American Jews must speak out

''We are one'' is the official motto of the American Jewish community in its relations to Israel. It well summarizes the feelings of concern, of support, of commitment most of us feel for Israel - especially those who are survivors of the Holocaust.

But in recent years this motto has been coupled with other slogans emphasizing that American Jews have no right to second-guess Israeli policy from a safe distance and, in fact, an obligation to agree lest any evidence of dissension undermine Israel's cause. It is perhaps still too early to call it more than a silent, growing, minority, but clearly there comes a time when, as Jews and as Americans, members of that minority must assume the obligation to speak out - not out of any naive idealism or assimilationist self-hatred but out of love for Israel.

Perhaps enough has been said in recent weeks about the moral questions surrounding the present crisis in Lebanon: the obvious early misrepresentations concerning the origins and objectives of what was clearly a long-planned ''cleansing'' operation, undoubtedly abetted, at least in its initial stages, by ex-Secretary Haig; the clear willingness to inflict large (whatever the precise number) civilian casualties, given that the PLO was using the Lebanese population as a human shield; the apparently disproportionate levels of response to PLO rockets in west Beirut regardless of precisely who had been breaching consecutive cease-fires.

It is time, instead, to return to some of the more hard-headed, practical issues in the region which have strangely been relegated to the back burner of late. Some observers have indeed referred to ''new opportunities'' offered by the quick Israeli advance into Lebanon, combined with the effective neutralization of Egypt, more disarray than usual among the other Arabs, plus an apparent Soviet unwillingness - whether for reasons of domestic succession or conservatism in the face of an unpredictably bellicose US administration - to try to influence events. But the ''opportunity'' is all too often seen in short-term tactical terms, such as the once-and-for-all destruction of the PLO, or the establishment of a viable Lebanese state ready to sign a peace treaty with Israel.

The question all too often neglected is how the ''opportunity'' for a longer-term comprehensive settlement in the region is being affected by current actions, and inactions. Do thoughtful Israelis really believe that the wholesale application of a vastly superior military force against 12,000 members of the PLO can somehow stamp out the political cause of millions of Palestinians? Is the killing or the eventual dispersal of the terrorists and the destruction of their arms caches really likely to ''work'' in purely pragmatic terms?

Or is it indeed much more likely that for every extremist killed five young Palestinians have become implacable life-long enemies of the State of Israel? Long before Lebanon, the Camp David approach to ''full autonomy'' on the West Bank and Menachem Begin's concept of ''self-determination'' for the Arabs of Judea and Samaria were on a collision course - aided and abetted by this administration's signal failure to appoint a Middle East negotiator to press the parties into treating the basic Palestinian problem rather than its Lebanese symptoms.

Why have we failed to make it clear that the United States is committed to the security of Israel but that such security is not consistent with an imposed apartheid-type solution for the West Bank and Gaza? Arafat needs more than safe passage; he needs to know that Palestinian rights will be safeguarded along with Israel's right to exist.

We - and Israel - must acknowledge the need for an explicit linkage between Habib's mission rod: and Chapter II of Camp David - even if it can't all be negotiated right now. If the US, now that it has formulated a position, is prepared to stay the course, it still has large reserves of leverage and goodwill in the region. It is up to us to now remind Begin, the implacable historian of the Holocaust, of yet another piece of history, that of Sadat and the Egyptian peace treaty, of what enlightened magnanimity in victory might accomplish, and of the all-too-often neglected, all-too-forbidding dimensions of the alternative: more decades of mounting strife and economic crises amidst increasing international isolation.

This ''us'' must include a no longer silent minority of American Jews. We may well be wrong in our assessment, but we have not only the right but also the obligation to speak out.

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