Last Friday, the UN Security Council approved a resolution declaring that Israeli communities in the West Bank and East Jerusalem are the primary impediments to peace between Israelis and Palestinians. It passed 14-0-1, with the United States abstaining rather than vetoing the resolution. Then yesterday, Secretary of State John Kerry delivered a long speech outlining his views of the conflict and focusing in great depth on how the Israeli occupation of the West Bank impairs an eventual two-state solution and imperils Israel's identity as a Jewish and democratic state.
It is hard to say something new about the conflict or to bring a new perspective for those who have thought about it and are knowledgeable. I am writing for a few reasons. One, whenever something this major happens that affects Israel and Jews, it is important to stand up, even to repeat things that I have said or written, or that others are also saying. Two, there are among the readers here people who could learn something new or be sparked to go and learn more. Third, even though what I am writing is interpretation and evaluation, rather than adding new facts, there is a value for people in hearing what things sound like from a particular perspective. I think if you know me, you know that even when I am in my own voice, I try to speak or write with respect for people who don't share my perspective.
This has all been about the time and place of these statements, since there is nothing new in them. And my reaction is that the resolution and the speech are careless, ineffective, and to some degree insulting attempts to advance peace. I say this as a rabbi who declared on Rosh Hashanah 2014 from the pulpit that Palestinian life and freedom have become part of the Jewish story, and that I hope one day that we will see ourselves as Jews as among of the agents of Palestinian freedom.
Careless -- because the language of the UN resolution continues the trend of lumping together historic Jerusalem, including the Western Wall, with the small settlements in the middle of Palestinian areas that have no specific relation to Israeli security. The resolution enshrines the practice of BDS (boycott-divestment-sanctions), the primary tactic of western anti-Israel groups. Though the language distinguishes between economic boycotting of pre-1967 Israel and the territories, BDS groups claim for instance that all Israeli defense activities are intertwined with Palestinian suffering.
Ineffective -- because the moves only strengthen hard-liners on all sides – Israeli, Palestinian, BDS activists. Those are the only groups that have gained something this week. There is no group supporting a two-state solution, or some other imaginative solution, that is stronger because of the American acts and words than they were a week ago. There is no group in that category that has more resources, power, or influence so far as I can see. From a cost-benefit analysis, the U.S. moves are counterproductive.
And I say that the resolution, and Secretary Kerry's speech, are insulting, because of the particular haughty tone. I have been trying to put my finger on it, and what I came up with is that Secretary Kerry in particular sounds like a father or an older brother. President Obama has often spoken in a similar tone. Here's the experiment: Read Secretary Kerry's speech and imagine an American leader or diplomatic speaking in parallel terms about France, Great Britain, India, or even Russia. This sounds like family talk. You never hear an American leader rhapsodizing about his or her many experiences in France as preface to a policy speech, or invoking Churchill in the way that Secretary Kerry and President Obama speak about Shimon Peres. (This isn't a recent thing – President Clinton was the same about Prime Minister Rabin, and many American politicians on the right and to some extent on the left talk about Israel in this way.)
And so Secretary Kerry declared with indignation that Israel has to choose between being a Jewish state and a democracy... as though no Israeli has thought of this, and as though that is not the present debate within the State of Israel! At one point in his speech, he actually stated that most Israelis don't know what he knows about the extent of Israel's system of control in the West Bank. This is ludicrous.
The six principles that Secretary Kerry outlined for an Israeli-Palestinian peace are squarely within the consensus for those who do believe that Palestinians have national rights. They aren't new in any way either. If Secretary Kerry were serious about doing something to advance peace, he would also lay out thoughts just as meticulous and well-informed about the other obstacles to peace right now. Again, the fireworks here about Israel are in the way of an actual strategy for bringing peace closer.
I do realize that the familiar, family relationship of the United States and Israel of course is the source of the unique alliance, and that Israel benefits in many concrete and consequential ways. This is part of a broader theme about Jews' place in this country, which I plan to write and speak more about, especially after the inauguration at some point.
Within my own Jewish world, I do believe that Zionism is about Jews' taking responsibility for our own power and decisions. The debate over the West Bank, which has intensified since Prime Minister Netanyahu's reelection, is a real one in Israel right now, even within the governing coalition. For those of us who are Jews not living in Israel, we have responsibilities both in solidarity with Israel and vis-a-vis the Palestinians who live under Jewish-majority jurisdiction. That's why I take the role of both fighting back against unfair and counterproductive moves against Israel, and facing the moral responsibilities of governing another people against their will. In the latter vein, I encourage you to follow Rabbi Donniel Hartman, an Orthodox-Zionist teacher in Jerusalem -- here are thoughts regarding this week.
If you are anywhere near us in New Hampshire, I urge you to come on Sunday morning, February 12, to a presentation about the Six-Day War by Michael Harris, cosponsored by the Southern New Hampshire Jewish Men's Club and Temple Beth Abraham's Lifelong Learning Committee. As we roll out more programs, toward the 50th anniversary of the unification of Jerusalem, I hope you will both attend and help us plan. This is only the beginning of a year that will see both that anniversary, and the 100th anniversary of the Balfour Declaration, the first official international recognition of the idea of a “Jewish National Home.” We have much to learn and to do.
Chag urim sameach – may you all have a joyful rest of this holiday, filled with light in all ways.