If there are no terror attacks in the coming days and Ben-Gurion airport workers don't go on strike, Jerusalem's empty hotels will get a moment of grace at the end of the week. Some 3,000 American Jews are due to arrive to take part in an unusual annual meeting of the General Assembly, better known as the GA. Usually, the GA moves from one major American Jewish population center to another and its debates and discussions focus on the issues that trouble that Diaspora. This is only the second time in 70 years the GA has taken place in Jerusalem.
The invitation to the assembly says the decision to hold the session in Israel was a result of the desire "to enable the representatives of the Jewish community to demonstrate their support for Israel and its people at this difficult time." The slogan chosen for the event, "Shaping our Future," emphasizes the shared destiny of the two most important Jewish communities in the world.
To make that partnership tangible to the gentiles, especially those in the White House and on Capitol Hill, the Jews will also vote with their feet for Israel. The organizers invited all Israelis to join them on a march through terror-struck Jerusalem, and to spend time at its restaurants and shopping centers.
Without any cynicism, it must be said that it is a lovely gesture to the residents of the city, which has been hit so much by terrorism, and a worthy response to the enemies of peace. However, the thousands of good Jews making their way to Jerusalem are not merely emissaries of good will. Whether they want to or not, they will be turned into political emissaries of the Sharon government and its policies. TV viewers in Israel and the world will get the impression that thousands of Jews would not cross the oceans to identify with a government and its policies with which they disagree.
Those running for president and Congress will see the Jewish voters and donors cheering an Israeli prime minister who declares unceasing war on terror and swears Jerusalem will remain whole, never divided or shared. As far as the typical American politician is concerned, what's good for Israel in the eyes of Mr. Levy from New York and Mrs. Rabinowich from Florida, is good for him. In the coming U.S. election year, the Jewish lobby will become an important center of influence over decision makers in Washington. The candidates will be attentive to every sound and silence in the community regarding Israel. The Geneva Accords and Ami Ayalon's and Sari Nusseibeh's People's Voice, like Chief of Staff Moshe Ya'alon's criticism, brought the political option back to the public discourse in Israel. Statements by Secretary of State Colin Powell and Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz giving their blessings to the new peace initiatives have signaled the start of a similar discussion in the U.S.
As far as Powell is concerned, it can reasonably be said that American interests hide Israeli interests for him. But Wolfowitz, a right-wing conservative anxious for Israel's future, wouldn't have gone anywhere near Ayalon and Nusseibeh if he didn't believe their initiative was good for Israel. Presumably, the senior-most Jewish official in the Bush administration would not have praised an initiative based on the Clinton framework if he did not believe Israel has someone to talk to and something to talk about. Wolfowitz thus paved the way for all friends of Israel in the U.S. to reexamine their position regarding the Sharon government's policies.
American Jews, like other Americans, did not obediently cheer the senseless war in Vietnam. There is no reason they will behave differently when it comes to a senseless war in their historic homeland. Both as Jews and as Americans, their duty is to take a stand on the issues of peace and war in the Middle East, on the separation fence, and the land grabbing. They deserve to hear from the prime minister how to "shape the future" with a non-Jewish majority but without apartheid and transfer. They must demand that Yossi Beilin explain the way the Geneva Accords guarantee freedom of access to the Western Wall, Temple Mount and Mount of Olives. Marches and shopping in Jerusalem are moving gestures. But real identification isn't about stepping into the mud for an hour, but rather about participating in the long-term effort to get out of the mud.
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