As the latest round of fighting between Israel and Hamas teeters between another cease-fire and another invasion, the America Jewish community has largely been a bystander. It has played cheerleader for the Netanyahu government (not necessarily synonymous with Israel) while also serving its own financial interests.
On the Left are the blame-Israel critics who fret over the plight of the Gazans who are killed or wounded (while their leaders hide safely in fortified underground bunkers), oblivious to Hamas’ intentions. This war could have been avoided had Israel truly agreed to a two-state solution, declared one pundit.
Over to the Right are the hawks, who would like to see more bombing followed by invasion and reoccupation of Gaza, and are blaming President Barack Obama for the whole mess.
On Capitol Hill is the pro-Israel cheering section, looking to ensure the flow of Jewish campaign dollars for the next election and – in the case of many Republicans – seeking creative ways to use the crisis as another partisan wedge.
Israel didn’t start this round of fighting, but political factors in the Jewish state contributed mightily to its rapid escalation. Terror groups in Gaza had been firing rockets into Israel and Hamas, in violation of the previous ceasefire, was doing little or nothing to stop them. Then came the kidnapping and murder of three Israeli teens near Hebron.
Media reports suggest Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu knew Hamas was not responsible almost from the outset; he promised to produce the proof but he never did – because he had none. He ordered a roundup of Hamas activists in the West Bank that – predictably – produced a violent reaction from Hamas, which quickly played right into his hands by firing three rockets into southern Israel the day after the kidnapping.
Now he had something he long wanted: A chance to crack down on Hamas and break its reconciliation agreement with Fatah.
He also had an even larger goal, which he revealed in a press conference last week – prevention of a fully sovereign Palestinian state. Speaking to journalists in Hebrew, he said the latest round of violence has convinced him “There cannot be a situation, under any agreement, in which we relinquish security control of the territory west of the River Jordan.”
He went on to dismiss Secretary of State John Kerry and, by extension, other world leaders who support the twostate approach, as “naïve outsiders.”
Netanyahu knew he could count on American support in this war. No one is going to have any sympathy for a terror group that trumpets its desire to destroy the Jewish state. And now Hamas had a unity pact with the Palestinian Authority.
American Jewish leaders and most members of Congress showed little enthusiasm for the latest round of peace talks initiated by Kerry or mourned when they collapsed.
Congress, ever mindful of campaign politics, has given unquestioning support to Netanyahu’s war policy. President Obama phoned him to express full support for Israel’s right to defend itself.
Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Florida) posed for a smiling photo-op with Israeli Ambassador Ron Dermer, another Obama critic, and issued a statement calling on the administration to “take a clear stance in defense” of Israel.
New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie blamed the conflict on Obama. The presidential wannabe, trying to burnish his pro-Likud credentials after offending casino billionaire Sheldon Adelson, told reporters Israel had no choice but to strike Hamas because Obama has not “dealt... firmly” with the group and not come out strongly “condemning” its attacks on the Jewish state.
Jewish organizations produced outraged responses to the kidnapping of the Israeli teens and held vigils calling for their safe return, often at the urging of an Israeli government that intentionally failed to reveal it had evidence they were already dead so Netanyahu could use the tragedy to attack Hamas and undermine PLO leader Mahmoud Abbas.
The outrage over the murders of the three Jewish teenagers was understandable, and the quick condemnation of the revenge killing of a Palestinian teen by three ultra-Orthodox Jews was commendable.
The Israeli government refused to release the identity of the Jewish murder suspects, saying it wanted to protect their families from retribution, but it showed no such hesitancy is publishing the names of the Palestinian suspects in the abduction.
As the kidnap tragedy blended into the fighting with Hamas, Jewish groups leaped into action. They organized rallies in support of Israel, urged members to tell Congress to stand with Israel, and told everyone to “show your support.”
How to show support? Send money. Some solicited for an Israel Emergency Fund, as in prior wars and crises. Most were collecting for their own coffers.
Some solicited funds directly. Jewish National Fund sent repeated pleas to “Donate/Plant Trees/Travel to Israel.”
Magen David Adom send emails urging recipients to “click now to help save a life in Israel.” The World Jewish Congress wants your money “to rally the international community.”
AIPAC, the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, wants you to know it lobbied Congress to pass all these resolutions and to support the Iron Dome anti-missile project, which shot down so many Gaza-launched missiles.
Several repeatedly solicited signatures for condolences for the kidnap victims or petitions to show support for Israel or to condemn anti-Semitic and anti-Israel attacks, including the Simon Wiesenthal Center, the WJC and the Anti-Defamation League. Sign any of these and you’re very likely to land on the group’s mailing list, which entitles you to an endless stream of pleas for donations.
Some of the appeals for financial aid for the war victims are legitimate – help displaced families, food and shelter, emergency services – but be very careful where you send your money and how it’s to be used. Some of the advocacy groups are raising money to pay the half-million-dollar salaries and expense accounts of their top executives and to pay for still more – and expensive – fundraising campaigns.
Crises – war, floods, famine – bring the opportunists out of the woodwork to plead for your money to “help the victims,” but you may be the victim and they’re the ones being helped.
Those who genuinely want to show their support for the Israeli people in this crisis need to carefully distinguish between those who genuinely want to help the victims and those who want to help themselves.
©2014 Douglas M. Bloomfield firstname.lastname@example.org