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...

  • Jewish Identity Sports Cycling the Desert: New Israel Bike Trail Connects Mitzpe Ramon to Eilat

    Cycling the Desert: New Israel Bike Trail Connects Mitzpe Ramon to Eilat

    As the popularity of cycling continues to increase across the world, Israel is working to develop cycling trails that make the country’s spectacular desert accessible to cyclists. The southern segment of the Israel Bike Trail was inaugurated on Feb. 24 and offers for the first time a unique, uninterrupted 8-day cycling experience after six years of planning and development. The southern section of the Israel Bike Trail stretches over 300 kilometers in length and is divided into eight segments for mountain biking, [...]

    Read more →
  • Jewish Identity Theater Forthcoming Major Action Movies Inspired by Jewish Comic Artist Jack Kirby

    Forthcoming Major Action Movies Inspired by Jewish Comic Artist Jack Kirby

    JNS.org – With the recent Oscars in the rearview mirror, Hollywood’s attention now shifts to the rest of this year’s big-screen lineup. Two of the major action films coming up in 2015—Avengers: Age of Ultron, which hits theaters in May, and the third film in the Fantastic Four series, slated for an August release—have Jewish roots that the average moviegoer might be unaware of. As it turns out, it took a tough Jewish kid from New York City’s Lower East [...]

    Read more →
  • Book Reviews Jewish Identity When Torah Teaches Life and Life Teaches Torah (REVIEW)

    When Torah Teaches Life and Life Teaches Torah (REVIEW)

    JNS.org – Rabbi Gordon Tucker spent the first 20 years of his career teaching at the Conservative movement’s Jewish Theological Seminary (JTS) and the next 20 years as the rabbi of Temple Israel Center in White Plains, N.Y. I confess that when I heard about the order of those events, I thought that Tucker’s move from academia to the pulpit was strange. Firstly, I could not imagine anyone filling the place of my friend, Arnold Turetsky, who was such a talented [...]

    Read more →
  • Arts and Culture Blogs Oscars 2015: Reflecting on Love at First Sight

    Oscars 2015: Reflecting on Love at First Sight

    JNS.org – I’m in love, and have been for a long time. It’s a relationship filled with laughter, tears, intrigue, and surprise. It was love at first sight, back when I was a little girl—with an extra-terrestrial that longed to go home. From then on, that love has never wavered, and isn’t reserved for one, but for oh so many—Ferris Bueller, Annie Hall, Tootsie, Harry and Sally, Marty McFly, Atticus Finch, Danny Zuko, Yentl, that little dog Toto, Mrs. Doubtfire, [...]

    Read more →
  • Blogs Book Reviews Examining America’s First Foray into the Middle East (REVIEW)

    Examining America’s First Foray into the Middle East (REVIEW)

    At the turn of the 21st century through today, American involvement in Middle Eastern politics runs through the Central Intelligence Agency. In America’s Great Game: The CIA’s Secret Arabists and the Shaping of the Modern Middle East, historian Hugh Wilford shows this has always been the case. Wilford methodically traces the lives and work of the agency’s three most prominent officers in the Middle East: Kermit “Kim” Roosevelt was the grandson of president Theodore Roosevelt, and the first head of [...]

    Read more →
  • Relationships US & Canada Seniors at Los Angeles Jewish Home Give Witty Dating Advice Ahead of Valentine’s Day (VIDEO)

    Seniors at Los Angeles Jewish Home Give Witty Dating Advice Ahead of Valentine’s Day (VIDEO)

    Residents of the Los Angeles Jewish Home give dating advice to a young Jewish man in a comedic video posted Monday on YouTube just in time for Valentine’s Day. Jonathan, an associate at the Jewish home, quizzes the senior citizens on an array of topics including having sex on the first date, kissing a girl, who should pay for dinner and whether online dating is a good idea. When the 28-year-old asks a male resident named Lee about his experiences [...]

    Read more →
  • Arts and Culture Jewish History Kutsher’s Documentary an Amazing, and Tragic, Look at the Past (REVIEW)

    Kutsher’s Documentary an Amazing, and Tragic, Look at the Past (REVIEW)

    Anyone who spent time in the Jewish Catskills hotels – especially those like me, who returned for decades – must see the new documentary,”Welcome to Kutsher’s: The Last Catskills Resort.” Not only will the film transport you back to the glory days of your youth and thousands of memories, but it will also make you long for a world that is now lost forever. I returned to Kutsher’s one last time in the summer of 2009, but by then, the [...]

    Read more →
  • Education Jewish Identity Lifestyle Riding the Wave of Change in Part-Time Jewish Education

    Riding the Wave of Change in Part-Time Jewish Education

    JNS.org – Amid the numerous studies and analyses regarding Jewish American life, a simple fact remains: part-time Jewish education is the most popular vehicle for Jewish education in North America. Whenever and wherever parents choose Jewish education for their children, we have a communal responsibility to devote the necessary time and resources to deliver dynamic, effective learning experiences. The only way we can do this is by creating space for conversations and knowledge-sharing around innovative new education models. That also [...]

    Read more →



Sign up now to receive our regular news briefs.