For Hindy Friedman, a child of Holocaust survivors, Israel is a stubborn miracle that has survived against the odds since 1948. So Friedman, co-ordinator of the Toronto 40th Anniversary Committee, said that she was glad to organize a concert with folksingers and dancers to celebrate next week’s Yom Ha’atzmaut, or Day of Independence. But the violence on the West Bank and Gaza Strip has cast an unsettling shadow over the once-joyous celebrations. Toronto Jews are divided over the handling of the Palestinian uprising in the occupied territories. And Friedman is now grateful that her committee restricted the anniversary festivities to cultural events that avoid political statements. Said Friedman: “It has been a very painful time. In some ways, the cultural aspect has brought people together. The political has torn them apart.”
Debate: Those divisions were reflected across North America last week as Jews prepared to celebrate Israel’s 40th anniversary as a nation. In the United States and Canada, Jews debated whether Israel had become too repressive toward rioting Palestinians. And they argued over whether Jews harmed Israel when they publicly crit-
icized its policies. But Jewish leaders also stressed that, whatever their differences, Jews were united in their support for the state of Israel. Said Toronto author and academic Harold Troper: “There are divisions over this government’s policies: whether they are wrong-minded, as I believe, or whether they are correct. But there is overall support for Israel, which stands as a testament to the survival of the people.”
Criticism: The debate was most rancorous in the United States, where Jews have openly clashed in editorial pages and public debates. Norman Podhoretz, editor of the conservative magazine Commentary, told Maclean ’s that many American Jews were confused by the mixed signals sent by opposing Israeli politicians. He suggested that criticism of Israel by people such as film-maker Woody Allen, who deplored Israel’s treatment of the Palestinians in a New York Times article last January, was often misinformed. “[Allen’s] article was silly,” said Podhoretz. “It certainly delegitimizes his voice as a Jew speaking out on Jewish concerns.”
In contrast, Michael Lerner, editor of the California-based liberal magazine Tikkun, has castigated Israeli pol-
icies and called for the creation of a demilitarized Palestinian state. “Forty years after, the euphoria has given way to a profound recognition that the cost of the state [Israel] has been the dispossession of another people,” Lerner wrote in an editorial, “and that makes our cup of joy less full.” Lerner mailed that editorial to 350,000 American Jews. “There has been much enthusiastic response,” he said. “But there have also been some death threats.”
Support: In Canada, criticism of Israel has been muted. One possible reason, said Troper, is that a higher proportion of Canadian Jews are survivors of the Holocaust or the children of survivors. Although many mainstream Jewish organizations have questioned Israel’s tactics on the West Bank, they have also firmly supported the embattled nation. Frank Dimant, executive vice-president of B’nai B’rith Canada, said the media had relentlessly portrayed Israeli soldiers beating Palestinians. “People forget that Israel has been under siege for 40 years, the only democracy surrounded by dictatorships,” he said. “Israel is conducting itself in the most humane manner in the most difficult circumstances.”
Some Canadian Jews say Israel must become more flexible in dealing with the Palestinians. Troper said that he would support an agreement under which Israel would trade land in the occupied territories for peace. “There are increasing numbers of people who feel anguish,” he said.
Meanwhile, as the celebrations begin across North America next week, Jews will struggle to put aside their differences. At New York City’s Carnegie Hall, entertainers ranging from writer Leon Uris to pianist Vladimir Feldtsman will perform at a glittering gala called The Dream of Generations. At Toronto’s Massey Hall, actor AÍ Waxman will play master of ceremonies at a tribute entitled the First Forty Years, featuring Israeli singer Chava Alberstein. As organizer Friedman noted last week: “My parents lived through the war, survivors. I do not think that they ever thought that there would be a Jewish state. So we have focused on the positive: there is always hope.”
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