Coat of many colors: US Jewish leaders divided on Gaza truce

J Street roundly supports the truce, while the Zionist Organization of America says Israel should not have halted the operation.

Morton Klein 370 (photo credit: SAM SOKOL)
Morton Klein 370
(photo credit: SAM SOKOL)
NEW YORK – Response to the Gaza cease-fire that began on Tuesday evening by American- Jewish leadership runs the gamut, from relief to outrage.
Organizations such as J Street roundly support the truce, and referred to it as “truly welcome.”
The president of the Zionist Organization of America, Morton Klein, said that Israel should not have halted its campaign, and should certainly not have agreed to a cease-fire until Hamas publicly amended its charter calling for the destruction of Israel.
J Street said this is the moment to examine the root causes of the conflict, and citing the IDF’s Cast Lead (December 2008-January 2009) and Pillar of Defense (November 2012) campaigns, the organization warned that neglecting to do so would mean inevitable conflict.
Echoing leading figures at the UN, including US Ambassador to the UN Samantha Power, J Street urged both parties to the conflict to abide by the terms of any and all agreements meant to ensure peace.
“Over these past terrible weeks, Israelis and Palestinians have stared into the abyss, and seen once again that there is no military solution to their conflict. This round of awful bloodshed has ended without winners – only with losers,” J Street said.
Warning that a return to status quo ante was not an option, Rabbi Rick Jacobs of the Union for Reform Judaism said that he hopes both parties to the conflict will build on the cease-fire and move forward with negotiations that will ensure a “just and lasting solution.”
But in the short-term, Rabbi Steve Wernick of United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism has another worry: Will Hamas abide by the truce? Or will it break it as it has so many previous cease-fires? “Israel has responded to every cease-fire that’s been offered,” Wernick said. “Every person who cares about Israel has been watching this intensely. The question is if Hamas is really going to respect it.”
The loss of life during this round of conflict has been tragic for both sides, and all in all, Wernick is glad that a cease-fire has been brokered.
But if there is to be a sustainable peace and ultimately quiet, he added, something has to change with Palestinian leadership.
“Okay, we have quiet for now; maybe it lasts for three or five years,” he said. “But unless something changes, that the Palestinians determine that this type of leadership isn’t really getting them where they want to be, then it’s very likely that in three to five years this will happen again.”
ZOA’s Klein is outraged that a cease-fire has been brokered.
“They should have ended the ability for Hamas to attack Israel ever again,” he said.
Klein cited the many times Hamas violated short-term truces during the height of the 50-day war.
“I have no confidence that this cease-fire will lead to anything important,” he said during an interview hours after the cease-fire was announced.
“How can you make a deal with a group that calls for the murder of every Jew?” Klein said, “I see my own country not supporting Israel the way they should be supporting their strongest ally in the Middle East.”
In the 20 years he has been president of ZOA, Klein said he has never experienced such a painful conflict for Israel. The conflict on the ground was some of the worst there has been, but hostility toward Israel’s military policies – toward the country’s right to defend itself – and the sense of enmity toward Jews around the world has worried his mind and broken his heart, he said.
About that, Wernick is on the same page. Over the past few weeks, he has had what he calls a “revelation of anti-Semitism.”
Wernick grew up knowing that bigotry against the Jewish people existed, but he believed it was marginalized, and for the most part a thing of the past. Recently, though, adding to his grief about the conflict in the Middle East, instances of anti-Semitism around the world have shaken him.