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Amid War's Failures, One Notable Success
In the wake of the release of the Winograd Committee's report on the conduct of the Second Lebanon War (as it is now officially called) last summer, Israelis are weighing the consequences of their government's failures, and pondering whether or not Prime Minister Ehud Olmert can now remain in office.
We will leave judgment on that question to the Israeli people and to history.
Suffice it to say that although we may well wonder how Olmert can continue -- if continue he does -- then it is the obligation of every friend of Israel in this country to give him the support that's due his office (to which he was democratically elected nearly 14 months ago). Israel can have only one government at a time, and our support for the state it governs is not conditional on any prime minister's personal approval ratings.
That said, though the Winograd report lists a long litany of governmental misjudgments and failures in the war, one element of last year's conflict that it highlights is worth celebrating.
According to published reports in Israel, when the commission's full finding are released, they will say that while Israel's leaders may have failed its people during the war, North American Jewry did not.
Once the war began, the government was ill-prepared to deal with the plight of hundreds of thousands of Israelis driven from their homes by Hezbollah's rocket attacks. But while the official bureaucracy was characteristically slow to respond, Jewish groups abroad acted quickly.
In particular, the special emergency-fund campaign conducted by the United Jewish Communities (of which the Israel Emergency Fund of the Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia was a part) proved crucial in alleviating the suffering of families and children whose lives were disrupted.
Even more to the point is the fact that the approximately $360 million quickly pledged here for Israel (only half of which has reportedly been paid) was not merely pigeonholed and doled out at a later date.
Federations here transferred cash in real time to the places where help was needed, and where the cash could do the most good. That meant that some $75 million of the amount pledged was distributed to needy Israelis while the fighting was going on -- something that really had never been done before.
This swift action directed to programs aimed at, among others, schoolchildren and the elderly was a major force in reducing the harm inflicted on the Jewish people by its terrorist foes.
Jewish federations in this country have a difficult job trying to balance their responsibility to serve local needs, let alone fund those of Jews overseas. But when the chips were down last July and August, Greater Philadelphia responded.
As The Jerusalem Post commented this week, "Whatever the Winograd report finds regarding government action or inaction in the north, it is perhaps worth nothing that, for their part, North American Jews came through remarkably, delivering badly needed supplies and services that, without them, would have been desperately lacking."
The response to the crisis on the part of all who contributed to the emergency funds for Israel was a remarkable success.
More than that, it illustrates that a sense of being part of the Jewish people is alive and well in the hearts of many Americans. For all the gloomy predictions heard about the future of Diaspora Jewry and of the Israel-Diaspora relationship itself, at least this one story coming from the battlefields should make us proud, and inspire further efforts on Israel's behalf in the future.