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Jewish World Review March 28, 2003 / 24 Adar II, 5763

Jonathan Tobin

Jonathan Tobin
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No time to keep quiet

Fear leads some Jews to avoid speaking out in favor of the war in Iraq | In the months and weeks before the beginning of the war in Iraq, the word coming from national American Jewish organizations to their constituents was clear: Stay out of it.

Few Jewish groups have ignored this directive. Indeed, keeping a low profile on the war has become something of an obsession for most of the organized Jewish world.

And when the less inhibited Zionist Organization of America co-sponsored a pro-administration rally in New York on March 23, its leader, Mort Klein, found himself on the receiving end of criticism from fellow Jewish leaders for using bad judgment.

Why are so many other strong-willed and normally loquacious Jewish leaders taking a powder on what is the most earth shaking issue to face the American people in our generation?

The answer is clear: fear.

For all of the chest-pounding pride that many American Jews rightly exhibit about Jewish accomplishments and acceptance in this country, the war is something that they are frankly scared to talk about.

Although many, though not all, American Jews are behind the resolve of President Bush to rid the world of the Saddam Hussein regime, some are loathe to speak about that support publicly.


There is some logic in this decision.

Anti-Semitism is on the rise in anti-war Europe. Driven largely by the European media's scandalous anti-Israel bias, anger at Israel's alleged sins has allowed incitement against Jews to become fashionable on the continent again.

This despicable sentiment has also become part and parcel of protests against the American campaign against the Saddam Hussein regime. Crude anti-Jewish propaganda from the Arab world has found a home in European intellectual circles where President Bush and Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon are seen as the devil's spawn.

And though the level of Israel-bashing in this country isn't close to what we have seen in Europe, the recent spate of it from paleoconservatives has scared some people.

National columnist Robert Novak, pundit Pat Buchanan and others have based their opposition to Bush's decision on Iraq on the idea that the war is being fought more for Israel's sake than that of the United States. They have singled out Jewish members of the administration as being the culprits behind this imaginary plot.

On the far left, Israel-bashing and anti-war rhetoric are also closely linked - something that has, unfortunately, failed to deter left-wing Jewish war protesters.

Thus it is no wonder amid all of this anti-Semitic incitement that the official Jewish world is sending out memos around the country urging Jewish groups to keep their mouths shut and avoid any identification of the community with the war effort.

It must also be mentioned that Jewish groups have reason to fear being singled out during a war on terrorism. The nation is in a state of alert and synagogues and communal buildings have been targeted before. But as much as we must take security seriously, this is not the time for Americans, least of all Jews, to fear speaking out.

"We shouldn't silence ourselves," says Anti-Defamation League head Abe Foxman. "Jews are citizens with no lesser rights than anyone else. If they feel moved to support or protest the war, they shouldn't avoid doing it because of what others say."

That is an important point. It may be that the Jew-hating right and the equally anti-Zionist left will use anything we do or say as ammunition against us, but is that any reason to let them shut us up? Anti-Semitism is a product of the haters' own minds. Nothing any Jew says or does creates it. The ADL was itself cautious about not getting out in front of the president's stands during the course of the lead up to the war, but it now "expresses support for the United States government in its effort to stop Iraqi President Saddam Hussein, and the danger he poses to the stability and safety of the region. The need to stop Hussein is clear."

ZOA's Klein is equally ardent. He supports the war because he believes it is a "significant departure from the traditional U.S. posture of appeasing Arab terrorist regimes. Hopefully, it will be just the first step in a new approach to combating terrorism."

Both ADL and ZOA, groups that haven't always seen eye to eye on many issues, are right not only in what they say but in their decision to speak out. The idea that a Jewish conspiracy created this war is a myth, but let us make no mistake about what is at stake. Should we fail in our resolve to eradicate the rogue regime in Baghdad, the effects will be felt throughout the world, including Israel.


This is a unique moment when the democracies can show the criminal terrorist and Islamo-fascist opponents of freedom that they will not be allowed to threaten the peace of the world with impunity.

Israel will suffer if this war ends in a triumph for Saddam Hussein and the Western appeasers who have worked hard to foil American policy. But so will the entire Middle East, especially Arabs who will lose any hope of democracy. If we prevail, the benefits will equally accrue to more than just Israel.

As the war continues, the challenges will be many. The assault on both America and Israel within the United Nations will be particularly crucial. We can expect that following an American victory, the Jew-hating hypocrites who masquerade as "human-rights activists" will seek to exploit the situation.

Jewish groups can play a role in defending the values of democracy in both international forums and the American public square.

In doing so, we should not hide the fact that we love Israel and want the forces that still wish to destroy it to be defeated. We will at the same time insist, as does the president, that our support for the war is motivated first and foremost by our love for America and concern for its safety.

American Jews, who have always played a leadership role on important policy questions, cannot falter now. Contrary to the opinion of the anti-war crowd, you don't have to be Jewish to oppose terror and support democracy abroad. But it shouldn't stop you from speaking out if you are.

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JWR contributor Jonathan S. Tobin is executive editor of the Philadelphia Jewish Exponent. Let him know what you think by clicking here.

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