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March 01, 1991 - Image 27

Resource type:
The Detroit Jewish News, 1991-03-01

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American Attitudes
Have Also Changed


rethinking of the Palestinian
question is also taking place
among American Jewry as a
result of the Persian Gulf War.
"The mood is a harder line toward the
Palestinians since they sided with
Saddam Hussein," said Ronald B. Weitz-
man, Baltimore regional president of the
Zionist Organization of America.
"I'm finding that more people are
saying that maybe we shouldn't be so
quick to condemn the Israeli govern-
ment when it takes a tougher position
on the issue," he said.
American Jewry appears to have
shifted its position on two key points
relating to the Palestinian issue, Jew-
ish leaders and observers around the
nation said in interviews:
There is less support for pushing Is-
rael into a compromise not to its liking,
including acceptance of the Palestine
Liberation Organization as the legiti-
mate representative of the Palestinian
And there is more support for Isra-
el's insistence that any discussions
concerning Palestinian autonomy be
held in conjunction with bilateral
peace talks between Israel and its
neighboring Arab states.
"I think few American Jews now be-
lieve the Middle East peace process re-
ally does have to start with the Pales-
tinian issue," said Martin Raffel, Isra-
el task force director for the National
Jewish Community Relations Adviso-
ry Council.
"I think the American Jewish main-
stream before this war was moving
toward the belief that it was the Israeli
government that was most intran-
sigent on this issue," said Peter
Edelman, co-chair of Americans For
Peace Now, which has been highly crit-
ical of Jerusalem's past handling of the
Palestinian question.
"At least in the short run, the war
has turned this around," he said.
To a large degree, the shifts in Amer-
ican Jewish thinking appear to be a di-
rect result of the anger and revulsion
felt by many toward the wholesale Pal-
estinian embracing of Saddam Hus-
sein's Scud missile attacks on Israeli
cities, those interviewed said.
This sentiment is most striking
among those on the liberal-left end of
the American Jewish spectrum, those
who in the past maintained — and gen-
erally still do — that territorial com-

promise and Palestinian self-
determination is in Israel's long-term
"I'm furious with the demonstra-
tions in support of Iraq, with the exal-
tation of Saddam Hussein that we've
seen among the Palestinian people and
leadership," said Albert Vorspan, di-
rector of the Union of American
Hebrew Congregation's Commission
on Social Action.
"I'm disgusted with (Palestinian)
moral blindness and stupidity," added
Michael Lerner, editor of the liberal
Jewish bi-monthly magazine Tikkun.
But in addition to anger, some of
those interviewed said their thinking
about the Palestine issue has also been
altered by what they perceive to be a
new Middle East dynamic resulting
from the war. The new dynamic, they
explained, is Israel's unexpected
alignment with Saudi Arabia, Kuwait,
Syria and other Arab states against
Mr. Lerner, for one, said this turn of
events was the basis of his
"willingness to consider support for"
Israeli Prime Minister Yitzchak Sha-
mir's insistence that parallel talks with
Arab nations accompany any discus-
sion with Palestinians.
Prior to the Gulf crisis, Mr. Lerner
said he viewed the prime minister's
stand as an "an obstructionist ploy"
because of the scant likelihood at the
time that Arab leaders, whose nations
are technically still at war with Israel,
would actually talk with Israeli offi-
But the Gulf war, he said, has made
direct talks between Israel and the
Arab members of the anti-Iraq coali-
tion "very possible," Mr. Lerner said.
The shifts in American Jewish think-
ing may well signal a move to the
right. But Baltimore Rabbi Mark
Loeb, a leader in the city's Americans
For Peace Now chapter, and others,
stressed that this new attitude in no
way approaches the surge to the right
evident among Israelis.
"American Jews may be upset at
seeing Palestinian support for Saddam
Hussein, but they are nowhere near
ready to even consider supporting
transfer," said Rabbi Loeb, spiritual
leader of the Conservative Beth El
"American Jews remain aghast at the
notion," he said. ❑
Ira Rifkin

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