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Most U.S. Jewish Groups Back Israel’s Killing of Hamas Leader

March 24, 2004
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In contrast to the international debate about the efficacy of Israel’s killing of Hamas leader Sheik Ahmed Yassin, the Jewish organizational world almost uniformly backed the assassination.

Except for a few peace groups that made their views known through news releases, most Jewish groups backed Israel’s killing of Hamas’ founder and spiritual leader.

“The Israeli government is responsible for defending the country’s citizens, and whether it’s putting up a security fence or targeting archterrorists, most American Jews believe that those are decisions that are best made in Jerusalem,” said Martin Raffel, associate executive director of the Jewish Council for Public Affairs.

Many leaders of Jewish organizations agreed, saying they defer to Israel on security matters and praising the killing of a ringleader of terrorism.

“There is more consensus today because of the nature of the issues we’re dealing with” — matters of Israeli security, not the details of peace plans, said Malcolm Hoenlein, executive vice chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations.

Hoenlein’s group issued a news release detailing Yassin’s commitment to the destruction of Israel and Hamas’ record of suicide bombings against Israelis.

Several Jewish officials blasted other nation’s leaders for imposing a double standard on Israel, noting that while they would applaud the killing of Osama Bin Laden, they curse the slaying of Yassin.

But even amid the general consensus over the assassination, debate over larger questions of Israeli strategy and policy are brewing in the Jewish community.

Broader questions, like the route of Israel’s West Bank security barrier and Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon’s plan to unilaterally withdraw from the Gaza Strip are the issues that will spur debate in Israel — and, consequently, among American Jewry, said Rabbi Eric Yoffie, president of the Union for Reform Judaism.

Despite some concerns over the timing of the assassination or the price Israeli citizens might pay for it, Jewish leaders will be “cautious at this time when there’s a chorus of hypocrisy not to be overly critical of Israel,” Yoffie said.

At the same time, he said, the assassination will make the debate over the larger issues “more vigorous.”

With throngs of protesters marching in Gaza, some might intensify the call for Israel’s withdrawal, while others might say the move gives in to the terrorists, Yoffie said.

Despite the overall consensus, there were a few Jewish groups who criticized the Israeli action.

Israel’s move “served to stoke the fires of hatred” and would likely ratchet up the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, Americans for Peace Now said in a statement.

“It would be very helpful were Sharon to give credibility to moderate voices instead of always doing something that martyrs or casts the heroic spotlight on the extremists,” said Letty Cottin Pogrebin, a past president of Americans for Peace Now.

Harvard law professor Alan Dershowitz had a different opinion.

“I am overjoyed at the killing,” he said. “I’m critical of Israel, and I think it deserves to be criticized,” said Dershowitz, an Israel advocate and author of a new book called “The Case for Israel.”

But “this is an area where it deserves to be praised,” Dershowitz said. “This will save many lives.”

Morton Klein, national president of the Zionist Organization of America, agreed.

“The best time of killing any of these killers is as soon as possible,” he said. “It is an obligation for Israel to destroy the terrorist infrastructure.”

Others said the move only intensified the need for U.S. action in the region.

“I understand what the Israelis have done and why they do it,” said Marvin Lender, chairman of the Israel Policy Forum, which advocates for active U.S. engagement in the peace process.

But “the answer is not this vicious cycle that we’re in, but to try to break this cycle,” he said. “The only government that can do that is the United States government.”

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