(February 16, 2021 / JNS) The U.S. Reform movement last week denounced plans by Israeli Jews to purchase land in order to “expand Jewish settlements” that lie beyond the pre-1967 borders. I wonder how that denunciation will be applied to the Israeli Reform Jews whose own settlement has been steadily expanding over the years, including beyond the pre-1967 borders.
In a sternly worded declaration, Union for Reform Judaism president Rabbi Rick Jacobs blasted the Jewish National Fund (Keren Kayemet LeYisrael) for planning to “purchase private land” in order to “expand Jewish settlements.”
The idea of preventing Jews from engaging in private business transactions with Arabs, or other non-Jews, has a long and unsavory history. The 1939 British White Paper infamously declared that in 95 percent of (western) Palestine, Jews would not be allowed to buy land from Arabs.
There is no need to recall other government-directed bans on Jews doing business in various parts of the world during that era. Everyone knows where such discrimination can ultimately lead.
Moreover, you would think that Rabbi Jacobs and his colleagues, who say they support Jewish-Arab coexistence, would be delighted when Jews and Arabs behave in normal, cooperative activity like purchasing each other’s goods, services or property.
But what really illustrates the absurdity of the URJ’s position is how it might impact the Reform movement’s own “Jewish settlers” in the territories.
I’m referring to the town of Tzur Hadassah, seven miles south of Jerusalem. It didn’t start out as a “West Bank settlement.” It was established way back in 1956 on a site that the residents of the Arab village of Ras Abu Ammar had abandoned in the 1948 war.
As the years passed, Tzur Hadassah expanded. It had to. No town could survive if it stayed the same size as when it was established in 1956. That’s called “natural growth.” The residents had children. They built homes and schools, stores and factories. Synagogues, too, eventually including a Reform congregation, Kehillat Tzur Hadassah, headed by Rabbi Stacey Blank.
On her blog, Rabbi Blank writes that she “loves to be in the awesome nature of the Land of Israel.” As it happens, the eastern edge of Tzur Hadassah’s portion of the Land of Israel now crosses into the dreaded “West Bank.”
On Google Maps, you can see how far Tzur Hadassah’s natural growth has proceeded over the years: Some streets on the eastern side of town now extend out past where the old pre-1967 line was. That makes some residents of Tzur Hadassah’s Ha-Anafa Street and Ha-Nachliel Street “West Bank settlers,” according to the definition adopted by the Arabs, the United Nations—and the Union for Reform Judaism.
Life suddenly got a lot more complicated for Rabbi Blank and her congregants!
Tzur Hadassah’s bus lines have a number of stops on those two streets. If Rabbi Blank and her congregants heed the declaration by Rick Jacobs and the URJ, none of them should ever ride those buses; after all, that would make them complicit in “settlement activity.” In the bad old days in America, some citizens were made to sit in the back of the buses. Well, in Tzur Hadassah today—if its Reform congregants are true to the words of Reform Judaism’s leader—they should not ride on some buses at all.
There’s more. Tzur Hadassah sits on Route 375, an Israeli road that runs extremely close to the pre-1967 line. Near Tzur Hadassah, Route 375 connects to the Tunnels Road (Highway 60), which is beyond the 1967 border. You can bet that a large number of Tzur Hadassah residents use the Tunnels Road because the alternative routes to their hometown are circuitous and time-consuming.
I wonder how many members of Rabbi Blank’s own congregation use the Tunnels Road. I wonder what those congregants think about the two roadblocks on the Tunnels Road—the roadblocks that stop Palestinian Arab suicide bombers from reaching Tzur Hadassah and other Jewish communities. The roadblocks that left-wing American Jewish critics of Israel are always saying should be dismantled because they inconvenience some Arab drivers.
I feel bad for the members of Tzur Hadassah’s Reform congregation. I really do. They’re in quite a pickle. Either they accept the apartheid-like implications of the Union for Reform Judaism’s position—by refusing to drive on certain roads, ride on certain buses or buy houses on certain streets in their town—or they risk being denounced by their own religious leaders. Last week, Rabbi Jacobs announced to the world that Jewish land purchases beyond the 1967 line are “inflammatory and harmful.” Which must make Tzur Hadassah’s road construction and bus routes equally “inflammatory and harmful.” Ouch!
My point, of course, is to illustrate the utter absurdity of the Union for Reform Judaism’s position. Jewish land purchases in Judea and Samaria are not any more “inflammatory” than Tzur Hadassah’s bus routes. The Tzur Hadassah residents who happen to live on a particular street are not “harmful” to peace, any more than Jews who live anywhere else in the Land of Israel.
There is nothing holy about the 1967 line. It was an armistice line determined by arbitrary battlefield conditions during a war, not by justice or law. Jews who purchase land from Arabs—whether in Tzur Hadassah or anywhere else in Israel, Judea or Samaria—are doing nothing wrong and nothing that prevents peace.
Stephen M. Flatow is a vice president of the Religious Zionists of America, an attorney in New Jersey and the father of Alisa Flatow, who was murdered in an Iranian-sponsored Palestinian terrorist attack in 1995. He is the author of, “A Father’s Story: My Fight for Justice Against Iranian Terror.”
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