By Natasha Mozgovaya, Haaretz Correspondent
Presumably this initiative will not be welcomed with open arms in Israel, but a group of American Jews has launched a campaign in support of conscientious objectors who refuse mandatory conscription into the Israel Defense Forces.
Supporters of the refuseniks plan on staging a protest near the Defense Ministry headquarters in Tel Aviv, where they hope to deliver 20,000 letters from Diaspora Jews backing the initiative to Defense Minister Ehud Barak.
Some of the letters were written from supporters of the left-wing group "Jewish Voice for Peace," who contributed video testimony from some of the conscientious objectors who explained the reason for their positions in English.
Although most American Jews are politically aligned with the liberal left, IDF service is generally viewed as an unassailable duty. Thus, officially there has never been a concentrated effort to lobby Israelis to evade conscription.
The Jewish Voice for Peace has recruited actor Ed Asner, historian and author Howard Zinn, and folk singer Ronnie Gilbert to the cause.
"The recent election of anti-war candidate Barack Obama , who by the way received some 80% of the Jewish vote, was evidence of the American people's disenchantment with war and occupation," said Cecilie Surasky, the communications director for Jewish Voice for Peace. "Seven years and untold lives and dollars later, there is almost total agreement in the US that our venture in Iraq has been an unqualified disaster."
"I am an old-time peace activist," Gilbert said. "I have marched and pleaded against the cruel occupation for years. The presence of the Shministim (the Hebrew term for Israeli youths who refuse IDF enlistment) makes me ashamed of sometimes feeling that Israel will never change. You are the change."
"I've been thinking a lot about courage," Zinn, the controversial scholar, wrote in his letter. "Right now, while I'm snug and fed this Thanksgiving holiday in the comfort of my home, halfway around the world a group of teenagers is sitting in a jail cell today, demonstrating the very definition of courage and sacrifice. It's frustrating. Humbling. And I'm damn glad to have the chance to do something big about it."
Hebrew: http://www.haaretz.co.il/hasite/spages/1047949.html [the Hebrew contains more than the information furnished by the English report; the Hebrew appears to be a later version, and includes a picture of this evening's demonstration.]