United We Stand; Divided We Fall

Rabbi Seth D. Gordon serves Traditional Congregation of Creve Coeur.

By Rabbi Seth D Gordon

The New York Times’ headline, following UN Security Council Resolution (UNSC) 2334,  read, “American Jews Divided.” I came across the article from the valuable email responsibly provided by the JCRC to local Jewish leaders.  The email also included responses from 16 national Jewish organizations.  

The Jewish Federations of North America were “deeply disappointed;” the ADL (Anti-Defamation League) was “outraged;” AIPAC (American Israel Public Affairs Committee) was “deeply disturbed;” the AJC’s (American Jewish Committee) comment on the resolution itself was that it “may lead us away;” and  the Israel Project expressed “extreme disappointment.” The strongest statement came from the ZOA (Zionist Organization of America).  The ZOA had urged a veto along with characterizations of the resolution as “anti-Israel, anti-Semitic, anti-peace, and racist.”  

The JCRC also included responses by the Reform Movement — the CCAR (Central Conference of American Rabbis) expressed, “strong disagreement,” and the URJ (Union for Reform Judaism) stated “we stand firmly against any UN resolution that would dictate.” We were not provided with statements from Orthodoxy or Conservative Judaism but I found that the Conservative Movement had “urged a veto,” and the RA (Rabbinic Assembly) was “profoundly disappointed.” As for Orthodoxy, the OU (Orthodox Union) and the RCA (Rabbinical Council of America) expressed disappointment.  

Are we really divided?  The NYT article did find several rabbis and others who disagreed.  Indeed, in the JCRC email, a few others, such as Americans for Peace Now and J-Street, each “welcomed” the resolution.  We Jews, who rarely gain a consensus on anything, on UNSC 2334, not so much.  

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Indeed, several of the organizations which strongly opposed this resolution also made it clear that they do not favor expanding settlements, as they have opposed settlements for decades.  The broadest consensus of leading Jewish organizations is that they oppose settlements but found this particular resolution impossible to support.  It is important for American Jews to know why, to be prepared in discussions, and to educate.  

It must be emphasized that there is no substitute for reading the resolution itself, rather than only learning about it from others.  Credibility matters. Nevertheless, I highlight what I think are the most relevant paragraphs:  UNSC 2334 calls all land the Israel captured in 1967 “Palestinian Territory,” and explicitly includes East Jerusalem, and reaffirms that Israeli settlement, including East Jerusalem, has no legal validity.  The resolution urges the “intensification and acceleration of international and regional diplomatic efforts” on the basis of previous agreements.  The resolution also calls for the parties to “prevent all acts of violence against civilians, including terror,” and calls upon both parties to “refrain from provocative actions, incitement and inflammatory rhetoric.”

According to 2334, east Jerusalem is Palestinian Territory, and is the Palestinians alone to negotiate away.  Overwhelmingly most Jews assert historic claims of 3,000 years, and that only under Israeli-Jewish control have the rights to religious access for Jews, Christians, and Muslims been meticulously safeguarded.  Supporters of resolution 2334 will need to answer convincingly why they support a resolution that legally assigns the land to the Palestinians.

UNSC 2334 urges the “intensification and acceleration of international and regional diplomatic efforts.”  Opponents argue the peace will only come about through direct negotiations. Why? There are at least five reasons:

They don’t trust the world with Jewish lives.  Several nations who are the worst violators of human rights sit in judgment of Israel.  The UN has focused obsessively on Israel, and never, at least not since 1967, in its favor.  As of last month consistently in General Assembly Resolutions calling Israel an “occupying power” 530 times, but never once a vast array of other countries, and since 1967 referring to Israeli-held territories 2,334 times, while the others, 16.  Even mass murder by regimes does not receive an iota of attention that Israel does.  Anti-Semitism abounds in Europe – from delegitimization of Jewish teachers, targeted shootings, to popular eruptions at sporting events.  Supporters of UNSC 2334 must convincingly answer:  Do you trust these regimes with Israel’s security, with Jewish lives?

Opponents of UNSC believe that true, genuine, sustainable peace will come about only through direct negotiations, and that internationalization is being pushed precisely because the Palestinians are unable themselves to be a peace partner.  By contrast, Anwar Sadat and Menachem Begin came to a negotiated and sustained agreement in 1979.  But the Palestinians are divided between those who want all of the 1967 borders, with perhaps some territorial exchanges, and those who regard all of Israel as occupied territory.  They pledge to continue an armed struggle until every inch is returned.  That is why Arafat walked away from President Bill Clinton and Ehud Barak’s generous deal and initiated an intifada.  (Ask Dennis Ross who will visit St. Louis on January 24.)  What partner is there when at least one side can’t accept even the minimum of Israel territory in UNSC 2334, let alone a negotiated settlement?  And what will Israelis gain if they still face an armed struggle and terrorism?

Opponents of UNSC might also point to absence of a peace partner in the context of the wider Arab-Muslim word in the region.  Iran threatens to destroy Israel and has a formidable military partner in Hezbollah in Lebanon.  The Arab world of these last generations, has not only murdered Jews and wiped out Jewish communities, but has done so to Christians and Christian communities, and to historical adversaries within their Arab or Muslim communities.  

 The Arab world and the Palestinians are awash in anti-Jewish, not just Israeli, rhetoric.  Do you think a side is ready for peace when it praises people who kill Jews, pays stipends for them, names streets for them, sees virtue in sending people, including teens, as suicide bombers?  

And finally, the continuous flow of false and distorted headlines, articles, and pictures in the media, particularly in Europe and in the Arab world, may intensify the emotion, but further makes opponents of internationalism distrustful of anything other than direct negotiations.

Now UNSC 2334 does call for a cessation of terrorism and incitement, but is that call enough?  The legal judgment of 2334 renders the concern for terrorism hollow, and even more, it indicates that the international community proves that it works.

On the other hand, the American Jewish community does not favor settlements, at least not additional ones or expansions.  Those who insist on settlements make valid claims that in a negotiated peace agreement, Israel will cede them, as they have done many times before, and Jews should be able to live, if they choose, on that land in a Palestinian state.  Yet, provocative land grabs do not further goals to respect the Palestinian people.  For those of us who believe it is our duty to pursue peace, as the Torah charges us to do, for the sake of peace we ought not assert our maximum claims.  Palestinians would also be advised to surrender their maximum claim to and promises to resettle Palestinian refugees inside Israel proper, something 2334 does not mention.

I believe in a principled pursuit of genuine peace.  But ignoring serious questions that affect the real lives of Jews, and Palestinians, cannot possibly bring us closer to peace.  The Jewish people, including the vast majority of Jews in Israel, are hungry for peace.  But assigning our most sacred area as Palestinian territory in a blatant disregard of Jewish history is no formula at all; disregarding the context of the UN and Europe, and the Palestinian-Arab-Muslim world in these generations is delusional; and an international imposition of peace cannot possibly create peace.  Indeed, this resolution will likely harden Israeli Jews and embolden radical Palestinian-Muslim-Arabs. 

Beware of false messianic programs for peace, whether religious or secular.  We may not have a perfect consensus, but we are hardly divided.   

Rabbi Seth D Gordon serves Traditional Congregation.