Dei'ah veDibur - Information & Insight

A Window into the Chareidi World

5 Iyar 5762 - April 17, 2002 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly









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Home and Family
American Jewish Reactions to the Middle East Crisis: Rallies and Prayers
by Moshe Rockove

Here in the US we are not in the thick of the Middle East action, but we feel close and we are closely following the developments and share in the concerns of all Jews in Israel.

This Monday a massive rally in Washington D.C. was planned in support of Israel. It is being organized by the President's Conference, and other organizations are participating.

Agudath Israel of America said that they could not endorse the rally since they are "unable to ensure [it] will be conducted in accordance with the principles and underlying hashkofo of Agudath Israel." However they noted that they "do not discourage from attendance at solidarity rallies like Monday's any Jew whose own rav's guidance and conscience lead him or her to participate."

An Aguda spokesman noted that many individual Aguda rabbonim have urged their congregants to attend and some even organized transportation. The Aguda also noted that they postponed their large Tehillim-assembly, originally scheduled for Sunday, for a week so as not to interfere with the Monday rally in Washington. The Tehillim-assembly is currently planned for Sunday April the 21st, 9 Iyar.

Rabbi Avi Shafran, Agudath Israel's director stressed, "All we Jews must recognize the dedication of one another to our brothers and sisters in Israel -- no matter how each of us chooses to express that dedication."

A Cloud over Pesach

The Passover Massacre in Netanya took place on Pesach in Eretz Yisroel; but here it was still erev yom tov. As people heard the news, it cast a pall over the hectic but exciting Pesach preparations. It was the subject of conversation wherever one went that afternoon; most people quickly realized that the sheer horror of the attack indicated that it had dramatically changed the already volatile situation. A three-day yom tov was beginning here in chutz la'aretz and people wondered what would transpire over the yom tov, as the chareidi community undergoes a "news blackout" for three days.

At maariv the first night of yom tov, when people are normally happy and relaxed in their finery, people found it eerily reminiscent of earlier Pesach pogroms and blood libels. "At the Seder of all places?" people exclaimed. "Nothing is off-limits to them?"

Throughout chol hamoed and yom tov -- through today, all eyes and ears are tuned to the Middle East.

The American Political Scene; Its Effect on the Conflict

Boruch Hashem the situation here is fine, but one always gets reminders the we're in golus and nobody has any guarantees of safety. This sentiment is especially felt after the 9/11 attacks.

The general consensus is that the pro-Israel lobby in Congress is extremely powerful and that Israel is assured of continued support on Capitol Hill, regardless of circumstances.

But that may be changing. The Moslem community has mobilized itself tremendously over the last few years and is beginning to flex its political muscles. Both presidential candidates in the 2000 election, Al Gore and George W. Bush, actively courted the Moslem vote as their advisors felt their vote could make the difference in swing states, such as Michigan, which has the largest concentration of Arabs outside the Middle East. Moslem political action committees, such as CAIR, constantly monitor the political statements of candidates and call on them in press releases to understand the Palestinian plight.

They are most effective at the grass roots level. A frum woman who lives in Edison, NJ, attended a town hall meeting in Edison featuring the two NJ Senators, Jon Corzine and Robert Torricelli. She said half of those in attendance were Arabs and they were organized; they even may have outnumbered the Jews who attended. "They lined up, en masse, to have their say complaining about the US's support of Israel and again, I was shocked that they were so organized.

"Torricelli was wonderful and Corzine was good too in their clear and unequivocal support for Israel. But I felt outnumbered and outgunned. The Palestinians were pleased to let our senators know that there are 400,000 Palestinians living in NJ alone."

Agudath Israel sent out a memo April 10, stating that since this year (2002) is an election year for one-third of the senators and all congressmen, the Moslems are hard at work getting their people to register and vote in November so their voice will be more powerful in Washington. The Aguda requested that people call the White House, their senators and congressmen to voice their support for Israel and they printed the relevant phone numbers.

Indeed, the major chareidi newspapers printed ads this week asking the chareidi community to call the White House, and their senators and congressmen to voice their strong support for Israel, and their concern over the administration's position.

These calls work. Senator James Inhofe, a senator from Okalahoma, gave a speech in March on the floor of the Senate, in response to the Saudi peace proposal. He listed seven reasons why Israel is entitled to the land they have and that it should not be a part of the peace process. He noted how Israel has archeological evidence that Jews lived there over 3000 years ago; it's a developed country, something nobody did in that region before the Jews arrived their 100 years ago; Israel is the only democracy in the area; they are helping us in our war against terror; they have a right to the land as it says in the Bible and proceeded to quote the pesukim in Lech Lecho that say that Hashem gave the land to Avrohom and his children.

The speech was widely circulated in the Jewish community. Senator Inhofe's deputy press secretary commented that they were completely surprised by the outpouring of support for the senator's pro-Israel speech. They printed the emails and when the hard copies were stacked up, they were more than a foot high!

Mixed Signals From the White House

President Bush himself has sent mixed signals to the region recently. In his public statements, especially his remarks on March 31, he strongly supported Israel's right to self- defense. He berated Arafat for condoning suicide attacks and reminded the world that the suicide bombers "are not bombers, but murderers." However, on April 4, he also said that Israel must withdraw from the West Bank and deal with Arafat.

Many political observers feel that his confusing, straddle- the-fence-like speeches about the current violence reflect a policy disagreement within his administration how to articulate the proper approach for the region. Vice- President Cheney, Defense Secretary Rumsfeld, and Deputy Defense Secratay Paul Wolfowitz, consist of the hard-line point-of-view: let Sharon hit as hard as he wants. Colin Powell and other State Department officials advocate a more diplomatic solution to the crisis.

The hard-line advocates in the press are disappointed with Bush because they feel that after the ultimatum he delivered to the world with such moral clarity on September 20, "You're either with us or against us with the war on terrorism," he seems to have qualified that with regard to Arafat. He has left the window open to him even though Bush knows Arafat's true essence: terrorism.

The Media's Pro-Palestinian Tilt

The media, for the most part, has been sympathetic to the Palestinian plight more than to the hardships the current situation has imposed on the Israelis.The New York Times, perhaps the most influential newspaper in America, has been consistently calling for Israeli restraint whenever there is a suicide bombing. They profile the lives of the suicide bombers and comment how they were just fed up with life under the Israeli occupation.

The Times and other media lump together the Israelis and Palestinians killed over the last 20 months, creating a moral equivalency between the two. They ignore the fact that most Israeli casualties were innocent civilians who were targeted in suicide attacks, while many of the Palestinian deaths were suicide bombers or those attempting such attacks or those responsible for them.

Other media outlets take their cue from the Times and cover the stories accordingly. The only major newspaper that's consistently sympathetic to Israel is the Wall Street Journal. Their editorial page refers repeatedly to Arafat as a terrorist and calls for the Bush Administration to deal with him accordingly.

The media's emphasizes perceived rifts between Bush and Sharon over whether Israel should pull out. "Defiant Sharon Losing Support in White House", wrote the Washington Post in its front page headline, April 11. They reported that Sharon's refusal to pull out of the West Bank "could make the president appear ineffective and erode his standing in the world."

Nevertheless, opinion polls show that the Americans support Israel's current offensive.

The Call of the Time

Many rabbonim have called upon their mispallelim to daven about the current situation and to say Tehillim.

The rosh yeshiva of Philadelphia, HaRav Elya Svei, shlita, pointed out at the Yeshiva Dinner shortly before Purim, that "we are currently living in the times of Ikvesa Demeshicha. Chazal say that four-fifths of Klal Yisroel were not worthy to leave Mitzrayim. Thus Chazal tell us that one must be worthy to greet Moshiach."

The Rosh Yeshiva suggested that "we increase our limud hatorah, positively influence others and be mekarev other Jews to Torah and avodas Hashem."

"The main point," the Rosh Yeshiva stressed, "is that we should strive to enhance Kovod Shomayim in whatever we do."

Horav Shmuel Kamenetzky, shlita, Rosh Yeshiva of Philadelphia, has said numerous times that when one should be more careful in kedushas beis haknessess.

"The gemmorah in Megillah (29a) says that the bottei kneisiyos in Bavel are going to go the Eretz Yisroel when Moshiach comes. The Maharsha points out that even today shuls have a din of Eretz Yisroel. They serve as embassies; they have a kedusha of Eretz Yisroel even though they aren't there now. Thus, when one is careful to treat a shul with proper respect he's adding to the kedusha of Eretz Yisroel, which serves as a zechus for the land today."

Let us hope that the teffilos and other meaningful actions by Jews across the globe will alleviate the situtation for all.


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