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Community finally feels free to join public debate on

"One of the things we’ve been careful about and which is a general sensitivity is we’ve tried to minimize this war in terms of the impact it will have on Israel," he said. "What we’re doing is saying, ‘Let’s have a debate on the issues.’"

Ironically, while many assume that American Jews would support the war because of its presumed benefits for Israel, the Jewish community seems to outpace other Americans in opposing the war. The American Jewish Committee’s latest poll shows 70 percent of American Jews disapprove of the war in Iraq, a 4 percent increase from a year ago and up from 54 percent in ‘003.

In contrast, a recent CNN/USA Today/Gallup poll found that 5′ percent of Americans believe sending troops to Iraq was a mistake.

In addition, some who backed the war originally have come to question whether it really had any benefit for Israel.

While some Jews have been outspoken opponents of the war — even joining Cindy Sheehan, the mother of a soldier killed in Iraq, who has been protesting President Bush at his Crawford, Texas, ranch — few have done so under Jewish auspices.

Concerns that Jews would be blamed for the war have dissipated greatly since the campaign began. At the time, much was made of the Jewish heritage of war architects like Paul Wolfowitz, then the deputy secretary of defense, and Richard Perle, then chair of the Defense Policy Board. Now, the "neoconservatives" receive less blame than the Bush administration itself.

Indeed, the purported benefits to Israel largely have been overshadowed. Much of the talk in the mainstream press now revolves around faulty intelligence on Saddam’s weapons of mass destruction and the continuing violence of the insurgency.

That has freed the Jewish community to speak more openly about the war, leaders said.

The Reform movement openly sought increased debate on the issue through its resolution. Saperstein, director of the Religious Action Center for Reform Judaism, said the time felt right to turn up the debate. The Iraq resolution was authored by individual congregations, not the Washington office, he said.

"This is a weighing process we’re doing here," he said. "More and more, it’s tipping to the scale of there being a problem with us in Iraq."

Proponents of the war have stressed its goals of creating a peaceful and democratic Iraq, with the implicit aim of appealing to liberal groups that traditionally have sought U.S. humanitarian intervention around the world, and are seeking it now in the Darfur refugee crisis. White House officials made that correlation directly in responding to the URJ’s resolution.

Last week, Bush also appealed to supporters of Israel.

"If you’re a supporter of Israel, I would strongly urge you to help other countries become democracies," he said Dec. 1′ in a speech to the World Affairs Council of Philadelphia. "Israel’s long-term survival depends upon the spread of democracy in the Middle East."

That comment worried some in the community, raising fears anew that the war would be blamed on Jews or Israel. In any case, Saperstein said, there’s a difference between a "just war and just means."

Those speaking out now say the current debate is healthy, and few have urged Jews to lower the volume.

JTA

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