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How South Florida's Jews Are Driving Zionism In Israel

With tensions continuing to writhe in the Middle East as Israel and Palestine fall into an uneasy calm, a group of Zionist Jews in South Florida condemns both the cease fire between the neighbors as well as the United Nations' decision yesterday to award Palestine the status of nonmember observer state.

The group condemns pretty much anything that isn't the extermination of the Palestinian state, and its clout -- a combination of sheer economic force with vociferous activism -- may yet shape the emerging paradigm in the Holy Land. If anything, it already has.

"This is the place where there's more [Zionist] activism than anywhere in the world," said Bob Kunst, president of Shalom International in South Florida. "New York? L.A.? My God, are you kidding me? We have the biggest mouth, and every Jew in the world comes to South Florida for a check."

Kunst says South Florida's Jewish population plows anywhere from $300 million to $500 million into Israel every year, and that money -- along with the politics of it -- has sweeping effects and, in some ways, has already transformed Israel, spiking animosity between the Arab and Jewish populations.

Irving Moskowitz of Miami, widely known as the Sheldon Adelson of Israel, has personally donated millions to development projects in Israel, specifically in Ramallah of East Jerusalem, which many in the Arab world consider the capital of Palestine. Today, East Jerusalem, thanks to a 1967 annexation by the Israel government to unify the city, ostensibly belongs to the Jews, though the agreement isn't internationally recognized.

What has been recognized, however, is that the Israel government has become arguably more hawkish than at any time in recent history, and further conflict with Palestine, as well as war with Iran, seems imminent. And while numerous factors are pushing Israel to the right -- a demographic giving rise to more religious and conservative Jews, the Muslim Brotherhood's newfound power in nations like Egypt -- the Jews of South Florida say they've played a role as well.

One family, the Falics of Hollywood and Miami, account for one-half of all of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's political donations, around $50,000. But Kunst says their pressure on Netanyahu to become "more radical" goes beyond that money.

His emerging hard-line policies constitute "a big success for South Florida. Right now, you have a change in Israel. You only have a party of the right and a party of the far right. The left doesn't exist anymore. And what that tells you is that the Jews here who have been willing to contribute have succeeded."

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Terrence McCoy

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