Liberal American Jewish orgs break with Israel over UN vote, settlements

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Yesterday brought important news of open dissent within the official Jewish community over Israeli policy. While these breaks do not approach the sort of Jewish apostasy that this website offers, they represent a significant fracture in an American Zionist community that has been afraid to openly criticize Israel, and the news is already echoing widely.

First, the New York Times devoted a lengthy article on its front page to the fact that leaders of B’nai Jeshurun, a legendary liberal synagogue on the Upper West Side with Zionist commitment, sent out an email applauding Palestine’s new nonmember state status, voted at the UN last Thursday.

“The vote at the U.N. yesterday is a great moment for us as citizens of the world,” said the e-mail, which was sent to all congregants. “This is an opportunity to celebrate the process that allows a nation to come forward and ask for recognition.”

The statement, at a time when the United Nations’ vote was opposed by the governments of the United States and Israel, as well as by the leadership of many American Jewish organizations, reflected a divide among American Jews and a willingness to publicly disagree with Israel…

Note that the B’nai Jeshurun email very Zionistically likens the Palestinian vote to the struggle to gain a Jewish state, granted in 1947. But the Times says the email has jarred the congregation. And the Times quotes two members of the congregation who are angered.

And the Times piece reports fractures within the Reform Jewish community:

Gary Rosenblatt, the editor and publisher of The Jewish Week, the largest-circulation Jewish newspaper in the country, said, “I think the sense of a need for a unified front in the American Jewish community is breaking down.”

In White Plains, a group of synagogues from different branches of Judaism — Conservative, Reform and Reconstructionist — sent an e-mail to congregants after the United Nations’ vote expressing cautious optimism about Palestine’s new status.

Meanwhile, the official Reform Jewish organization in the US has now bucked Israel on its latest settlement program. Haaretz:

In a move certain to generate controversy and public debate, America’s largest Jewish movement, the Union for Reform Judaism (URJ), has formally adopted a resolution that publicly denounces Israel’s decision to increase settlement activity, “especially in the E-1 area”. …

The URJ resolution, adopted at a meeting of its North America Board of Trustees in St. Petersburg, Florida, states that the Israeli decision “makes progress toward peace far more challenging, and is difficult to reconcile with the Government of Israel’s stated commitment to a two-state solution.” 

…Although leaders of the Reform movement have been harshly critical of Israel in recent years on matters concerning religious pluralism and democratic freedoms, they have largely refrained from openly disputing Israeli government policies on security matters. But Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s recent decision to respond to the UN recognition of Palestine as an observer state with the construction of 3,000 new apartments, especially in E-1, has elicited widespread criticism in liberal Jewish circles, which until now was expressed only in private conversations, not in public proclamations.

These are important convulsions because the American Jewish community has been so loath to criticize Israel openly. Given the overwhelming support for Israel inside the Jewish community, these steps took courage and could lead to a cascade aimed at Netanyahu (full disclosure: I bet a friend that he’s gone by March). And, fingers crossed, this could be a doorway for more affiliated Jews to discover the Nakba and question the Zionist myths.

Update: Note that B’nai Jeshurun showed Jews for Racial and Economic Justice the door 9 years ago when it gave an award to Adam Shapiro and his parents for their brave stance in support of Palestinian human rights.

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