- The Washington Times - Friday, January 24, 2003

American Jews, so prominent in anti-Vietnam war activities, have been almost silent on the issue of Iraq.
Using words like "no consensus" and "schizophrenic," Jewish leaders say their once-liberal stances are evaporating in the face of threats to Israel and latent anti-Semitism among anti-war protesters.
"This issue is very volatile with the Jewish community right now," said Hannah Rosenthal, executive director for the Jewish Council for Public Affairs.
"This war is not the same as Vietnam. There is a concern about Israel. [In 1991], 39 Scud missiles fell on Israel, so you will find an ambivalence on the clarity of the message. There is not a soul who stood up in the 1960s and said we have to go to Vietnam because we are afraid they are creating weapons of mass destruction."
Malcolm Hoenlein, executive vice chairman for the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, says the threat of Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein looms over 53 organizations Mr. Hoenlein represents.
"It is essential for the United States and others to act," he says. "The fact is that people understand this is not a war like Vietnam."
Jews were major anti-war organizers during the Vietnam era. Three of the defendants Jerry Rubin, Abbie Hoffman and Lee Wiener in the Chicago Seven trial were Jewish. The case involved the 1968 demonstrations in Chicago during the Democratic National Convention.
"Jews constituted one-tenth of all students in the 1960s, but they were half or more of the radicals leading protests on campus," said Joshua Plaut, executive director for the Center for Jewish History in New York. "In 1966, half of all the delegates at the national Students for a Democratic Society convention were Jewish."
In 1967, he added, the American Council of Education concluded the most accurate predictor of campus protest was the matriculation of Jewish students.
"Jewish history teaches that one must take all precautions to choose the right course to defend oneself when a neighbor possesses the potential to inflict great harm," Mr. Plaut said. "In the Jewish community today, there is no one opinion as to what is right concerning Iraq."
A poll released today by the American Jewish Committee says 59 percent of American Jews approve of U.S. military action against Iraq, 36 percent oppose it and 5 percent are undecided. Jewish approval of a war is lower than the general American populace, which, according to the Pew Research Center for the People and the Press, recently polled at 68 percent in favor of a war in Iraq, 25 percent in opposition and 7 percent undecided.
"I'd guess the mainstream liberal Jewish organizations would be more supportive of Bush because this is a war against an enemy of Israel," said Mel Small, author of "Antiwarriors: The Vietnam War and the Struggle for America's Hearts and Minds" and a history professor at Wayne State University in Detroit. "That wasn't the case in Vietnam."
Shaiya Baer, executive director of the Schulman Center for Jewish life at Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tenn., says the Jewish community always has been kind of "schizophrenic" in terms of war.
"It's put some Jewish students on the defensive," he said. "Even Jews who are opposed to intervention in Iraq are put on the defensive about Israel. What took place in the 1960s was premised on the draft. But this is not the 1960s or early 1970s anymore, and I think students are more low-key about the war because it doesn't affect them."
Their elders are more incensed over the idea, says Herbert Shapiro, a retired history professor from the University of Cincinnati, who says he marched against the war during the early 1960s along with many rabbis, rabbinical students and faculty members from Jewish colleges.
"A favorable opinion about Israel and even hostility toward Palestinians does not translate into a pro-Iraqi war view," he said. "There's concern an Iraq war could have consequences that could harm Israel's and Jewish interests, to be sure."
Rabbi Arthur Waskow, director of the Shalom Center in Philadelphia, blames an "official institutional paralysis" on the part of the country's top Jewish organizations for the lack of Jewish peace efforts.
"The Jewish Council on Public Affairs, supposedly the repository/umbrella for Jewish social concerns, has almost no staff devoted to that pursuit; almost all are focused on public relations in support of the present Israeli government and its policies," he says.
Real anti-war activists exist, he says, but they are scattered. His group has taken out several ads in Jewish and general-interest newspapers in New York and California asking Jews to write the heads of major Jewish organizations to ask for a change of heart. Stephen Hoffman, chief executive and president of United Jewish Communities in New York, the umbrella organization for 156 Jewish federations around the country, received about a dozen e-mails.
"The Jewish community follows news in the Middle East more closely than do many Americans and is more realistic on the intentions of dictators like Saddam Hussein," Mr. Hoffman said. "Many people believe you have to confront this kind of evil when the timing is correct. A lot of people in the Jewish community are more realistic regarding what President Bush is facing and appreciate his leadership on this very difficult challenge."
Rabbi Michael Lerner, editor of Tikkun, a liberal Jewish magazine based in San Francisco and president of the Berkeley chapter of Students for a Democratic Society from 1966 to 1968 says most major Jewish organizations also sat out the Vietnam War.
But "among people under 30, the anti-war sentiment in the Jewish world was overwhelming," he said. Thirty years later, he adds, the anti-war movement has taken an anti-Semitic tinge.
"The anti-Israel feel and content of the [recent San Francisco and Washington] demonstrations has significantly retarded the development of a strong anti-war voice in the Jewish community," he says. "There needs to be a place for large numbers of people who are against the war but who do not believe the Jews or Israel are behind the war."
Michael Dobkowski, a religious studies professor at Hobart and William Smith Colleges in Geneva, N.Y., was active in Vietnam-era protests.
"Our behavior in the '60s was motivated by our sense of Jewishness because I thought it was the Jewish thing to do, the right thing to do," he says.
But today, "There's a kind of a double standard that seems to be operating," Mr. Dobkowski says. "Where is the outrage of the left against Saddam Hussein, one of the world's documented genociders? Frankly, it's a moral blindness. When the policy doesn't fit your politics, you are blind to real moral concerns.
"Many American Jews feel the most extreme elements of the anti-war movement would be happy to see Israel disappear. That is not an option for American Jews. That's why you don't see a Jewish presence at these rallies."

Sign up for Daily Newsletters

Copyright © 2019 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.

The Washington Times Comment Policy

The Washington Times welcomes your comments on Spot.im, our third-party provider. Please read our Comment Policy before commenting.


Click to Read More and View Comments

Click to Hide