U.S. Jews Divided on Pullout

With the passing of the deadline for Jewish settlers to leave the Gaza Strip (search), the once-rare sight of Israeli Jews clashing with fellow Israeli Jews is likely to become more common. In the United States, similar rifts have also begun to emerge.

The differences in opinion have existed for a long time. But prior to the midnight (5 p.m. EDT) deadline, American Jews virulently opposed to the withdrawal from Gaza staged small but earnest protests across the country.

In New York, more than 100 mostly Orthodox Jews gathered across the street from the United Nations headquarters at noon to rally against the withdrawal. Many protesters wore T-shirts, sashes and rubber bracelets colored the bright orange of the resistance movement in Gaza. Some wore burlap sacks or pinned patches of the scratchy cloth to their shirts in a show of mourning.

Several demonstrators waved signs that read "Don't Make a Legal Terrorist State" and "Apparently Jewish Blood Is Cheap."

Temima Kupfer, a 25-year-old Yeshiva University student from Brooklyn, told FOXNews.com the removal of Israeli settlers from Gaza would do nothing to establish peace in the region.

"Not when they keep giving them everything they want," she said of the Israeli government's bending to Palestinian demands.

Anger at Ariel Sharon's (search) government as well as the White House was prevalent among protesters.

"I think [the pullout] is going to lead to a terrorist state right on the border," said a 40-year-old rabbi who gave his name as Issy. "I think it's the Bush administration's way of appeasement on one side ... so Arabs don't look at Americans completely negatively."

The protest nearly boiled over when a group of about 20 anti-Zionist Jews showed up shouting, "Judaism yes, Zionism no, state of Israel must go!"

Dovid Feldman, a rabbi and member of Jews United Against Zionism, said that the Zionist movement had "destroyed" what was once a peaceful coexistence between Palestinians and Israeli Jews.

"We hope [Israel] will be dismantled peacefully where Jews and Palestinians can live together as they did in the past," he told FOXNews.com.

Orthodox Jews like Feldman believe that God ordered Jews into exile and that they are therefore forbidden to form their own state until the messiah returns. The pro-Zionist protesters greeted Feldman and his fellow JUZA members with jeers, and police officers monitoring the pullout protesters eventually intervened to keep the two groups separate.

But while protest organizers did not welcome Feldman's group, they wondered out loud why more people did not show up to the rally.

"Where are the human rights organizations?" shouted David Romanoff (search), chairman of the Alliance for Eretz Yisroel. "Where is the outrage? What is even more painful is that tens of thousands of Jews are silent!"

Officials at the Zionist Organization of America, which planned the event, initially predicted 3,000 to 5,000 people would show and later said the rainy weather and people's jobs kept most away. Still, the number of American Jews who are strongly against disengagement in Gaza is quite small.

The vast majority of American Jews are reform or conservative, 80 to 85 percent by one count. According to an April survey by Hebrew University of Jerusalem, 62 percent of American Jews support disengagement — not significantly more than the 57 percent of Israeli Jews who back the withdrawal.

More conservative Jewish groups like the Rabbinical Council of America and the Orthodox Union are more skeptical about the withdrawal but have not been very vocal about it. Mainstream Jewish organizations, including the Anti-Defamation League and the American Jewish Congress, have by and large endorsed the pullout plan.

Support for Israel among many American Jews, particularly those belonging to the reform and conservative movements, have in the last several decades slipped.

"I think American Jews are less engaged with Israel than they were a generation ago," Jonathan Sarna, a Judaism scholar at Brandeis University, said. "Israel has become controversial. Jews who have not been to Israel see things on [TV news] that they are uncomfortable with and are not sure they want to be associated with," he said, referring to Israel's policies of bulldozing the homes of terrorists' relatives and assassinating Palestinian leaders.

Still, while many American Jews support the pullout and the Bush administration's "road map" for peace in the region, they can hardly be pleased to see settlers forcibly carried away from their homes.

Lewis Roth, a director at the pro-disengagement Americans for Peace Now, said his organization had good reason to stay quiet about its policy victory.

"There's really not a lot of folks to convince here in the U.S. The White House, Congress and American Jewish community favors it," he said. "There is also an element of sympathy for the settlers who are going to see dramatic changes take place in their lives on a personal level. We can understand the human trauma in this."

But the Jews who attended the rally said they believed the "giveaway" to Palestinians in the region would only lead to more bloodshed.

"Oslo began 12 years ago," Morton Klein, president of the Zionist Organization of America, told FOXNews.com, referring to the landmark peace agreement. "Israel gave away half of the West Bank and 85 percent of Gaza. Did you see less terrorism? We saw the worst terror war maybe in the history of humankind."

The second intifada, which began in 2000, has resulted in the deaths of scores of Palestinians and Israelis. But on top of believing the withdrawal will lead to a "terrorist mini-state," Zionist Jews say they believe Gaza is rightfully theirs as ordained by God.

While even many reform Jews are Zionist to a degree, the conflict in the Middle East has caused Orthodox Jews to splinter on the matter of the Jewish homeland.

"Look at the irony: the Zionist Organization of America standing in opposition to the elected government of Israel," Sarna said. "This once would have been unthinkable."

Zionism is in some respects a more political than theological movement, which is why it is unlikely to divide American Jews in the way social issues like abortion and stem cell research have split American Christians. Still, for a community that survived on solidarity throughout centuries of persecution, the divide on Israel is potentially earth-shattering.

"What we're seeing is really the latest chapter in what is a very important story: the breakdown of an American Jewish consensus," Sarna told FOXNews.com. "While I think there is a strong consensus in favor of Israel's basic right to exist and a Jewish state, I think the specific policy that would best serve Israel ... these issues, just as they divide Israel now divide Israel supporters [in America]."

Emanuel Rose, rabbi of Congregation Beth Israel in Portland, Ore., worried this divide would further alienate American Jews from one another.

"Fundamentalism, no matter where it’s found, is bad for the world," Rose told FOXNews.com. "Nobody has THE truth. We may all have a little piece of it, but until we are willing to admit that, there will never be any peace in the world."

But Steven Moss, rabbi of B'nai Israel Reform Temple in Oakdale, N.Y., said as the withdrawal plays out many American Jews may find themselves taking more of a hard line on Israel. On a recent trip there with 28 members of his congregation, he said about half who were in favor of Sharon's plan were by the end of the trip against the withdrawal.

"When you stand there on the West Bank and you see the Syrian border, the Lebanese border, you realize how close these countries and populations are," Moss told FOXNews.com. "The concern is how much do we have to give up and how much CAN we give up?"