Opinion

Peace Now attacks the Conference of Presidents

The American group is calling large parts of Jerusalem illegally occupied territory—and going after the Conference for not doing likewise.

Americans for Peace Now logo. Source: Americans for Peace Now/Facebook.
Americans for Peace Now logo. Source: Americans for Peace Now/Facebook.
Stephen M. Flatow. Credit: Courtesy.
Stephen M. Flatow
Stephen M. Flatow is president of the Religious Zionists of America. He is the father of Alisa Flatow, who was murdered in an Iranian-sponsored Palestinian terrorist attack in 1995, and author of A Father’s Story: My Fight for Justice Against Iranian Terror. (The RZA is not affiliated with any American or Israeli political party.)

It’s the ultimate case of biting the hand that feeds you.

Americans for Peace Now (APN) has launched a public assault on the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations—the very organization that risked its good name and credibility by welcoming Peace Now into its ranks, despite plenty of reason to turn them away.

And just to make this whole episode even uglier and more ironic, the attack by APN on the Presidents Conference is over the issue of Jerusalem—the very issue that nearly torpedoed APN’s admission to the conference back in 1993.

The new controversy started innocently enough. The Presidents Conference last week issued a routine press release applauding the decision by the State of Arizona to divest from the British Unilever company. Unilever owns Ben & Jerry’s, the ice-cream manufacturer that is boycotting numerous Jewish neighborhoods in Jerusalem, as well as communities in Judea and Samaria.

There was nothing unusual or improper about the Presidents Conference release; it’s simple good manners to thank your allies for their efforts. The people of Arizona and the state authorities need to know that the American Jewish community appreciates their stance against the boycott of Jerusalem.

But that was too much for Peace Now, which issued a sarcastic public attack on the Conference of Presidents for daring to laud Arizona. The APN press release accuses the Conference leadership of hypocrisy for—get this—opposing those who divest from Israel but supporting those who divest from Unilever.

That’s “hypocrisy”? That would be like saying that since Jews boycotted products from Nazi Germany in the 1930s, they had no right to complain when anti-Semites boycotted Jews.

Apparently, the folks at APN don’t realize that the problem is not the concept of divesting or the concept of boycotting. The problem is the difference between right and wrong. Divesting from Israel is morally wrong. Boycotting enemies of Israel is morally right, just as boycotting Nazi Germany in the 1930s was morally right.

What makes the APN attack on the Presidents Conference even more galling is its entire premise. APN claims that the Ben & Jerry’s boycott is legitimate (and therefore should not be protested) because it is boycotting “communities that are illegal under international law.”

Experts on international law are divided on whether Jewish communities in Judea and Samaria are legal or illegal. But the key point here is that those who say they’re illegal also say that many of the Jewish neighborhoods in Jerusalem are illegal.

The basis for calling those Jewish communities illegal is that they are in territories that Israel won in the 1967 Six-Day War. Well, Israel won large sections of Jerusalem in that war, too. So what APN is saying is that the following neighborhoods and sites are illegally “occupied” by Israel and therefore should be boycotted, according to international law:

The Temple Mount. The Western Wall. The Jewish Quarter of the Old City. The Mount of Olives cemetery, which is the oldest Jewish cemetery in the world. Ramot. French Hill. Gilo. Ramat Shlomo. And the mixed Jewish-Arab neighborhoods of Shimon HaTzadik (Sheikh Jarrah) and Kfar Shiloah.

For APN to call those Jerusalem neighborhoods “occupied territory” and therefore support the boycott of them is a flagrant violation of an explicit promise that APN made in order gain admission to the Conference of Presidents.

During the debate over APN’s application, back in 1993, pro-Israel activists warned that APN could not be trusted to uphold the Conference’s consensus position that all of Jerusalem belongs to Israel and should remain Israel’s undivided capital.

The activists had good reason to worry. A number of statements and actions by APN or its parent body, the Peace Now movement in Israel, had raised serious questions about the organization’s commitment to Jerusalem.

Just moments before the members of the Conference of Presidents cast their votes on the APN application, the APN leadership sent a telegram that was read aloud at the meeting, pledging to adhere to the Conference position on Jerusalem.

The Conference’s member organizations decided to take a chance. They gambled that APN would be true to its word and be part of the consensus on Jerusalem—sort of like Lyndon Johnson’s belief that it was better to have some people inside the tent than outside the tent. They put the Conference’s good name and credibility on the line.

Their gamble did not pay off.

Within two years, APN was violating its pledge. In 1995, APN leaders met with a senior PLO official in Jerusalem. As a result, the Conference of Presidents leadership sent a letter to APN, reprimanding it.

That 1995 meeting was bad enough, but the latest violation is much worse. Now, APN is in effect calling large parts of Jerusalem illegally occupied territory—and attacking the Conference for not doing likewise. It’s time for the Presidents Conference to reconsider whether APN should be allowed to continue as one of its member organizations.

APN has broken its pledge to the Conference of Presidents on Jerusalem. There have to be consequences for such outrageous behavior.

Stephen M. Flatow is an attorney and the father of Alisa Flatow, who was murdered in an Iranian-sponsored Palestinian terrorist attack in 1995. He resides in Jerusalem and is the author of “A Father’s Story: My Fight for Justice Against Iranian Terror.”

The opinions and facts presented in this article are those of the author, and neither JNS nor its partners assume any responsibility for them.
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