The most pressing issue facing Israel and American Jews is whether the newly-formed Netanyahu-Gantz unity government will extend Israeli sovereignty over portions of the West Bank as it has pledged to do. It is widely anticipated that such a move will be announced by July 1. The proposed action has generated considerable controversy among those who enthusiastically favor such a plan and those who vehemently oppose the idea.
It is not surprising that, among American Jewish groups, the usual suspects have come out to denounce the proposed move. Progressive Jewish organizations are nominally “pro-Israel” but routinely criticize every Israeli action. J Street, Americans for Peace Now, the Jewish Democratic Council of America, Israel Policy Forum, the New Israel Fund and others of their ilk have been at the forefront of those condemning the Israeli plan. The progressive Forward publication ran an op-ed entitled, “If Israel proceeds with annexation, American Jews will socially distance—from Israel.”
Such is to be expected. These groups and their donors exist to excoriate Israel and to ingratiate themselves with their progressive friends who oppose every Israeli move, be it sovereignty or legitimate self-defense. Thankfully, their views represent a minority of American Jews. Among all Americans, there is overwhelming support for the State of Israel. So the expected denunciations by these progressive Jewish groups can and should be easily dismissed.
What is more surprising, and disturbing, is the silence of mainstream Jewish organizations, who have elected to bury their heads in the sand on this vital question. Groups such as AIPAC, Stand with Us, the Conference of Presidents of Major American Organizations, the American Jewish Committee and others have tried to maintain a neutral position on the vital question of sovereignty. Stand with Us equivocates that “as a non-partisan Israel education organization, StandWithUs respects Israel’s democratic process and does not take positions on such controversies regarding Israeli policy.”
It is likely that the silence of these organizations on this pivotal yet controversial issue arises from concerns that taking a stand may cost them their progressive donor base. Specifically, they fear offending progressive Democrats, who have increasingly adopted the anti-Israel rhetoric of Israel’s enemies. As has been said in another context: “it’s all about the Benjamins, baby.”
However, it is precisely on such controversial matters that the constituents of these organizations need guidance and education, especially in the face of an unrelenting campaign of criticism and distorted facts by those who oppose Israel’s plan. In response to the often repeated charge that Israel’s proposed move will mean “the end of the two-state solution,” it must be stressed that this solution has long been defunct, as the Palestinians have rejected generous offers to create their own state on at least six occasions (in 1937, 1948, 1967, 2000, 2008, 2013) in the past century.
Mainstream Jewish organizations, such as Stand with Us, Jewish Federations, AIPAC and others, should be at the forefront of educating their constituents that the Jewish claim to Judea and Samaria goes back at least 3,000 years and is supported by literary, historical and archaeological evidence. They must explain that, in 1967, the State of Israel legally acquired territory in Judea and Samaria in a defensive war after being attacked by Jordan, which had itself been illegally occupying the land for the previous 20 years. They should advocate that Jewish settlements in Judea and Samaria are lawful and consistent with international law, as the U.S. government recently underscored.
These Jewish groups must emphasize that the present Israeli plan will extend sovereignty only to present Jewish settlements and will in no way interfere with Arab cities or the vast majority of Arab residents. They will continue to be governed by the Palestinian Authority as agreed under the 1995 Oslo Accords.
These groups must clarify that the plan does not prevent the granting of Israeli citizenship to the Arabs who will fall within the domain of Israeli sovereignty. The silent Jewish organizations must explain that the plan does not foreclose the possibility of an independent Palestinian state in the remaining 70 percent of the West Bank where the vast majority of Palestinians reside, should they eventually choose to pursue peace.
There is simply no excuse to stand on the sidelines during this existential debate merely because the issue is “controversial.”
It is said that during this time of coronavirus, major Jewish organizations are suffering due to decreased donations. The virus may well be responsible for a considerable decline in support, but another virus may be at play here as well. The virus of fear is also rampant: fear of offending one’s donors, one’s neighbors, one’s friends and relatives by taking a position that is unpopular but morally and historically correct.
Perhaps American Jews have grown weary of supporting organizations that lack the courage to distinguish themselves one from another. Perhaps they are hungry for an organization that trusts Israelis to act in their own national interest just as citizens of other countries do. Where is such a major Jewish organization among the American landscape today?
At some point, Israel will extend sovereignty over the Jewish portions of the West Bank. The status quo cannot continue indefinitely until the Palestinians miraculously decide to live in peace next to the Jewish State, a fantasy progressives continue to cling to despite all evidence to the contrary. It is at long last time to face reality and move on.
As Rabbi Hillel wisely said: “If not now, when?”
Steve Frank is an attorney, retired after a 30-year career as an appellate lawyer with the U.S. Department of Justice in Washington, D.C. His writings on Israel, the law and architecture have appeared in numerous publications, including “The Washington Post,” “The Chicago Tribune,” “The Jerusalem Post,” “The Times of Israel” and “Moment” magazine.