Policy Body Nixes Reform’s Call for Two-State Solution

By Eli Kintisch

Published February 28, 2003, issue of February 28, 2003.
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BALTIMORE — The Jewish Council for Public Affairs plenum solidly rejected a bid by the Reform movement’s Union of American Hebrew Congregations Monday to pass a resolution supporting President Bush’s call for a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The vote was 340 to 308.

Language proposed by the Reform movement on Israeli settlement policy in the territories was also rejected by the JCPA. The council brings together national Jewish organizations and local community councils for consultation and coordination on public policy. The vote marked the first time settlements or a two-state solution had been debated on the plenum floor, council officials said.

In adopting a change proposed by the Orthodox Union, the JCPA voted to simply state the president’s vision without indicating support for it. “In June 2002, President Bush outlined a vision, which contemplated the possibility of two states, Israel and Palestine, living side by side. Such a vision, however, will only be realized when a Palestinian leadership emerges that accepts the legitimacy of Israel as a Jewish state,” the final resolution stated.

The debate, tumultuous at times, started with some unexpected drama, when the Israeli embassy’s public affairs minister, Moshe Fox, approached the microphone before the plenum’s discussions even began. In order for Fox to be allowed to speak, the rules of debate had to be changed, but no one spoke out to object.

Fox questioned “what kind of message” the drafted resolution’s language on settlement policy would send to Israel’s “750 bereaved families” and “1 million unemployed.” Reform movement officials, who spent much of the evening going table to table lobbying for votes, were surprised by Fox’s appearance, but nevertheless urged that their resolution be passed.

Mark Pelavin, associate director of the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism, the movement’s public policy arm, said that the original resolution shows “emphatic support” for Israel.

Many disagreed, and the plenum voted to excise the controversial sections one by one. “Love is unconditional,” said Karen Zakalik, chairwoman of the Jewish community relations board of Buffalo, N.Y.

A paragraph declaring that Israel’s settlement policy “should reflect the long-term goal of achieving peace between the Israel and the Palestinians” was among the sections removed, failing by a 361-to-287 vote.

On the question of settlement policy, Pelavin said the issue was the American Jewish community’s “role to raise our voice and tell people what we think.”

But the American Jewish Committee’s legislative director, Richard Foltin, said that the original resolution advanced the “myth that settlements are the issue.”

Richard Stone, chairman of the O.U.’s Institute of Public Affairs, said that the settlements are “not a topic to discuss particularly right now.”

Other efforts by the Reform movement to pass the resolution as drafted included softening its language by including a statement that “the Israeli government has never allowed settlements to stand in the way of entering into peace agreements.” But in the end, this too was cut.

A separate resolution, which passed the plenum, called on American Jews to “do more to help address the social and economic inequities within Israel.” In addition to singling out Ethiopian Jews and recent immigrants as populations at risk, the resolution said that Arab residents of Israel “suffer tremendously from these problems.”

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