Reporter Paul Vitello Calls Pro-Israel American Jews 'Slavish'

Paul Vitello reported from Farmington Hills, Mich., for the top of Thursday's National section, "On Israel, U.S. Jews Show Divergent Views, Often Parting From Leaders."

The Times has run this same article about "newly outspoken" moderate-liberal Israel supporters several times during the last few years, often involving the liberal "pro-peace" Israel lobbying group J Street.

Vitello found someone to paint conservative pro-security American Jews as unreasonable:

Criticizing Israel has long been the equivalent of touching a third rail in many Jewish families and friendships, relegating disagreements to a conversational demilitarized zone where only the innocent and foolhardy go.

"You cannot really engage in that conversation," said Phillip Moore, a teacher in this Detroit suburb who has embraced strong opinions on many topics in his life - on politics, education, even religion - but avoids the subject of Israel at gatherings of his Jewish relatives.

"You raise a question about the security forces or the settlements and you are suddenly being compared to a Holocaust denier," said Mr. Moore, 62. "It's just not a rational discussion, so I keep quiet."

But the recent tension between the Obama administration and the Israeli government over the stalled Middle East peace process has put the questions underlying those long-avoided family discussions directly in the public spotlight. They have raised serious questions about whether the traditional leadership of the American Jewish world is fully supported by the mass of American Jews.

Vitello pointed out criticism of Obama by Holocaust survivor Elie Wiesel and former NYC Mayor Ed Koch, who addressed "an angry crowd of 500 gathered outside the Israeli Consulate in Manhattan" critical of Obama's demand for a settlement freeze in East Jerusalem.

But while those voices have been strong and their message unmistakable, a newly outspoken wing of Israel supporters has begun to challenge the old-school reflexive support of the country's policies, suggesting that one does not have to be slavish to Israeli policies to love Israel.

J Street is two years old and is really no longer "new." And precisely who is suggesting that one must be "slavish to Isareli policies to love Israel"? "Slavish" is a harshly unflattering description, with a root in "slave," meaning "basely or abjectly servile," according to Merriam-Webster.

Jeremy Ben-Ami, the founder of a Washington lobby known as J Street, the latest of several organizations representing the voice of liberal Jews who support Israel but not all its policies, said many people have long felt ignored or silenced by the pro-Israel establishment in the United States.

Maybe someday J Street will indeed represent a majority of American Jews. But Vitello doesn't show any polling data to indicate that day has arrived (a March survey from the American Jewish Committee confirmed American Jews continue to support Obama, though his ratings on his handling of relations with Israel dipped).

J Street's fortunes took a blow when it invited to its 2009 conference two poets whose work compared the suffering of Holocaust victims to that of Palestinians in Israel's occupied territories. Vitello didn't bother picking up on that gaffe in his "slavish" piece on liberal U.S. Jews.

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