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February 03, 1989 - Image 24

Resource type:
Text
Publication:
The Detroit Jewish News, 1989-02-03

Disclaimer: Computer generated plain text may have errors. Read more about this.

ANALYSIS

Losing Clout?

Continued from Page 22

always depend heavily on its
ability to, work effectively
with other minorities.

The Intifada Effect

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Finally, the wild card in
this high-stakes game is the
ongoing Intifada in Israel, a
crisis that has shaken some of
the foundations of Jewish
political life.
In the executive branch of
the government, the intifada
has contributed significantly
to official impatience with
Israel, and with the pro-Israel
cause.
This frustration was a fac-
tor in George Shultz's recent
decision to open a dialogue
with the PLO, and in the
muted response from Capitol
Hill to the startling turn of
events. It will be a factor —
how much of one is far from
clear — in upcoming discus-
sions about the new foreign
aid budget.
"I don't see a turning away
from Israel in Congress," said
one aide to a strongly pro-
Israel legislator. "But neither
do I see the same automatic
support for Israel's policies
that we saw a year ago from
a core group of senators and
congressmen."
The intifada has sowed
doubts among many of
Israel's supporters; the
disorders, and the Jerusalem
government's uncompromis-
ing response, has tarnished
Israel's image as a bastion of
democracy in a very un-
democratic part of the world.
United States decision
makers have also been
frustrated by Israel's internal
divisions — including the
November election which
resulted in another coalition
government, and the raucous
debate over the best way to
handle the disorders in the oc-
cupied territories.
Israel's crisis has not
resulted in any wholesale
desertion of Israel in
American public opinion. In
fact, polling data on the Mid-
dle East situation has been
ambiguous.
But there are warning
signals everywhere; a recent
New York Times poll, for ex-
ample, showed little dif-
ference between the propor-
tion of Americans who feel
the PLO is unwilling to make
the concessions necessary to
a Middle East peace — and
those who say the same thing
about Israel.
"I think support for Israel is
not so much the result of the
power of the Jewish com-
munity as it is the result of
the sympathy most
Americans had for a beleag-
uered Western state, a
democracy," says Steve

Silbiger,
Washington
representative for the
American Jewish Congress.
"The Intifada has chipped
away at that image — but
how much is not clear to us
now."
Political professionals like
B'nai B'rith's Dan
Mariaschin point out that
support for Israel remains
strong, both in the govern-
ment and among the
American people.
"But it's brought us a real
challenge to us," Mariaschin
says. "We have to deal with
the images that are coming
across the television screen
every night. It puts a special
responsibility on us to try to
keep current, to try to explain
the context of what's happen-
ing."
More significantly, the In-
tifada has cut a wide swath
through the American Jewish
community, whose unity on
the question of Israel has
always been one of the
bedrocks of Jewish political
power.
In the past, even American
Jews with very different
views on the best • route to a
Middle East peace were able
to coalesce around direct
threats to Israel's existence,
like the 1967 and 1973 inva-
sions by her Arab neighbors.
But the intifada has produc-
ed a different kind of crisis;
solutions are hard to envi-
sion, the proper response of
the U.S. government is not
clear to many Jews. - And a
sizable proportion of
American Jews lay at least
some of the blame at Israel's
own doorstep.
The disunity factor was on-
ly intensified with the re-
emergence of the "Who is a
Jew" issue.
"It's obvious that this came
at a very bad time," says
Allan Lichtman, the
American University political
historian. "lb the rest of the
country, it conveys a very
negative image; here we have
Jews squabbling over a ques-
tion of ethnic identity that
other people have a hard time
grasping.
"But more important is the
question of Jewish unity. In
the past, one of the real foun-
dations of Jewish political
power has been the almost
monolithic support for certain
things — most notably, for
Israel. Now, we see much
more debate on these issues.
We see more uncertainty —
which has a direct affect on
the political power of the
Jewish community."
Despite these problems,
even the pessimists insist
that the Jewish community
remains a strong.

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