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...

  • Sports Israeli Soccer Team Faces Prospect of International Ban

    Israeli Soccer Team Faces Prospect of International Ban

    The Israel National soccer team could be facing a World Cup ban, and other soccer sanctions, unless it alleviates travel restrictions and increases field access for Palestinian players and coaches. The head of the Palestinian Football Association is pushing for international soccer’s governing body, the Federation of International Football Associations (FIFA), to issue a ban on Israel competing internationally, claiming Israel’s restrictive travel for Palestinians is equivalent to a form of oppression. “It’s not only the athletes,” Jibril Rajoub explains. [...]

    Read more →
  • Beliefs and concepts Book Reviews Jewish Author of ‘Eat to Live’ Dishes on Health Care, Nutrition, Disease Prevention

    Jewish Author of ‘Eat to Live’ Dishes on Health Care, Nutrition, Disease Prevention

    JNS.org – While the national debate on “Obamacare” rages on past the recent March 31 sign-up deadline, bestselling Jewish author Dr. Joel Fuhrman says the “current disease care model of what we call ‘health care’ cannot possibly be sustained.” “There is simply not enough money available to support a system in which the lion’s share of expenditures is devoted to acute care, with virtually nothing being spent on preventive medicine, i.e. health care,” Fuhrman says in an interview. “To make [...]

    Read more →
  • Arts and Culture Jewish Identity ‘Tears of Color’ Art Exhibit Shows Struggles of Israelis With Eating Disorders

    ‘Tears of Color’ Art Exhibit Shows Struggles of Israelis With Eating Disorders

    JNS.org – “This is how I want to be—without fear. Independent. I want to be like a bird. I want to spread my wings.” So reads part of the description beneath one of the 30 paintings on display until the end of May at the ZOA House in Tel Aviv. The collection represents the first-ever art exhibit of its kind: an exhibit created entirely by Israelis in treatment for eating disorders. Dubbed “Tears of Color,” based on one of the [...]

    Read more →
  • Beliefs and concepts Book Reviews Overprotective or Loving? Daughters Reflect on Jewish Mothers in New Anthology

    Overprotective or Loving? Daughters Reflect on Jewish Mothers in New Anthology

    JNS.org – Rachel Ament noticed that she and her friends often shared humorous anecdotes that were typically variations on a theme: overprotective, worrying Jewish moms who smothered them with love. That included Ament’s own mother. “My mom is probably every Jewish stereotype scrunched into one,” the Washington, DC, resident tells JNS.org. “At the root of all these stereotypical, worrying, overprotective moms, is love.” A social media writer for Capital One, as well as a freelance writer, Ament decided about three years [...]

    Read more →
  • Book Reviews Commentary ‎Kosher Lust: Love is Not the Answer (REVIEW)

    ‎Kosher Lust: Love is Not the Answer (REVIEW)

    Kosher Lust, by Shmuley Boteach (Gefen Publishing House, 2014). You really do want to find something positive to say about Shmuley Boteach. He is a phenomenon; very bright, an articulate bundle of energy and self-promotion. Anyone who has the chutzpah to describe himself as “America’s Rabbi” deserves ten out of ten for effort. I believe that along with most Chabad alumni, official and unofficial, he does a lot of good and is a sort of national treasure. In this world [...]

    Read more →
  • Jewish Identity Theater Hollywood’s Revisiting of Passover’s Exodus Story a Part of Throwback ‘Year of the Bible’

    Hollywood’s Revisiting of Passover’s Exodus Story a Part of Throwback ‘Year of the Bible’

    JNS.org – In a throwback to the golden age of cinema, Hollywood has declared 2014 the “Year of the Bible.” From Ridley Scott’s Exodus starring Christian Bale as Moses, to Russell Crowe playing Noah, Hollywood is gambling on new innovations in technology and star power to revisit some of the most popular stories ever told. “It’s definitely a throwback to the 1950s and early ’60s,” Dr. Stephen J. Whitfield, an American Studies professor at Brandeis University, told JNS.org. Starting with The [...]

    Read more →
  • Arts and Culture US & Canada ‘Jewish Giant’ Headlines New York Jewish Museum Exhibit

    ‘Jewish Giant’ Headlines New York Jewish Museum Exhibit

    Eddie Carmel, dubbed “The Jewish Giant” by American photographer Diane Arbus, is the centerpiece of a new exhibit opening April 11 at The Jewish Museum in New York. Arbus met Carmel, who was billed “The World’s Tallest Man,” at Hubert’s Dime Museum and Flea Circus in 1959 but waited until 1970 to photograph him at his parents’ home in the Bronx, according to the museum. The son of immigrants from Tel Aviv, Carmel posed for Arbus with his head bowed to [...]

    Read more →
  • Music US & Canada Disney Hit ‘Frozen’ Gets Passover Themed Makeover With ‘Chozen’ (VIDEO)

    Disney Hit ‘Frozen’ Gets Passover Themed Makeover With ‘Chozen’ (VIDEO)

    A Passover themed cover of hit songs Let It Go and Do You Want to Build a Snowman? from Disney’s Frozen has attracted tons of media buzz and a cool 65,ooo views on YouTube within days of going online. The work of Jewish a capella group Six13, the track is aptly named Chozen. We are celebrating “our freedom, our favorite festival, our fabulous fans, and aspiring Disney princesses everywhere” the group said. The Chozen music video tells the story of [...]

    Read more →



Sign up now to receive our regular news briefs.