Ariel Sharon’s Forgotten Legacy: Jews Marching to the White House

January 12, 2014 8:03 am 1 comment

U.S. Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld (left) escorts Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon (center) into the Pentagon at the conclusion of a full honor arrival ceremony for Sharon at the Pentagon on March 19, 2001. Photo: Robert D. Ward via Wikimedia Commons.

JNS.org - Although Ariel Sharon will be remembered primarily for his achievements on the battlefield and his decisions as an Israeli political leader, an often-overlooked aspect of his legacy was his impact on the American Jewish community.

In March 1980, Sharon arrived in the United States in the midst of an uproar over the Carter administration’s support of a United Nations resolution branding Jerusalem “occupied Arab territory.” Sharon, as a member of Prime Minister Menachem Begin’s cabinet, was invited to address an urgent meeting of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, in New York City.

In his remarks, Sharon criticized U.S. Jewish leaders for not responding more vigorously to the Carter administration’s action. He recalled the hesitant response of some Jewish leaders during the Holocaust, and added, “Jewish silence will bring disaster upon the Jewish people and upon Israel.”

Sharon charged that recent friendly meetings between Jewish leaders and White House officials had served to “cover up” the administration’s tilt away from Israel. He urged American Jews to speak out strongly against Carter’s pressure on Israel, and said he was “shocked” that 100,000 Jews did not march to the White House to protest the U.S. vote on the U.N. resolution.

No transcript of the meeting was released, but one press report at the time claimed that some of the Jewish leaders in the room “took umbrage at the interference of the Israeli in such strident tones in American Jewish affairs.” An editorial in the New York Jewish Week said Sharon’s advice was “counter-productive” because it might give the American public the impression “that all of America’s foreign policy and domestic problems are based on Israel.”

But the Jewish Week also emphasized that “American Jews, as voters, have a means of expressing themselves.” With the 1980 New York presidential primaries just weeks away, the Week seemed to be encouraging Jewish voters to oppose President Carter’s re-election.

Sharon was also strongly attacked in the pages of the Jewish magazine Midstream, by historian Bernard Wasserstein. “If 1,000 rabbis had marched up and down in front of the White House and had refused to disperse until something concrete was done for the Jews, then, he believes, the administration’s conscience might have been stirred,” Wasserstein wrote. “It is a picturesque scenario—and one which would no doubt earn the warm approval of Ariel Sharon—but, alas, is unaccompanied by any supporting evidence that might raise it to the level of a serious political proposition.”

Wasserstein was evidently unaware that in 1943, just before Yom Kippur, some 400 rabbis did march to the White House. That protest garnered important publicity for the cause of rescuing Jewish refugees, and helped galvanize congressional pressure on the Roosevelt administration on the rescue issue.

As it turned out, Sharon was ahead of the curve: American Jewry did follow his advice—22 years later.

In the spring of 2002, Israel was rocked by a series of major Arab terrorist attacks, including a suicide bombing at a Passover seder in Netanya, which killed 30 civilians, most of them elderly and many of them Holocaust survivors.

Sharon, who by then was prime minister, ordered Operation Defensive Shield, a major counter-terror offensive throughout the West Bank territories. More than 20,000 Israeli soldiers were mobilized to carry out hundreds of raids, which went on for several weeks and included capturing or killing numerous terrorists, seizing weapons depots, and sealing up safe houses.

Within days, the George W. Bush administration was pressing Sharon to halt the operation and withdraw the troops. American Jews responded precisely as Sharon had been hoping back in 1980: on April 15, 2002, more than 100,000 protesters gathered near the White House to support Israel’s actions. Many evangelical Christians also joined the rally.

The New York Times reported that the rally illustrated the strong support for Israel, and uneasiness over President Bush’s position, among an emerging coalition of Jews and conservative Christians. According to the Times, the president “attempted to mollify the conservatives” by sending “one of the most hawkish members of his administration, Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul D. Wolfowitz,” to speak at the rally. But Wolfowitz was greeted with boos and chants of “No More Arafat!”

In 2002, unlike in 1980, there were no Jewish leaders “taking umbrage” at the idea of such a rally, and no expressions of fear that supporting Israel would cause a backlash among the American public. Sharon had been vindicated, and a new standard for pro-Israel activism in the United States was beginning to take shape.

Dr. Rafael Medoff is director of The David S. Wyman Institute for Holocaust Studies, in Washington, D.C. His latest book is “FDR and the Holocaust: A Breach of Faith.”

1 Comment

  • יואל נצרים

    איפה התמיכת היהודים האמריקניים היום ב2014? לא שומעים קול אכזרי בקול רם מ100,000נפשות הדורשים לשתוק אובמה וקרי בזמן שהם לוחצים עלינו לוותר עוד אדמה בעמק-הירדן, לקבל 80,000 פלסטינים כתושבי-חוזר, לחלק בירתינו, לשחרר יותר ויותר מחבלים עם דם יהודי בידיים!

    “Where support for American Jews today in 2014? You do not hear a sound cruel loudly than 100,000 people requiring shut up Obama and Kerry as they pressed us to give up more land in the Valley – Jordan, get 80,000 Palestinian residents – is back, part Birtino release more terrorists with Jewish blood in your hands!”

Leave a Reply

Please note: comments may be published in the Algemeiner print edition.


Current day month ye@r *

More...

  • Arts and Culture Jewish Identity How Jewish Television Pioneer Milton Berle Inspired Modern Comedy Stars

    How Jewish Television Pioneer Milton Berle Inspired Modern Comedy Stars

    JNS.org – Today’s comedy superstars, especially those whose careers are driven by television, may very well owe their success to pioneering Jewish entertainer Milton Berle. Born Mendel Berlinger in Manhattan in 1908, Berle became America’s first small-screen star. Aptly nicknamed “Mr. Television,” he influenced and helped promote the work of hundreds of younger comics. “Milton Berle was deceptively successful and very Jewish,” says Lawrence Epstein, author of The Haunted Smile: The Story of Jewish Comedians in America, published the year [...]

    Read more →
  • Jewish Identity Sports Jewish ‘Hoops Whisperer’ a Secret Weapon for NBA Stars

    Jewish ‘Hoops Whisperer’ a Secret Weapon for NBA Stars

    JNS.org – Idan Ravin’s friends chipped in to buy him a humble but life-changing bar mitzvah gift—a basketball hoop his father attached to the roof of his garage. Little did his friends know that years later, he would be the personal trainer of National Basketball Association (NBA) stars Carmelo Anthony, Kevin Durant, Dwight Howard, and Stephen Curry. Ravin’s new book, “The Hoops Whisperer: On the Court and Inside the Head of Basketball’s Best Players,” details his rise from a Jewish upbringing [...]

    Read more →
  • Arts and Culture Blogs 10 New Hollywood Movies That Aim to Show Support for Israel (SATIRE)

    10 New Hollywood Movies That Aim to Show Support for Israel (SATIRE)

    Ten major film studios are currently in production on projects that promote a decidedly pro-Israeli narrative. In famously liberal Hollywood, such a development has left mouths agape and set tongues a wagging. Since the Jewish State began defending itself from the thousands of rockets that Hamas has hurled at it – as well as ongoing terror attacks and murders, the overwhelming number of Tinseltown’s producers, directors, actors, and studio moguls have remained indifferent to the plight of millions of Israeli [...]

    Read more →
  • Featured Israel Sports So Close: Israeli Judoka Loses Crown in World Cup Final, Finishes With Silver (VIDEO)

    So Close: Israeli Judoka Loses Crown in World Cup Final, Finishes With Silver (VIDEO)

    Israeli Judoka Yarden Gerbi (63kg), 25, of Netanya, on Thursday lost the final round at the Judo World Cup, and her world title to Clarisse Agbegnenou of France, at a match held in Russia. “I have mixed feelings,” Gerbi told Israeli Army radio. But, “I shouldn’t assume that I’d win the world Judo championship twice in a row,” she admitted. Gerbi won gold in Rio De Janeiro last year. “When I made my decision, I knew it was going to [...]

    Read more →
  • Book Reviews Jewish Identity Surviving the Holocaust by Hiding Their Faith (REVIEW)

    Surviving the Holocaust by Hiding Their Faith (REVIEW)

    “Jews Out!” was just the name of a child’s game that three little girls played in World War II Europe. But all is not as it seems because the three girls were Jewish, but hiding their true identities. In award-winning author R. D. Rosen’s riveting non-fiction work, Such Good Girls, “Jews Out!” wasn’t a game; it was a struggle for survival. The girls, Sophie, Flora, and Carla, grew up at a time and a place that did not allow them [...]

    Read more →
  • Music Personalities Twenty Years On, the Real and Radical Legacy of Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach

    Twenty Years On, the Real and Radical Legacy of Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach

    JNS.org – “He was part hippie, part yippie, part beatnik, and part New Age,” wrote Elli Wohlgelernter in a Jerusalem Post eulogy in 1994, following the Oct. 20 passing of Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach. Twenty years later, more robust accounts of Carlebach’s life have come to the surface. Earlier this year, Natan Ophir published the book Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach: Life, Mission & Legacy. This past summer, Rabbi Shlomo Katz’s The Soul of Jerusalem hit the shelves. But even the authors will admit [...]

    Read more →
  • Blogs Music Beatlemania Invades the Gaza Strip (SATIRE)

    Beatlemania Invades the Gaza Strip (SATIRE)

    As Hamas loses its grip on power in the Gaza Strip as a result of war, poverty and disillusionment, the Islamist terrorist group has developed an ingenious way to raise the morale of the 1.7 million Palestinian Arabs it was elected to serve. While currently focused on delivering a rocket into every Israeli home, Hamas has not left its own people behind. To gently wipe away the tears of children strategically placed inside kindergartens as human shields, the Hamas Interior Ministry [...]

    Read more →
  • Arts and Culture Spirituality/Tradition Removing Jesus’ Jewish Identity From Artwork

    Removing Jesus’ Jewish Identity From Artwork

    In a strong statement that challenges the historic divide between Christianity and Judaism, Pope Francis recently proclaimed, “Inside every Christian is a Jew.” But if you look at Renaissance artworks that depict Jesus, you will not find any evidence of a Jew inside the Christianized Jesus — even though the Gospels in the New Testament tell us that Jesus was Jewish to the core. Getting that point across to the public is a daunting task, as I learned in interviews I [...]

    Read more →



Sign up now to receive our regular news briefs.