Jewish Community Cautious as U.S. Attack on Syria Looms Large

Echoes of Iraq War Debacle Still Ring in Ears

getty images

By Nathan Guttman

Published August 27, 2013, issue of September 06, 2013.
  • Print
  • Share Share
  • Single Page

America’s organized Jewish community has long been united in its abhorrence of the dictatorship ruling Syria. Yet it has been notably hesitant and, at times, muted in reacting to the large-scale chemical weapons attack allegedly carried out by loyalists of Syria’s president, Bashar al-Assad.

Despite the community’s strong opposition to any use of nonconventional weapons, Jewish activists have sat on the sidelines of the intense debate, provoked by shocking footage showing scores of men, women and children apparently suffering from nerve gas poisoning in Syria.

“The Jewish community is cautious,” acknowledged Abraham Foxman, national director of the Anti-Defamation League.

Foxman said that he himself supports an American military move in response to the use of chemical weapons. But his organization, like most other Jewish groups, refrained from making public statements on the issue. “There is a sensitivity of not jumping ahead of the administration,” Foxman said, tying this sensitivity to “the Jewish community’s experience of being falsely accused of things it hasn’t done.”

These accusations date back to the 2003 American invasion of Iraq, when critics accused the Jewish community of pushing America to launch the military campaign in order to benefit Israel.

Despite the claims, the organized Jewish community never endorsed the Iraq War, and in fact, most rank-and-file American Jews opposed the move. Similar accusations were made in recent years, when discussing America’s options for dealing with Iran’s nuclear ambitions. In this case, many Jewish activists have emphasized the importance of keeping the military option on the table.

The August 21 attack on a suburb of Damascus, held by the rebels, killed, according to the opposition, more than 1,300 men, women and children. The worldwide condemnation that followed videos and photos of wounded Syrian civilians, including children who died in their sleep as a result of the apparent sarin nerve gas attack, has pressured President Obama to act. Many calling for military action cite his warning a year earlier that Syria’s use of chemical weapons constituted a red line for the United States.


The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.





Find us on Facebook!
  • How about a side of Hitler with your spaghetti?
  • Why "Be fruitful and multiply" isn't as simple as it seems:
  • William Schabas may be the least of Israel's problems.
  • You've heard of the #IceBucketChallenge, but Forward publisher Sam Norich has something better: a #SoupBucketChallenge (complete with matzo balls!) Jon Stewart, Sarah Silverman & David Remnick, you have 24 hours!
  • Did Hamas just take credit for kidnapping the three Israeli teens?
  • "We know what it means to be in the headlines. We know what it feels like when the world sits idly by and watches the news from the luxury of their living room couches. We know the pain of silence. We know the agony of inaction."
  • When YA romance becomes "Hasidsploitation":
  • "I am wrapping up the summer with a beach vacation with my non-Jewish in-laws. They’re good people and real leftists who try to live the values they preach. This was a quality I admired, until the latest war in Gaza. Now they are adamant that American Jews need to take more responsibility for the deaths in Gaza. They are educated people who understand the political complexity, but I don’t think they get the emotional complexity of being an American Jew who is capable of criticizing Israel but still feels a deep connection to it. How can I get this across to them?"
  • “'I made a new friend,' my son told his grandfather later that day. 'I don’t know her name, but she was very nice. We met on the bus.' Welcome to Israel."
  • A Jewish female sword swallower. It's as cool as it sounds (and looks)!
  • Why did David Menachem Gordon join the IDF? In his own words: "The Israel Defense Forces is an army that fights for her nation’s survival and the absence of its warriors equals destruction from numerous regional foes. America is not quite under the threat of total annihilation… Simply put, I felt I was needed more in Israel than in the United States."
  • Leonard Fein's most enduring legacy may be his rejection of dualism: the idea that Jews must choose between assertiveness and compassion, between tribalism and universalism. Steven M. Cohen remembers a great Jewish progressive:
  • BREAKING: Missing lone soldier David Menachem Gordon has been found dead in central Israel. The Ohio native was 21 years old.
  • “They think they can slap on an Amish hat and a long black robe, and they’ve created a Hasid." What do you think of Hollywood's portrayal of Hasidic Jews?
  • “I’ve been doing this since I was a teenager. I didn’t think I would have to do it when I was 90.” Hedy Epstein fled Nazi Germany in 1933 on a Kinderstransport.
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.