After a period of conspicuous silence on the issue, major groups such as the American Israel Public Affairs Committee and the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations called for bipartisan consensus Tuesday around the use of force.
“Those who perpetuate such acts of wanton murder must know that they cannot do so with impunity,” the conference, which represents 52 national Jewish agencies, said in a statement. “Those who possess or seek weapons of mass destruction, particularly Iran and Hezbollah, must see that there is accountability.”
In its own strongly worded statement, AIPAC said that not taking action would weaken the United States and its ability to prevent the use of unconventional weapons.
“Simply put, barbarism on a mass scale must not be given a free pass,” the group said.
The statements came after days of intense discussions among activists about whether to play a role in the Syria debate. Some remain worried that a military strike is being cast as a move to protect Israel’s interests rather than an action to defend U.S. credibility.
“There is a desire to not make this about Israel,” said one pro-Israel advocate, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss the politics of the situation. “When the administration argues to members of Congress that we should do this for Israel’s sake, that has caused deep discomfort in the Jewish community, regardless of where they stand. Israel didn’t ask the U.S. to do this.”
But some prominent Jewish leaders said a moral imperative, rooted in the experience of the Holocaust, demanded a strong response.
Abraham H. Foxman, national director of the Anti-Defamation League, participated in a call organized by the Conference of Presidents on Tuesday and said there was a clear consensus to step forward.
“To see innocent people being gassed invokes that special historical memory and sensitivity,” he said. “And when the president says it is in the national security interests of our country to stand up against such heinous violations of international norms, I think both things play very strongly in the psyche of the Jewish community.”
The Simon Wiesenthal Center, a leading Jewish human rights organization, explicitly invoked the Holocaust in a letter to lawmakers Tuesday, noting that U.S. and British officials did not respond when they were alerted in 1942 that the Nazis planned to use gas to kill Jews.
“This isn’t a Jewish issue; this is a humanitarian issue,” said Rabbi Marvin Hier, the center’s founder and dean.