Local JCRC taking right approach

By Joanna LeFebvre

On Dec. 23, I was in the kitchen helping to prepare dinner, absentmindedly listening to the 6 o’clock news. A segment about the passage of U.N. Security Council (UNSC) Resolution 2334 condemning settlement expansion and terrorism came on. As a pro-Israel Jewish college student who cares deeply about Israel’s security, my phone had been buzzing all day with updates and actions for the resolution. As a member of J Street U and an avid believer of the necessity of a two-state solution to secure Israel’s future as a Jewish and democratic state, I was encouraged by the news that the United States had abstained, allowing the resolution to pass. 

I felt proud that the United States, as Israel’s greatest ally, was making clear that actions by both Israelis and Palestinians that undermine the prospects for peace need to stop. That included opposing settlement expansion. It is not easy to speak the truth to close allies when they are making dangerous decisions — but it is important. 

Knowing that the overwhelming majority of the Jewish community shares a belief in the necessity of a two-state solution, I am disappointed to learn that the local American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) and Zionist Organization of America (ZOA) chapters have criticized the Jewish Community Relations Council (JCRC) for not condemning the U.S. abstention. The resolution is a continuation of longstanding bipartisan U.S. support for a two-state solution and the belief that settlements erode prospects for peace and undermine Israeli security. The resolution also condemns incitement and terrorism, showing that it is balanced and not “anti-Israel.”

Before the Obama administration abstained from U.N. resolution, it had vetoed every single UNSC resolution critical of Israel – a record unmatched by any of President Barack Obama’s predecessors. For example, the George W. Bush administration allowed six such resolutions to pass the Security Council, while President Bill Clinton allowed three. The Obama administration’s abstention was nothing new, but rather a reiteration of decades of U.S.-Israel policy. Every U.S. presidential administration since the Six-Day War in 1967 has raised concerns about and opposed the settlement enterprise as detrimental to U.S. and Israeli interests and to peace.

AIPAC and the ZOA’s claim that our community has reached a consensus in opposition to the Obama administration’s decision is false. There are actually a wide variety of opinions within the Jewish community on the U.N. resolution, which should be acknowledged rather than condemned. Forcing the JCRC to make a statement on this issue would surely alienate many of those who hold varying opinions. 

In a poll that J Street commissioned just six weeks before the UNSC vote, conducted on Nov. 8, 2016, 62 percent of American Jews indicated that they would support a U.S. vote for or abstention from a U.N. resolution criticizing settlements. Only 27 percent of American Jews said that they supported a U.S. veto on such a resolution. Given that the majority of American Jews supported either the resolution or the U.S. abstention from it, the St. Louis JCRC, as an organization that represents most major Jewish institutions in the region, is under no obligation to condemn the U.N.’s actions simply because that is what several right-wing organizations would like them to do. In fact, doing so would undermine the JCRC’s commitment to representing “a pluralistic Jewish community.”

I was surprised that these organizations expect the JCRC to make a public statement that would represent a minority of the Jewish community. Furthermore, I am disappointed that these groups have chosen to focus their energy on chastising JCRC leadership simply for not expressing their minority opinion at a time when we should all be focused on the threats to our values, and to Israel’s future, emanating from President Donald Trump and his advisers. Trump’s campaign, in addition to its shocking contempt for Jewish values of tolerance, social justice, and respect, indicated support for the extreme settlement movement and disinterest in helping Israelis and Palestinians to reach a viable peace agreement.

As director of the JCRC of St. Louis, Maharat Rori Picker-Neiss has a thorough understanding of the St. Louis Jewish community’s political pulse in this city. AIPAC, ZOA and other Jewish organizations’ choice to condemn the U.S.’s abstention from UNSC 2334 represent only one segment of the American Jewish community’s opinions. By refraining from taking a position on the resolution, the JCRC reflects the diversity of opinion within our community and demonstrates its understanding that the Jewish community has not come to a consensus on the UNSC resolution. As pro-Israel, pro-peace students, we in J Street U at WashU thank Maharat Picker-Neiss and the St. Louis JCRC for their commitment to respecting our community’s diversity of opinion with regard to how best support the state of Israel and secure its future.