NEW YORK (Jun. 3)
Along New York City’s rain-soaked Fifth Avenue, more than 100,000 Jews marched for Israel, rallying for a single cause.
Asked their take on the “road map” peace plan, however, the marchers’ answers were anything but uniform.
Even within Jewish organizations, individuals marching under a single banner at Sunday’s annual Salute to Israel Parade often held opposing views: One would praise the road map’s merits, while another would interject to point out its flaws.
Some expressed faith, even certainty, in President Bush’s commitment to Israeli security, while others said Bush might bend under political pressure or misunderstand the issues at stake.
Several cringed at perceived American pressure on Israel, while a few said the intervention of the United States, and even other countries, was critical for peace.
Some appeared optimistic about the road map’s chances for success, while others rejected it as misguided.
Despite the cacophony of views, however, one theme was clear: After nearly three years of the Palestinian intifada American Jews want peace, but they’re approaching it with a heavy dose of skepticism.
“Everybody is fooling themselves. Everyone has kind of learned to say the words” in favor of peace, but then they continue “to do whatever they want to do,” said Michael Klein, 42, a modern Orthodox Jew from Woodmere, N.Y., who plans to make aliyah with his family next month.
Because of the gap between the Israeli and Palestinian positions, Klein said, “I don’t think anybody’s taking” the road map seriously.
But some people indeed are.
Genie Lehr, 72, an activist with Na’amat USA, thinks the road map may be a way out of the quagmire of violence.
Having just returned from Israel, where she lives part of the year, Lehr described how tired she was of listening to reports of suicide attacks.
“If there’s a chance to save lives, that’s what I want to see,” Lehr said.
That’s when one of her fellow activists stepped in.
“We’d be funding a terrorist state,” said Myrna Lewak of Oceanside, N.Y.
Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas “is still controlled by” P.A. President Yasser Arafat, “and he won’t dismantle Hamas,” said Lewak, who said she plans to head to Washington this month to lobby against the road map.
Adam Weintraub, 33, a real estate executive from Staten Island, N.Y., said he has faith in President Bush.
Bush “has to appease both sides, and obviously you know what side he’s on,” he said — “solely with Israel.”
One such cue was Bush’s visit last week to Auschwitz, Weintraub said.
But Weintraub, whose right-wing family members belonged in the past to the militant Jewish Defense League and today live in Israeli settlements, said he too hopes for peace.
“If I want to be selfish,” Weintraub said, he could say of the Palestinians, “friggin’ deport them all.”
But Israel wants peace, and always meant to use the West Bank and Gaza Strip as a bargaining chip in peace talks, he said.
“Jews are a liberal people, they’re pacifists,” he said.
Many at the parade — such as David Cohen, 42, an accountant from Fort Lee, N.J. — opposed the plan.
“As the road map stands right now, I reject it,” he said, noting that it could be used to divide Jerusalem and offer a “right of return” for millions of Palestinian refugees to their former homes inside Israel.
“Israel shouldn’t be sold down the river” and “shouldn’t be forced to make peace with people who aren’t ready to make peace,” Cohen said.
Others support the road map, with conditions.
Devick Sellam, who described himself as a “traditional” Sephardi Jew with family in Israel, looks at the last few years — when Israeli peace offers were met with Palestinian violence — as his yardstick for the future.
“I say security should come first, because history has proven in the last 10 or even 20 years that anything else has not” worked, he said.
Some say Palestinian behavior during other attempts to make peace has eroded any trust.
“The Palestinians are going to exploit the plan,” said Yocheved Schwartz, 20, a graduate of Baltimore’s Yeshiva Rambam and now a student at Barnard College.
“Whenever there has been one of these kinds of plans presented to the Palestinians and the Israelis, it seems that the Palestinians have not upheld their end of the deal,” she said.
Many, jaded by the conflict, simply can’t see a way out.
“In my mind, in the end, it’s going to be the same,” said Herbert Gordon, 68, of Teaneck, N.J.
More Israelis will be killed, and Palestinians will “keep saying they’re sorry,” he said.
Moran Banai, 24, national director of Hashomer Hatzair, a socialist Zionist youth movement, hopes to infuse weary Jews with optimism.
“The youth can continue to be hopeful when it’s hard for anyone else,” Banai said.
Only with Bush’s influence, and with the diplomatic “Quartet” that drafted the road map “pushing for negotiation and open dialogue between the Palestinians and Israelis, are we going to get anywhere,” she said.