American Jewish Organizations' Silence On Settlements
When PLO leader Mahmoud Abbas took his case for an upgraded U.N. status to the General Assembly, American Jewish groups roundly lambasted his efforts. The criticisms of choice were Abbas's unilateralism and defiance of Israel and his U.S. benefactors. The American Jewish Committee called Abbas's attitude towards the U.S. "shameful" because "he rebuffed direct appeals from President Obama and Secretary of State Clinton." Likewise, the Jewish Council for Public Affairs chided Abbas for "disregard[ing] pleas from President Obama." And in a widely distributed memo, the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations said that, "This is a unilateral step by the Palestinians and is in complete opposition to the request made by the President of the United States."
But when Israel approved of 3,000 new settlement units east of Jerusalem in the aftermath of last week's U.N. vote—an actual unilateral move and direct affront to U.S. policy that could end all hope of a two-state solution—these U.S. Jewish groups remained silent on the decision.
The Obama administration, after strongly backing Israel in its recent war with Hamas and vociferously opposing Abbas's U.N. efforts, rebuked the Netanyahu administration, reiterating the U.S.'s "long standing opposition to Israeli settlement activity and East Jerusalem construction." White House spokesman Jay Carney implored Israel: "We urge Israeli leaders to reconsider these unilateral decisions and exercise restraint as these actions are counterproductive and make it harder to resume direct negotiations to achieve a two state solution." But Netanyahu responded defiantly Tuesday to the outcry from his country's top backer, saying, "Israel will continue to stand by its essential interests even in the face of international pressure, and there will be no change in the decision that was taken." Former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert called the announcement "a slap in the face" to Obama, whom he described as "a friend of Israel."
Despite these facts, none of the AJC, JCPA, the ADL, AIPAC, the Conference of Presidents, the Jewish Federations of North America, nor the PR firms of Rabinowitz-Dorf and 5WPR—which represent many prominent Israel advocacy organizations—responded to requests for comment on Israel's E1 construction plans. The JCPA replied only to say that it had nothing to say. Apparently, when an Israeli Prime Minister, in advancing a settlement expansion policy overwhelmingly unpopular with U.S. Jews, smacks down an American President overwhelmingly popular with U.S. Jews, major U.S. Jewish organizations believe their role is to look the other way.
The sole exception to this uniform silence among the major players has been the Union for Reform Judaism, which issued a resolution Tuesday that, even in sharing many of the reservations of other Jewish organizations, makes clear its firm opposition to "increased settlement-building activity by Israel, especially in the critical 'E1' area."
Rabbis for Human Rights–North America's Rabbi Jill Jacobs wrote in the Forward, "Today, virtually every major Jewish organization publicly voices support for the creation of a Palestinian state. However, our leadership cannot profess commitment to this solution while closing our eyes to actions that undermine this very possibility." But who says their eyes are really closed? In a Twitter exchange with Time's Tony Karon Monday, the immediate past Consul General of Israel in the U.S. Alon Pinkas said that "It's about time [Washington] figures out" that Netanyahu is not committed to the two-state solution. Perhaps it's time American Jews figure out that neither are most major institutions of American Jewry.