Expert: ‘Conflict Sharpening Tensions’ Between American Jews And Palestinians

Regina F. Graham
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An Israeli security officer walks past burning tires as at least 10,000 Palestinian protesters marching against Israel's military offensive in the Gaza Strip clash with Israeli soldiers and border police at the Israeli Qalandiya checkpoint, between Jerusalem and Ramallah, early on July 25, 2014. (credit: ABBAS MOMANI/AFP/Getty Images)

An Israeli security officer walks past burning tires as at least 10,000 Palestinian protesters marching against Israel’s military offensive in the Gaza Strip clash with Israeli soldiers and border police at the Israeli Qalandiya checkpoint, between Jerusalem and Ramallah, early on July 25, 2014. (credit: ABBAS MOMANI/AFP/Getty Images)

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WASHINGTON (WNEW) — The Israel-Hamas conflict in Gaza has caused a growing divide between the two communities in some European countries, with violence and vandalism erupting throughout the region.

Protests so far in the United States over the conflict have been peaceful, but experts explain that synagogues and mosques could be targeted here amid the growing conflict.

Michael F. Stanislawski, Professor of Jewish History at Columbia University, told CBSDC that he doubts that violent protests will take place here, but that it’s possible synagogues and mosques could be targeted.

“It is certainly possible that synagogues and mosques could be targeted, as they have been in the past– but this has been 100 percent the work of isolated, usually right-wing extremists, not of any organized campaign by anyone,” Stanislawski said. “I doubt that there will be serious protests and vandalism in the U.S. on the part of the Palestinian, or more generally, Arab or Muslim communities.”

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Stanislawski, a Jewish history and European intellectual history expert, explained the difference between the protests in Europe and America.

“The basic difference with Europe is the sheer size of the latter’s Muslim population compared to the U.S. and their recent heightened politicization as a result not so much of the Palestinian-Israel conflict, but far more over discrimination and racism against Muslims throughout Europe, the rise of nativist parties even in places such as Denmark and Holland, not to speak of France and Germany,” he said. “While there is of course an important Palestinian and more widely Arab population in the U.S. and some political and anti-discrimination organizations, these have a very low profile in the U.S. and do not make much of a mark on overall American public opinion, which is highly supportive of Israel — far beyond the Jewish community.”

Dan Arbell, a scholar-in-residence at the Center for Israel Studies at American University, told CBSDC that this conflict could be raising tensions between American Jews and Palestinians.

“This conflict is sharpening or heightening tensions between the two groups, but I think it might be temporary and not permanent,” Arbell said. “I don’t think it’s a one direction trend. When the dust settles, it could go back to what it used to be.”

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Arbell is a 25-year veteran of the Israeli Foreign Service where he served in senior posts in the United Nations, the U.S. and Japan, in addition to holding senior positions at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs Headquarters in Jerusalem. He explained that this is an interesting and critical issue what’s happening in the Middle East presently.

“This crisis adds more to the mix since the two groups are already pretty divided,” Arbell stated. “If you look at the American overall population, there are much greater numbers who support and understand Israel’s position than Hamas. The violence in Europe is much worse than it is here in the states. But I do think there could be sporadic demonstrations or acts of violence. But I don’t see it happening in the huge numbers that it is in Europe or the viciousness that we are seeing over there. I think that right now, everyone is looking at the war taking place over there and waiting for this to be over.”

The U.S.-Israel relations expert said that he thinks that people should be watching out for synagogues and mosques in case they are targeted.

“I think that one should be watching out for the synagogues and mosques, but I don’t see them as an immediate target,” Arbell shared. “You have to take necessary measures just in case. However, I think people would more than likely demonstrate in front of embassies or consulates around the country instead of random places of worship in the communities.”

Ronald Halber, the Executive Director of the Jewish Community Relations Council of Greater Washington, told CBSDC that security is at a premium and extra precautions are being taken across the country by some.

“We have taken extra precautions. Are we afraid? No. Are we living in fear? No. But we are taking precautions,” Halber said. “There are people out there who don’t like what Israel is doing and they might take advantage of large gatherings to make a point. There could be crime, isolated anti-Semitic acts against facilities, which has a tendency to occur when the Middle East is tense.”

Halber explained that the Jewish community is in unified support of Israel’s actions.

“We all feel the pain when we see innocent people that have been placed in harm’s way by the Iran-backed Hamas,” Halber stated. “To see all of these people hurt and innocent lives lost is sad. But we understand that Israel is living with a radical neighbor that is committed to its destruction. This is not a war they wanted. Israel had to go in and stop these missiles from hitting their city and destroy these tunnels that they have built to hurt Israel. It’s a war of defense not offense. The world has to sit back and watch Israel finish this out.”

The current conflict has left over 1,000 Palestinians dead and 43 Israeli soldiers. Two Israeli citizens have also been killed from Hamas rockets.

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