Discussions about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict are complicated, heart-wrenching, controversial and create unlikely alliances. The myriad of opinions, answers and policy papers churned out on a daily basis by organizations, think tanks, politicians, scholars, leaders, and the media (and I would be remiss if I skipped bloggers like me) is astounding. But, if you read or watch mainstream US media, their coverage of the American Jewish community and US politicians of all stripes is overwhelmingly supportive of Israeli government policies, even if the policies are out of step with their US domestic political beliefs. And, they incite and encourage extremist language and behavior that is out-of-step with the majority of US Jews. In fact, there's plenty more diversity of political thought and debate of policies in Israeli society in comparison to the dominant US Jewish organizations.
When the tensions in the area come to fruition in the form of warfare, the spin-doctors work overtime to furiously fight to ensure their message is consistently heard across media outlets. No, this is not in regards to "Joe the Plumber" who became a Fox News spokesperson during the recent Gaza war (I don't know how a non-certified Ohio plumber has any expertise on Israel-Palestine policies, but that's another discussion). I'm referring to the major Jewish groups, backed up by their pro-Israel Christian Zionist friends, were stumbling over each other to offer a so-called united American Jewish response of unequivocal support for Israel's incursion into Gaza. Although groups such as AIPAC, the Anti-Defamation League and the American Jewish Conference have lots of members, their strength is not in numbers but their political clout. While these groups muscle their support on Capitol Hill for Israel policies (the AIPAC conference is the probably the only time you will see Democratic and Republican leaders embracing each other in their monolithic, united bi-partisan support on one issue: Israel).
However, the Jewish community's response is diverse and not the unified front which Jewish groups and the media tried to present. In fact, despite the media's coverage of the war which presented the Jewish community as overwhelmingly supportive of the war, polling suggests otherwise. First, Barack Obama received between 75-78% of the Jewish vote in the recent elections. This is higher than the number of Jews who voted for Sen. John Kerry in the 2004 presidential election and about the same as Gore received when Sen. Joseph Lieberman was his Vice Presidential running mate. If you believe that the Jews who voted for Obama are reflective of national polls about Democrats and Republicans, then you can assume that the majority of Jews didn't necessarily support the war. According to a Rasmussen poll, 55% of all Democrats believed that Israel should have tried a diplomatic solution first. Additionally, J Street, the new lobby organization found that "American Jews overwhelmingly favor assertive peace efforts and support an active U.S. role in helping Israelis and Arabs to resolve their conflict. . . . Jews consistently express a world view that Israel has been poorly served by current Middle East policy and that resolving the conflict is a core American interest that requires serious attention."
American Jews are Israel's greatest friends. However, a true friend will condemn you if your behavior is inappropriate or wrong. Both sides should be condemned for their policies and inability to negotiate which do not offer safe, long-term solutions for Israelis or Palestinians. The UN, US government and other international governments have failed to stop the ongoing rockets and violence that Hamas has unleashed on Israel for the past several years.
However, our mainstream Jewish leaders have for too long given Israel a blank-check in its policies. We need groups who are representative of the majority of Jews by working with US politicians and international leaders towards a sustainable peace. Additionally, politicians and the media should not be beholden to the extreme messages of these groups that perpetuate the hawk-ish Israeli policies. Instead, the majority of Jews who seek healthier alternatives which offer long-term, sound solutions for Israel's long-term benefit should support organizations such as the Israel/Palestine Center for Research and Information, J Street and Prospects for Peace. American Jews should not be afraid to both shout our love for Israel and demand alternative solutions to the status quo.
Sarah's Social Action Snapshot originally appeared on Takepart.com