American Jews' Evolving View of Israel

"US Jews Express Angst on Israel" (May 8) is on target. The pro-Israel community is very much divided over Israel's current policies. For almost a half century, we have believed that successive governments of Israel were seriously pursuing peace. The Rabin-Arafat handshake on the White House lawn was a real cause for celebration.

The years since the election of Benjamin Netanyahu have been a real education. I always believed governments of Israel when they explained why they had to move very carefully in making peace with the Arabs. They argued that the Arab states were undemocratic and any peace signed by one leader would likely be repudiated by the next. Israel, on the other hand, was a democracy and lived up to its obligations.

So what happened? President Anwar Sadat of Egypt made peace with Israel and was murdered by opponents of peace. However, his successor, Hosni Mubarak, did live up to the obligations incurred by Sadat. In Israel, following Yitzhak Rabin's murder, his successor, Mr. Netanyahu, almost immediately began to sabotage the Oslo agreement. For two years he has consistently undermined Mr. Rabin's work.

It is the pro-Israel community's concern for Israel that has alienated us from the current government. The good news is that this very division gives our president an opportunity to push Netanyahu hard. Lobbyists in Washington will holler, but most American Jews will applaud Clinton for forcing Netanyahu to live up to Oslo. Peace is the best gift anyone can give Israel on its 50th birthday. And our president is the one person who can help deliver it. He deserves support.

Michael J. Rosenberg

Chevy Chase, Md.

Your piece on Jewish discomfort with current Israeli policies was incisive and thoughtful. An aspect of the repressive Orthodox stranglehold on public policy not mentioned is their bill 174C, currently before the Knesset, which would punish any inducement to religious conversion by three years in prison or an approximately $14,000 fine. This is yet another appalling example of how a people who have suffered so much religious persecution is now emulating its persecutors! This bill, if passed, would end freedom of speech and religion, fatally wound democracy, and erode respect for Israel. One can only imagine the swings in alignment as support erodes in the civilized democracies.

Katherine Ling-Mullins

Albuquerque, N.M.

Teachers' challenge: bored students

Regarding "If Kids Want to Drop Out, Maybe We Should Let Them" (Learning, April 21): I can't blame the student in the article for not wanting to write another essay. It's not that I don't agree that students should do their work. But, unfortunately, the essay is one of the most boring assignments in the history of mankind. I learned this form of regurgitation so well that in high school I could write an essay during two minutes of Channel One commercials.

As a child I lived in a Los Angeles gang area, and my dad met many of the gang members. When he treated them kindly and challenged them to think, they responded with kindness and intelligence. Students also have to wrestle with teachers who do not want to be there. Tenure often allows teachers who no longer have patience to remain teaching.

What schools need are teachers who use more innovative methods like the hands-on learning (mentioned in an article two weeks ago) that uses recent college graduates to teach. The problem is that society likes to shift blame, to say that we do not have a responsibility for others' well being. A good teacher finds it challenging and refreshing to encourage and help even those students labeled "problem students," in whatever way that works.

April Mattson

Boyne City, Mich.

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