Major pro-Israeli Jewish organizations in the United States gave a generally warm welcome to the election of Ariel Sharon as Israel’s next prime minister. Mention of Sharon’s past record was absent or carefully side-stepped and much play was made of the fact that Israel’s leaders, unlike those of its neighbors are democratically elected.
The Jewish Community Relations Council of the Jewish United Fund of Metropolitan Chicago sent a letter to Sharon on behalf of its 40 member organizations on February 7 to “extend our congratulations on your recent election victory.” The letter, signed by the group’s chair Howard Kaplan and director Jay Tcath, stated that “We wish you all the best as you strive to achieve the elusive peace and security that all the people of Israel seek.”
The group also promised that, “in addition to our prayers, we pledge our abiding solidarity and commitment to pro-Israel advocacy and action. Such efforts range from media monitoring to mobilizing our community to action on behalf of the kidnapped Israelis being held by Hezbollah, and from regular meetings with Illinois Members of Congress to forging Jewish unity and a common course of action on Israel-related issues.”
Three Israeli soldiers were captured by Lebanese resistance fighters last October in the still Israeli-occupied Shabaa Farms area on the border. Hizbullah is holding the soldiers to exchange them for Lebanese civilian and resistance hostages held in Israel, some for more than a decade.
The American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), the powerful organization that lobbies the U.S. Congress on behalf of Israel, did not publish any pronouncements of its own at its website. It noted however that the U.S. Senate leadership sent a letter congratulating Sharon and assuring him that the U.S. commitment to Israel’s security is “unshakeable.” AIPAC also reported that the U.S. House of Representatives “is expected to vote next week on H. Res. 34, a resolution congratulating Sharon on his victory and restating the United States’ commitment to a secure peace for Israel.”
“The people of Israel have spoken,” declared a February 6 statement issued by The Anti-Defamation League (ADL), “amidst the backdrop of ongoing Palestinian violence in the streets and intransigence at the negotiating table, Israelis have chosen Ariel Sharon as prime minister to guide Israelis security and peace process policy.”
The ADL, which describes itself as “the world’s leading organization fighting anti-Semitism through programs and services that counteract hatred, prejudice and bigotry,” said that “Ariel Sharon has spent his entire life defending the interests and security of the State of Israel.” The ADL called for Sharon to be allowed “the opportunity to develop his own policies,” and said that “We look forward to the United States government working closely with the newly elected Israeli prime minister in the tradition of long-standing American support for Israel as a strong ally and a fellow democracy.”
In a smilar vein the American Jewish Committee (AJC) put a positive spin on this week’s events, saying that “Israeli voters have spoken, demonstrating once again that democracy roars in this tiny corner of the Middle East.” The AJC statement, published on February 6, held that by electing Sharon, “the Israeli people have expressed their concern about the hatred, insecurity, and violence they have faced since Palestinian demonstrations and armed attacks re-erupted last year, and look to a new government to restore a measure of safety and security.”
Since last September more than three hundred Palestinians including nearly one hundred children have been shot dead by Israeli police and occupation forces in protests which escalated after occupation forces shot dead seven unarmed Palestinian demonstrators at the Haram al-Sharif (Temple Mount) in occupied east Jerusalem on September 29, 2000. That incident occurred the day after Sharon, accompanied by one thousand armed police forced their way into the site sacred to Muslims and Jews, in a show of force. More than forty Israelis have also been killed, all but five of them soldiers and settlers enforcing the occupation of the West Bank and Gaza Strip.
Alone among the major pro-Israeli Jewish organizations, the American Jewish Congress gave Sharon a more cautious reception, stating that “It must be acknowledged that the new Prime Minister enters office with a public relations burden.” Nevertheless the group did not dwell on this and noted that Sharon’s “image has too frequently been portrayed outside of Israel, and even among his enemies within Israel, as almost demonic. He is widely recognized as one of Israel’s greatest military heroes, but his opponents have gone to great lengths to associate him with some of the more unfortunate and regrettable episodes in Israel’s history.”
The February 6 statement also called on Sharon to be given a chance to form his government and set out hiser> icies, and that it was too early to tell what direction Israel would take. The American Jewish Congress concluded that “it is not too early to wish [Israel] well and to express the hope that under the new government the region will enter into a less violent and more stable period in its troubled history.”