Seven White Plains rabbis have told their congregants that the United Nations vote granting the Palestinians nonmember observer status should be “greeted with cautious optimism and not simply recriminations, finger-pointing and expressions of despair.”
The letter said governments that voted in support of the Palestinians should not be seen as “somehow having turned against Israel,” because Israel’s stated policy is to work towards a two-state solution. Rather, it said, the vote should be viewed as a way to “open more possible paths to a diminution of human misery than the events we have just lived through on Israel’s border with Gaza.”
In a letter to his congregation accompanying the statement, Rabbi Les Bronstein of Bet Am Shalom Synagogue, which is Reconstructionist, wrote that they were calling for a “sane — even creative — response from our American Jewish community, and especially from our leaders in Congress and the White House.”
Among the other rabbis signing the letter were Gordon Tucker, Tom Weiner, Shira Milgrom, Dina Shargel and Michael Goldman.
The letter noted that both Israel and the Palestinians have said they are ready for negotiations without preconditions, and it called on them to “begin as soon as possible.”
“Rather than condemning and bemoaning this resolution, we should urge the Palestinians to prove that their intention is indeed to rectify their mistake of 65 years ago,” the letter said, referring to the Arab rejection of the UN resolution in 1947 creating an Arab state and a Jewish state in Palestine.
In a separate letter to their congregants, the rabbis of Manhattan’s B’nai Jeshurun Congregation referred to the UN vote as historic and called it an “opportunity to celebrate the process that allows a nation to come forward and ask for recognition.”
“Having gained independence ourselves in this way, we are especially conscious of this,” they wrote. “Every people has the right of recognition, every person has the right of recognition. As Jews deeply committed to the security and democracy of Israel, and in light of the violence this past month in Gaza and Israel, we hope that November 29, 2012 will mark the moment that brought about a needed sense of dignity and purpose to the Palestinian people, led to a cessation of violence and hastened the two state solution.”
It was signed by Rabbis Roly Matalon, Marcelo Bronstein and Felicia Sol. The congregation’s cantors, board president and executive director also signed.
Rabbi Bronstein acknowledged that the views of the White Plains rabbis were “somewhat different from what you might hear from either the general press or the various national American Jewish organizations.”
The New York Times reported on its website Tuesday night that some members of the congregation were shocked by the tone of the letter.
Rabbi Abraham Cooper, associate dean of the Simon Wiesenthal Center in Los Angeles, offered a different perspective, telling The Jewish Week that in his speech to the UN requesting nonmember observer status Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas “could not have been more incendiary.”
“He certainly played to a number of very important audiences — people who think Hamas was doing all the heavy lifting against Israel, and I’m sure it went over big in Lebanon,” he said. “It’s just that he forgot about one constituency — the Israelis.”
“How about Abbas admitting to his constituents and the world that there is a 3,500-year-old relationship between his Jewish neighbors and the Holy Land?” he added.
Morton Klein, president of the Zionist Organization of America, asked how Abbas could be “serious about peace when he calls Israel a colonial, racist and apartheid state.”
“Those are words you use if you want to make peace with Israel?” he asked. “And he said Jerusalem would be the eternal capital of Palestine. This is not what you say if you want to sit down for unconditional talks with the State of Israel. This is not the language you use. His UN speech and his statements since show that his earlier statements about being willing to negotiate with Israel and make peace with the Jewish state is nonsense.”
Neither of the two letters to congregants made mention of Israel’s response, which was to announce the construction of 3,000 new housing units in the West Bank and the start of planning and zoning for housing in the four-mile uninhabited land between Jerusalem and the settlement of Ma’ale Adumim.
Abraham Foxman, national director of the Anti-Defamation League, said the announcement must be seen through the prism of next month’s election in Israel.
“Everything Israel does should be seen through that filter” until the election Jan. 22, Foxman said. “I see a lot of posturing.”
He said development of the land between Maale Adumim and Jerusalem, known as E-1, has been announcement many times in the past and nothing has been done.
“All they are doing is announcing that they are beginning talks on planning and zoning; they are not sending in bulldozers tomorrow,” Foxman said. “I think the U.S. and the world has overreacted. Where is the outcry over North Korea’s plans to fire another rocket? The possibility of an Islamist constitution in Egypt is a clear and present danger to democracy, where is the world’s outcry?”
But Foxman said Israel needed to reply to Abbas’ decision to seek UN recognition for the Palestinians because it “cannot act as a paper tiger. Israel warned [Abbas against it]. But Abbas stuck his two fingers in Israel’s eye and America’s eye and there has to be some consequence.”
Lara Friedman, director of policy and government relations at Americans for Peace Now, said the expedited development of E1 is a setback to a two-state solution. She said construction on that site “would be a potential death blow to the viability of a two-state solution.”
She was also critical of other new construction announced for the West Bank and the withholding of tax revenue Israel collected for the Palestinians.
Such moves, she said, “lend credence to the view that [Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin] Netanyahu and those around him are less concerned about the UN vote and its potential repercussions in the UN and at the International Criminal Court, and more concerned about exploiting the vote as a pretext to take actions that will foreclose the very possibility of ever implementing a two-state solution.”
Peter Joseph, chairman of the Israel Policy Forum, said his organization is not criticizing either side but simply wants them to return to the negotiating table.
“Anything that impairs the atmosphere to do that is not in the spirit of trying to get back to the table,” he said. “We feel that President Abbas is an important figure to engage with and that Israel should try to moderate its responses so as not to undermine the chances for a useful discussion.”
The Union for Reform Judaism and its rabbinic arm, the Central Conference of American Rabbis, adopted a resolution that was critical of both the Palestinians for going to the UN and of Israel’s response.
It called the decision to go to the UN “counterproductive to the cause of peace” and commended the U.S. and Canada “for their forceful and consistent efforts to prevent consideration of, and for their votes against, the General Assembly’s decision to upgrade the formal status of the Palestinians.” It called on the Palestinians to return to the negotiating table without preconditions and urged the U.S. and Canada to facilitate the resumption of peace talks.
In addition, the resolution called for “appropriate measures” against the Palestinians should they file charges against Israel with the UN’s International Criminal Court.