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War Brought Israelis and American Jews Closer Together

November 21, 1973
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Israelis have never felt so close to American Jews as they have since the outbreak of war on Yom Kippur. This is the view of Eli Wagner, an Israeli who recently returned to the United States after serving for three weeks with the Israeli army in Sinai. He said he had never before seen such an emphasis by Israelis on the support they received from American Jews. Wagner, 32, manager of the United States and Canadian branch of Isralom, Israel Homes and Real Estate Corp., was recalled to Israel Oct. 9, three days after Egypt and Syria attacked Israel. As a lieutenant in the tank corps, he had a high priority among the thousands of Israelis who sought to return home after war broke out.

The financial and moral support from Jews in the United States helped Israelis realize they were not alone, Wagner said. “We believe the American Jews took an active part in the war,” he asserted. He explained that after the Israeli civilian population, diaspora Jews were seen as the “first rear” in the war for the defense of the Jewish state. Wagner said during the first week of the war, Israelis, while certain they could defeat the Arabs, “felt very lonely. When they saw they had an ally in the United States it gave us a good feeling,” he said.

On the other hand, Israelis are very bitter by the attitude of the European countries, Wagner said. He said many Israelis have not forgotten the Nazi holocaust and now feel the Germans are trading “Jewish blood for Arab oil.” He said there was always a great deal of respect in Israel for the British, but this has now dissolved. He said at the same time all Israel feels a great kinship with The Netherlands which is suffering the brunt of the Arab oil boycott. Wagner said Israelis have a great deal of respect for President Nixon. Concerned with their own security Israelis have no interest in the Watergate affair and only know that Nixon was the only world leader to support Israel. Wagner said his own mother asked, “Why don’t they let Nixon alone and let him rest and be well?” A current Israeli joke, he said, is that if Nixon leaves the American Presidency he could come to Israel and be easily elected premier.

There was some apprehension that Secretary of State Henry A. Kissinger, being a Jew, would lean over backward toward the Arabs, Wagner said, but noted this feeling is now gone. In addition, he said, many Israelis read Kissinger’s books in Hebrew while at college and they know his basic concept is to bring the two sides together into negotiation without thought of victor or vanquished. The war has left Israelis not more hawkish or doveish but more “realistic,” Wagner said. He said the Israelis want peace and they now know the whole world is against them, including the Soviet Union. He said all Israelis he knows want to find a way to peace. But at the same time they will not give up Jerusalem, feel that for security they must have a buffer zone on the Golan Heights and continue to hold Sharm el Sheikh.

Despite some of the recriminations going on in the press about the start of the war, Israelis are not interested in digging up the past, Wagner said. What they are interested in is working out the future. He stressed that Israelis still do not hate the Arabs. “As Jews we never learned to hate,” he declared. Noting that the Israelis will now have a rough time trying to rebuild their economy, Wagner called on American Jews not only to donate funds to Israel but to go there as tourists and to buy Israeli products. He said his company, Isralom, is starting a new program to get Americans to buy second homes in Israel, providing them with mortgages, so that they can have a greater stake in the Jewish land. Wagner who opened Isralom’s North American office a year and a half ago, will himself be returning to Israel next year with his wife and child.

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