I’m not always a fan of congregational rabbis stepping up to the political plate, but this time the rabbis and lay leaders of Bnei Jeshurun synagogue in Manhattan really hit this one out of the park. Alan Dershowitz thinks it was a foul ball. But I’m pretty sure it was a home run.
Dershowitz wrote yesterday in the Forward about how the BJ rabbis et al didn’t seem to understand the full implications of the Palestinians’ U.N. success. The implication being that, had they just understood, they would never have sent that rash email “enthusiastically supporting” the vote by 138 countries for Palestinian statehood.
Let's start from the beginning.
Dershowitz, who writes that “the Israeli government’s official position is to welcome negotiations with no preconditions” (as though that were something reasonable and fair), winds up being the one showing “insensitivity” to our “intelligence.” It’s just silly to talk about “the Israeli government’s official position” when Netanyahu’s retributive act against the U.N. declaration is to threaten to build in E1, a move that would instigate “the fatal heart attack” of the two-state solution.
One of Dershowitz’s arguments is that, given half the chance, many of the states that voted for Palestine would not have done the same for Israel. But if the problem is recognizing Israel as a state, Abbas has done that; it should matter a lot less that some of the states that voted for Palestine don’t recognize Israel and a lot more that the Palestinians do. Many in the current ruling Likud party have made powerful remarks staunchly opposing the recognition of a Palestinian state. Netanyahu himself (with the notable, if discredited, exception of the 2009 Bar Ilan speech) has only said nice things like “I am willing to make painful compromises to achieve this historical peace” which in no way suggest any desire for a contiguous Palestinian state. And to get a sense of what such a Netanyahu “peace” would look like, one need go no further than Dore Gold’s “Defensible Borders” (in other words: Bibi’s “Palestine” would look like an archipelago of Bantustans). If Alan Dershowitz thinks that the Palestinians could or should accept such a “solution,” it’s he who’s naïve.
Others have argued that from Abbas’s perspective, this bid makes perfect sense: It’s his “last chance to bolster his support and show Palestinians that the path of nonviolence, and recognition of Israel’s existence, still offers hope.” By opposing Abbas, and all he does, we—the Israeli and U.S. governments, American Jews, and, of course Micronesia—are turning Abbas’s final push for two states into its death knell.
What is interesting about Dershowitz’s central argument is that it’s all about Jerusalem. To wit, his problem with these “well-intentioned but extraordinarily naïve rabbis and lay-leaders” was all about the City of Gold:
When they made this statement, did the rabbis realize that, according to the vote, the Western Wall (the holiest site in Judaism) is being illegally occupied by the Israeli government? … Do the rabbis realize that …the access route to Hebrew University on Mount Scopus is now on illegally occupied Palestinian land and that the Israeli government’s decision to reopen the Mount Scopus campus following the 1967 War may now also be considered a war crime? … Do the rabbis understand that… the Jewish Quarter of Jerusalem, where Jews lived for more than 2,000 years until they were ousted by Jordan in 1948, is illegally occupied Palestinian territory, and that Israel’s decision to rebuild the synagogues destroyed by the Jordanians can now be deemed a war crime?
I’m pretty sure that the rabbis know, as Dershowitz does, that East Jerusalem was illegally occupied according to international law before the November 29th U.N. vote, just as it is after it. And I’m also pretty sure that nothing—and I really mean nothing—is going to change the way Jerusalem is negotiated after the declaration of Palestine. I’ve heard it said that the status of Palestine as a nonmember observer state in the U.N. is like the status of a woman in an Orthodox synagogue—no participation. This vote might not have been just symbolic, but there’s no magic in it. In a final deal, the Palestinians and the Israelis will still have to bang out a just division of Jerusalem and even the “undivided” mantra of the American Jewish establishment isn’t going to change that.
The Israeli government—primarily Benjamin Netanyahu and Avigdor Lieberman—missed the boat on this one, but American Jews don’t have to go down with the ship. The rabbis and lay leaders at BJ seem to be the only ones willing to see that.