PHILADELPHIA — The American Jewish community is mobilizing on several fronts to assert Israel’s right to defend itself in the face of increasingly bold Arab attacks.
As Hezbollah rockets rained down on northern Israel and the Israel Defense Forces launched fresh attacks in Lebanon, American Jewish organizations were stressing the complicity of both Iran and Syria in the escalation.
They were also urging world leaders to condemn the offensives, praising President Bush for his quick statement of support for Israeli actions, and pointing out that the attacks — both from the Gaza Strip in the South and Lebanon in the North — were emanating from areas Israel has already evacuated.
Within hours of Wednesday’s news that the Lebanese militia Hezbollah had killed eight Israeli troops along the northern border and kidnapped two more, a flurry of news releases from American Jewish organizations went out almost simultaneously in support of Israel.
Jewish leaders had consulted privately in recent weeks over how to respond to Israel’s military actions in Gaza following the late June abduction of Cpl. Gilad Shalit and the killing of two other soldiers near the Gaza Strip border.
But with Hezbollah’s brazen action across the Lebanese border, Jewish groups sprung into action.
“It’s important to show solidarity, so that our elected officials see that across the board, American Jews are standing with Israel,” said Malcolm Hoenlein, executive vice chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations. “Overall, I’m finding that there is a unanimity in support of Israel.”
Immediately, groups began reaching out to international contacts to shore up support for a tough Israeli response. By Thursday morning, the second event this month calling for the release of kidnapped soldiers and asserting Israel’s right to self-defense had been scheduled for the streets of midtown Manhattan, this one on July 17.
“We are in a full-court diplomatic press,” said David Harris, executive director of the American Jewish Committee. “The entire agency has been mobilized, there have already been individual telephone conversations and face-to-face meetings with several presidents, a couple of foreign ministers and a number of ambassadors” stationed both in the United States and abroad.
“The reaction to those conversations has ranged from very supportive and understanding to moderately so,” Harris added.
He declined to specify with which nations his group had been in contact, although he said they were in Eastern and Western Europe, South America and sub-Saharan Africa. They were approached, he said, with an eye toward influencing members of key United Nations committees that “might be in a position to vote on matters of the Middle East.”
The United States on Thursday vetoed a Qatari-sponsored resolution at the U.N. Security Council calling for an immediate Israeli withdrawal from Gaza as well as the release of Shalit. Israel had sent a letter to Secretary-General Kofi Annan on Wednesday, and had been in touch with Security Council members, hoping to avoid having to rely on a U.S. veto.
Sources within the United Nations said that France, which currently holds the rotating presidency of the Security Council, had been considering a presidential statement on the conflict, but that the idea went nowhere due to opposition from the United States and Israel, which were concerned the statement would try to achieve balance, equating the actions of both sides to the conflict.
In light of Hezbollah’s attack, the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, which is organizing the July 17 event, is highlighting Lebanese non-compliance with U.N. resolution 1559, which calls for Hezbollah’s dissolution. The group also has urged its members to write letters to the White House and to members of Congress pressing both to fully implement the Syria Accountability Act, which mandates imposition of economic sanctions on Damascus should it not halt its sponsorship of terrorist organizations, among other actions.
The group has further suggested that its members lobby the G8 industrial countries, whose leaders are meeting in Russia starting July 15, along with foreign ministers from the European Union, who will convene following the G8 summit.
Both the Conference of Presidents and the AJCommittee have scheduled solidarity missions to Israel for next week.
The Anti-Defamation League has taken out four ads to run this weekend in the International Herald Tribune, targeted at European leaders attending the G8 conference.
Europe is “the soft underbelly of support for Israel to do what it needs to do,” said the ADL’s national director, Abraham Foxman. “The U.S. is there — Europe is not. Europe is wavering. Europe is talking out of all sides of its mouth. They say the soldiers should be released, but Israel is overreacting.”
Foxman said he had just approved another ad to run in an American paper, thanking Bush for his support. On Thursday, Bush said Israel had the right to defend itself, blaming Hezbollah for the violence and calling for Syria to be held accountable for supporting the Lebanese militia.
Several other prominent Jewish groups issued statements in support of Israel, including Hadassah and the Jewish Council for Public Affairs.
Some of the Jewish groups’ talking points were echoed on Thursday in a Washington program that included speakers from the U.S. House of Representatives and Israel’s ambassador to the United States, Daniel Ayalon.
“The reason we see now this deterioration is because of a premeditated attack or strategy that, unfortunately, is being concocted in Damascus and in Tehran,” Ayalon said at a Israel Project-sponsored forum at the National Press Club.
Iran, he said, is attempting to impose its influence on the Middle East and to divert attention from its “feverish” pursuit of nuclear weapons.
If the Islamic republic is successful, he said, “then no one, but no one on this globe is safe.”
AIPAC, the pro-Israel lobby, said it is focusing its efforts on Washington’s halls of power.
“The U.S. government is galvanized in support of Israel and AIPAC is working with both Congress and the administration to express and affirm their support for Israel’s right to defend itself against these unprovoked acts of aggression,” said spokeswoman Jennifer Cannata.
A host of Jewish and non-Jewish members of Congress have issued statements in support of Israel. Among them are Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.); Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-Fla.); Eliot Engel (D-N.Y.); Gene Green (D-Texas); Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla.); Gary Ackerman (D-N.Y.); Brad Sherman (D-Calif.), and Robert Wexler (D-Fla.).
“I call on the U.N. Security Council to condemn this horrific attack, demand Lebanon’s disarmament of Hezbollah, and send a clear message to the Lebanese government that it must fill the security vacuum on its border with Israel,” Wexler said in a statement.
The Reform movement, for its part, defended Israel’s right to defend itself, while calling on Israel in a statement “to do everything possible to assure that basic civilian needs, including electricity and water, in Gaza and elsewhere, are met.”
“Jewishly and politically, that’s an important point to note,” Rabbi Eric Yoffie, president of the Union for Reform Judaism, told JTA. “Beyond that we, I assume, pretty much stand with the broader community and we want our people to rally to Israel’s side.”