Washington — 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.