A Jewish Communal Call to Action

Benjy Cannon Image
Benjy Cannon
on February 16, 2016

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Jeremy Burton, the Director of the Boston Jewish Community Relations Council posted a powerful piece last week responding to Tom Friedman’s recent column, which declared the two-state solution dead. In addition to defending the viability of two-states, Burton issued a call for American Jews to step up efforts to keep a two-state solution on the table:

Friedman’s column is a reminder and a call to action — we need to do a lot more to prevent that perception [that the two-state solution is dead] from becoming a reality. That doesn’t mean we or anyone else should impose an agreement that won’t lead to a lasting resolution. But we can and must do far more to nurture possibility and maintain the potential for a two-state solution. We need to show people how to invest – both with business capital and NGO funding – in those who are building a brighter future. We’ll need to speak with greater clarity and specificity about preventing additional obstacles that make separation harder. And we must help the world see this potential for progress and not just the inertia that perpetuates an untenable status quo.

What most sticks out to me here is Burton’s call to prevent obstacles that make an eventual solution more difficult. In addition to combating Palestinian extremism and pushing back on calls for a one state solution, I’d imagine it includes resisting the entrenchment of settlements and occupation.

But what specifically does it look like for the Jewish community to speak with greater clarity about the damage the Israeli government and the settlement movement are doing to the prospects for peace? It’s encouraging that recently, some major Jewish communal players like the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism and the Central Conference of American Rabbis have been vocal about the Israeli government’s role in perpetuating the conflict. And of course, Mainstream Jewish institutions have long challenged the Palestinians to take greater responsibility in combating terrorism and incitement and advancing peace, but for the most part, they avoid raising Israeli intransigence.

Having more Jewish institutions speak out about the danger the settlement movement poses to a two-state solution would be an important step. Despite the repeated alarm bells that Israel’s friends (notably Ban-Ki Moon, Ambassador Dan Shapiro and the European Union) have sounded about the occupation over the last few months, it hasn’t happened yet. But while a willingness to publicly express concern is important, actions speak louder than words.

J Street U’s call for Federations to adopt greater transparency requirements for donations over the Green Line is one clear way. Adopting that kind of policy would demonstrate that mainstream Jewish institutions are serious about preserving and respecting the Green Line, which has long been the basis of negotiations about Israel’s eventual borders. They could also consider calling on the administration to put some muscle behind their anti-settlement policy, by calling settlements illegal or by more stringently upholding American labeling requirements for goods made in the West Bank.

This isn’t the first alarm that a prominent American Jewish leader has sounded over the danger that this political moment poses for Israel’s future. I’m worried that, as has happened in the past, not enough of the community will listen and respond. But I hope that this time, the American Jewish establishment will mobilize for the Jewish and democratic future for Israel we so deeply want to preserve.

Benjy Cannon is the 2015-2016 Mikva Fellow at J Street. He’s on Twitter at @benjycannon