooper, associate dean of the Simon Wiesenthal Center. "We're one month out from an event that was bigger than Pearl Harbor, and the parameters of this war are no more clear than during the first few days. We don't have Osama yet, but you do have incidents of anthrax, and things are clearly going to get worse before they get better. We are beginning to understand that this is a war without borders, waged against an enemy without soldiers. No one expects immediate closure. But people want the terrorism to stop.
"On the other hand, people are telling themselves, 'Gee, if only the Israelis would just cut a deal with the Palestinians, maybe the rest will fall into place.' After all, Sharon started talking about the need for a Palestinian state even before Bush or [Secretary of Defense Donald] Rumsfeld. OK, given the absence of a language of compromise elsewhere in the Islamic world, it's probably not going to work. But maybe this looks like a quick fix to a situation where none is in sight."
Commenting this week in the Israeli newspaper Ma'ariv, the Anti-Defamation League's National Director Abraham Foxman explains the persistence of the "Blame Israel" factor in more historical terms. Assorted voices within the American community initially blamed Jews for the Second World War, Israel for the 1973 oil embargo, and both for the Gulf War, Foxman said. Blatant and not-so-blatant anti-Semitism was always available to provide support for these contentions. Yet when push came to shove, most Americans respectively identified Hitler, OPEC and Saddam Hussein as the true source of each conflict. And according to most indications, Foxman said Americans were now training their gun sights on bin Laden, the Taliban and radical Islam.
Still, some recent developments continue to concern Foxman. "[The situation] is more serious today," he said. "Both because we're talking about terror attacks on U.S. soil and because Israel and Jews are facing direct blame for them."
The question now may not be whether America has the frame of mind to respond effectively to the situation, but whether Israel has internalized the extent to which its greatest ally now finds itself transformed.