x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 July 2017

American Jews rally around flag

Even anti-Zionist Jewish groups support military action, with only J Street calling for 'shredding a narrow us-versus-them approach'.

American Jews in Brooklyn discuss the Israeli offensive against Hamas.
American Jews in Brooklyn discuss the Israeli offensive against Hamas.

NEW YORK // Abraham Fayzakov, a street vendor in the Jewish neighbourhood of Borough Park in Brooklyn, knew exactly who to blame for the carnage in the Gaza Strip. "The Arabs started this by throwing all the rockets, and the Jews have to fight back. Israel is no bigger than New Jersey, so what should we do? It's our land," said the 18-year-old who is from Uzbekistan. A small crowd of ultra-Orthodox Jews, dressed in distinct black suits and hats, soon gathered around Mr Fayzakov's stall, where he sells batteries and mobile phone chargers. No one else expressed agreement with his views on Arabs, but they all said the Israeli bombing of the Gaza Strip was justified by the need to protect its Jewish population from rockets launched by Hamas. They also said they believed the majority of the Palestinians killed were Hamas fighters and that Israel was doing all it could to prevent civilian deaths. "It's very stupid to send rockets instead of talking. This [operation] isn't against all the Arabs, especially now when it's Hanukkah," said Eliezer Kint, referring to the Jewish Festival of Lights that ended yesterday. "The Israelis are smart enough and have the intelligence to get at the terrorists." "We love everyone, but we've got to protect ourselves," said Yaacov Shurin, an Israeli who was visiting New York. "We're fighting against terrorism." Mr Shurin belongs to the Satmar movement, which, like Naturei Karta, another ultra-Orthodox community, is anti-Zionist and perceives Israel to have been born in sin. Other ultra-Orthodox movements are more accommodating with Israeli institutions, but all believe only the Messiah, not man, can create a state of Israel. The ultra-Orthodox rarely follow politics and those who live in Israel are exempt from army conscription. Regardless of their religious differences, Jews in New York and elsewhere quickly unite when they think their brethren are in danger, Mr Fayzakov said. "The rabbi in the synagogue next door made a special prayer to help Jews in Israel," he said. About two million Jews live in New York City, making it the biggest Jewish city in the world. Tel Aviv and Jerusalem are much smaller. New York did not see any big pro-Palestinian demonstrations such as those in London and Paris last weekend. Although opinion polls show that American Jews make up one of the most liberal communities in the United States, few are comfortable with public criticism of Israel, particularly when it is perceived to be in trouble. J Street, a liberal lobbying group in Washington, was one of the few US Jewish groups to call on Israel to stop its military operations in Gaza. "American politicians are already hearing from those who see only one side," Isaac Luria, J Street's online director, said in an appeal for US Jews to sign a petition calling for a ceasefire in Gaza. "We know that many policy makers agree with us privately, but hesitate to express their views publicly because they hear only from the partisan extremes. This is our moment to show that there is real political support for shedding a narrow us-versus-them approach to the Middle East." In the Arab-American neighbourhood of Astoria in Queens, people were following the events in Gaza with more animation but also a sense of resignation. Few expected the United States or United Nations to stop Israel and many deplored a lack of Arab unity. "Arab countries only make excuses. They say they support the Palestinians, but only talk and do nothing," said Pierre Vartabedian, an Armenian who grew up in Syria and Lebanon. "Here in the US, the media is one-sided and if you say anything against Israel, they call it anti-Semitism." His friend, Nabil Ibrahim, who is Lebanese and the manager of the Layali Beirut coffee shop, pointed out that Tzipi Livni, the Israeli foreign minister and leader of the ruling Kadima party, went to Cairo last week to meet Hosni Mubarak, the Egyptian president, just before the Gaza operation began. "Livni told Egypt, Saudi Arabia and the US what was going to happen," he said. "On the other side, it wasn't good to send the rockets. All that's happening will damage both sides. They will end up in pieces, not peace." Few Arab-Americans in Astoria expressed any support for Hamas and its tactics, but those interviewed said Israel was acting disproportionately with little regard for civilian casualties. "Israel is doing what we call terrorism by the state and will kill everybody, women, babies, old people," said Azeddine Sbai, who is from Morocco. "I want to go there and do something, but violence only brings more violence and I don't know what I would do. I feel the UN is not being fair about what is happening over there. I think the Arab states should resign from the UN." The UN Security Council issued a unanimous statement on Sunday expressing serious concern at the escalation of the situation in Gaza and called for an immediate halt to all violence. But the statement issued after a closed meeting in New York made no specific reference to Hamas rocket attacks or to the Israeli bombing. Meanwhile, the Arab League postponed an emergency meeting that was to have worked out a common response to Israel's actions. "If the Arabs were united, Israel wouldn't be able to do anything," said Osama Abdullah, who is from Egypt, which is one of only two Arab countries to have signed a peace treaty with Israel. "I'm not against the peace treaty, but if we Arab people united, then Israel would have to stop." sdevi@thenational.ae