A group of prominent American Jews is circulating an online petition supporting the Obama administration’s “vigorous encouragement” of Israel and the Palestinians to “make the concessions necessary” to advance the peace process.
The petition, posted at forthesakeofzion.org, claims to have been inspired by the European Jewish Call for Reason, otherwise known as J Call. A petition that this group submitted to the European Parliament on May 3 condemned Israel’s policy of establishing settlements in the occupied West Bank and in Palestinian-dominated East Jerusalem as “morally and politically wrong.” The American group’s petition cites and supports that characterization.
The American petition’s signers are, for the most part, known doves in the Jewish community. They include demographer Steven M. Cohen, historian Hasia Diner former senior Clinton administration official Peter Edelman, retired federal appellate court judge Abner Mikva, Forward publisher Samuel Norich and Jeffrey Solomon, president of the Andrea and Charles Bronfman Philanthropies. The petition was organized by Cohen and by Leonard Fein, a Forward columnist.
The initiative comes at a time of heated debate within the Jewish community over the peace process and the particular issue of Jerusalem’s final status. In early May, President Obama had a White House lunch with writer Elie Wiesel, who had penned a letter calling on the president to ease pressure on Israel over the status of Jerusalem.
Titled “For the Sake of Zion,” the new petition argues that a two-state solution is crucial to Israel’s interest if it is to remain both Jewish and democratic. The American letter calls for a construction freeze in the “disputed” territories, which presumably include East Jerusalem.
There are apparent differences between the American and European petitions. While the European J Call asks the European Union and America to “put pressure on both parties,” meaning the Israelis and the Palestinians, the American version calls instead for “vigorous encouragement” by America of the parties to make concessions to each other. “The word ‘pressure’ is obviously an inflammatory word,” Fein said. “Our objective is not to inflame, but to persuade.”
The American letter calls on the Palestinians to forswear terrorism and their claim to a right of return. It calls on the Israelis to split sovereignty of Jerusalem and to “dismantle the settlements considered illegal under Israeli law.” No mention is made of controversial but legal West Bank settlements, including those in Hebron and Ariel.
A total of 89 people had signed the online petition as of press time. The petition went online May 13.
Contact Josh Nathan-Kazis at email@example.com
Josh Nathan-Kazis is a staff writer for the Forward. He covers charities and politics, and writes investigations and longform.