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ISRAEL Pulling out of Gaza Strip stirs mixed feelings in Jews



Published: Sat, August 13, 2005 @ 12:00 a.m.



One Orthodox Jew in Los Angeles spent $100,000 to oppose the withdrawal.

LOS ANGELES TIMES

As Israel prepares to withdraw from the Gaza Strip beginning next week, Jews in the United States are stepping up campaigns for and against the plan, revealing deep divisions and anxiety.

Opponents of withdrawal are turning out "Let My People Stay" bumper stickers, leafleting in Jewish neighborhoods, encouraging a letter-writing campaign to members of Congress and sponsoring rallies, including one at the United Nations next week.

Supporters and opponents of the Israeli government's decision to withdraw are running newspaper ads in Los Angeles, New York, Washington, D.C., and other major cities.

The pullout from 21 settlements with a population of 8,500 in Gaza and four enclaves in the northern West Bank has prompted soul-searching for many American Jews.

Strong sentiments

Particularly among Orthodox Jews, who have largely been unquestioning in their support of Israel and its prime minister, Ariel Sharon, the Gaza decision has brought sharp debate.

"We were born and bred to sort of be in lock step and sync with the Israeli government," said Los Angeles mortgage banker Jon Hambourger, an Orthodox Jew who organized an opposition group last April, SaveGushKatif.org, named after the largest bloc of settlements in the Gaza Strip.

"To openly dissent, it's a very uncomfortable thing to do. I have a lot of angst about the whole subject." He said Sharon was still a war hero to him.

Hambourger estimated that he has spent close to $100,000 of his own funds and contributions from others to oppose the pullout.

Early on, the Orthodox Union, the largest Orthodox umbrella organization in the United States, confined any doubts to private meetings with Sharon's government. Publicly, the union said questions about Israeli security were "best left to the citizens of Israel and the state of Israel's democratically elected institutions."

Then in February and again in June, there were unsuccessful attempts at its directors meetings to explicitly oppose the withdrawal, according to Nathan J. Diament, director of public policy for the Orthodox Union in Washington. Both efforts, he said, were handily defeated. But the moves pointed to divisions within the ranks.

Backers of withdrawal said they too have mixed emotions. They empathize with the plight of the settlers, who were encouraged in years past by the Israeli government to make their homes in the Gaza Strip.

By most accounts, the majority of American Jews support the withdrawal, even if some have private reservations. Although leaders on both sides of the controversy have been closely following developments, they said that interest at the grass-roots level has generally been subdued.

That could change in the weeks ahead, particularly if there are wrenching scenes of Jewish settlers being forced from their homes by members of the Israeli Defense Forces.

The Gaza Strip, a narrow finger of land on the edge of the Mediterranean Sea captured in the Six Day War in 1967, is to be turned over to the Palestinian Authority.




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