By Bradley Burston
What a disappointment Israel is for machismo-oozing leaders of the American Jewish right. What a shameful wuss is this state. If only these leaders lived here. They'd show them Arabs - and this Israeli government - what for.
Just let that Olmert, and that Livni, and G-d knows who else, think one thought about horsetrading the future of Jerusalem, these leaders have put Israel on notice. No way. They'll have to get past us. American Jews.
Jews like cosmetics heir Ronald Lauder, president of the World Jewish Congress, who took the trouble of personally informing the prime minister last month that Diaspora Jewish opinion must be a factor when it comes to negotiations over Jerusalem's future status.
Yeshiva University rabbinical school head Herschel Schachter, meanwhile, was considerably more direct when addressing the possibility that Israel might make territorial concessions over Jerusalem.
Using the Hebrew words for Jerusalem and the Prime Minister, Schachter was caught on video telling American students at Yeshivat Hakotel, which overlooks both the Western Wall and Al Aqsa:
"If the army is going to give away Yerushalyim, then I would tell everyone to resign from the army - I'd tell them to shoot the Rosh Hamemshalah."
"No one should go to the army if they [the army] are doing aveirus [sins]," the rabbi continued, adding, "I'm not sure if the army is doing the right thing - we have to look into that."
The respected Talmudic scholar apologized this month for his remarks, saying that they were not meant seriously and did not represent his real views.
There is every reason to believe his disclaimer. The remarks, however, are a symptom of a wider phenomenon, led by the likes of Zionist Orgnization of America National President Morton Klein, the ZOA-ization of debate over a future Israeli-Palestinian peace.
In recent months, the right wing of U.S. Jewry has lined up to tell Israelis that, where it comes to a possible division of Jerusalem into Israeli and Palestinian capitals, right-wing American Jews know best.
During a recent Jerusalem meeting of the Conference of Presidents of Major Jewish Organizations, Boston real-estate developer Joshua Katzen was quoted as saying that Diaspora Jews can see the bigger security-diplomatic picture that Israelis sometimes miss.
"They lose sight of the wider jihad in the world," said Katzen, former chair of the rightist CAMERA media advocacy group and a board member of the Jewish Institute for National Security Affairs whose advisors include John Bolton and Richard Perle,
Thus American Jews can show Israelis that granting Palestinians any kind of sovereignty over Jerusalem would be a mistake because it would give an increasingly radicalized Islamic world a foothold in the city, the Jewish Telegraphic Agency quoted Katzen as saying.
The problem is not that these men are critical of Israel, nor that they have an opinion on Jerusalem, not that they want their feelings to be respected. They have every right to be critical, they have every right to care about the holy city. Their feelings should be respected.
The problem is, in part, one of tone. These are, after all, powerful men. They are the last people who will countenance being talked down to. Perhaps they should consider what it's like when they themselves are talking down, when what they are saying amounts to "Someone has to save Israelis from themselves."
But the more profound problem is one that was raised by rightists repeatedly when the Likud dominated Israeli politics for much of the latter part of the 20th century.
At the time, defenders of the Begin, Shamir, and Netanyahu governments stressed that American Jewish critics of Israel do not face the direct and potentially lethal consequences of the policies they propound.
They were right. Yet what was once true for the American Jewish left, applies equally to the American Jewish right. It is specious to suggest that the views of rightists are perforce better for Israel's overall well-being that those of leftists.
The same day that right-leaning presidents of major North American Jewish organization lined up to rule out any division of Jerusalem, a panel of experts warned the conference that the city was in danger of losing its Jewish majority, due to the continuing exodus of Jerusalem's Jewish residents.
Allow me to suggest to those U.S. Jews who so passionately argue against any division of Jerusalem might want to expend a portion of their considerable energy in helping find ways to aid the Jews still remaining in the city, those who have not already been driven out by high housing costs, bleak job opportunities, depleted cultural life, and the mounting fundamentalism and polarization of the population, both Jewish and Muslim.
Jerusalem needs the help of all those who love the city. But to suggest that the best way for Israel to relate to the city, is by keeping it at close as possible to the way it currently is, is to ignore dangers at least as potentially destructive as those inherent in ceding areas on the outskirts, Palestinian neighborhoods which no Jews in their right mind have gone near in years.
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