The American Jewish community, which initially approached the war against Iraq torn over whether the resort to arms was the best route to long-term peace in the Middle East, has been alarmed and galvanized by Iraq's attacks against Israel.
Some Jewish peace activists have moved toward guarded support of the war effort. Others who are not yet ready to endorse the war criticized the anti-war movement for underestimating Iraqi President Saddam Hussein's threat to the region -- and to Israel.
"I think now there's a real unity in the Jewish community about protecting Israel," said David Cohen, co-director of the Center for Israeli Peace and Security, a dovish think tank. American Jews who have been divided over Israeli government policy since the war in Lebanon in 1982 share an "immeasurable kind of empathy" as a result of the attacks, he said.
"There are still Jews very active in the anti-war movement," said Rabbi David Saperstein, director of the Religious Action Center for Reform Judaism, "but there is an extremely broad consensus between hawks and doves that this is a situation in which force should be used."
The war presents an agonizing choice for many American Jews. Among the country's most loyally Democratic and strongly liberal groups, Jews have traditionally been at the forefront of peace and social justice movements. But the vast majority strongly support Israel's existence and saw Saddam as a serious threat to both the United States and Israel long before the Bush administration did.
These tensions guaranteed that the American Jewish response to the Persian Gulf War would be anything but monolithic. And the divisions have been aggravated by the growing importance of a conservative minority within the Jewish community and by differences among American Jews over Israeli government policy toward negotiations with the Palestinians.
All these dissonant strains were visible when Congress voted earlier this month to give President Bush authority to make war. Conservative Jewish groups strongly supported the president. "We never thought sanctions would work and now we have the evidence to prove it," said Rabbi Fabian Schonfeld, past president of the Rabbinical Council of America, an orthodox group that is meeting here this week.
Bush also won support from groups representing large Jewish constituencies, such as the Council of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations. Jewish members of Congress -- notably Rep. Stephen J. Solarz (D-N.Y.) and Sen. Joseph I. Lieberman (D-Conn.) -- were central in winning Democratic votes for the president's position.
But the American Israel Public Affairs Committee sought a low-key role, and many Jewish leaders said they did not want the war against Iraq to be identified as a specifically Jewish cause. These fears were heightened last year when Patrick J. Buchanan, the conservative commentator, charged that war was being sought by the Israeli Defense Ministry and its "amen corner" in the United States.
"There are some people who have said that there was a chill factor that Buchanan put on this debate," said Jess N. Hordes, Washington director for the Anti-Defamation League of B'nai B'rith.
When the vote came, Jewish members of Congress proved to be anything but an "amen corner" for war. In the House, Jewish members split 17 to 16 in favor of sanctions over war. Jewish senators split 5 to 3 for sanctions.
David Ifshin, a Washington lawyer and longtime lobbyist for Jewish causes, noted that party loyalty rather than religious or ethnic affiliation played the most important role in the vote. All eight Jewish Republican members of Congress backed the president. The Democrats supported sanctions by a ratio of 2 to 1.
In the days immediately before the war, many American Jews, especially among the young, identified instinctively with the anti-war movement. "There is a tension between people who were influenced by the Vietnam experience and people who were influenced by the World War II experience," said Hordes.
But Iraq's attacks on Israel have made many Jews who opposed the war reconsider their positions.
"Many liberal Jews find themselves appalled by the brutality of the war and consider the war an inappropriate way of bringing a settlement to the Middle East," said Michael Lerner, editor of Tikkun, a left-of-center Jewish magazine. "But we're also appalled by the current rhetoric of the anti-war movement." Some in the movement engage in "Israel bashing," he said, adding that calls for unilateral U.S. withdrawal are inappropriate in light of Saddam's actions.
While Lerner remains allied with the anti-war cause, Jo-Ann Mort, a member of the advisory board of Americans for Peace Now, a group that supports the Israeli peace movement, said that "the notion of being in a peace march is incomprehensible to me."
"I, for one, can't imagine any outcome right now except disarming Saddam absolutely and completely," Mort said.