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On Jerusalem, Breaking a Taboo

Rabbi Yosef Kanefsky, the spiritual leader of a Modern Orthodox Los Angeles synagogue, has penned a tremendously brave article in this week’s L.A. Jewish Journal. In it, he writes:

The question of whether we could bear a redivision of Jerusalem is a searing and painful one. The Orthodox Union, National Council of Young Israel and a variety of other organizations, including Christian Evangelical ones, are calling upon their constituencies to join them in urging the Israeli government to refrain from any negotiation concerning the status of Jerusalem at all, when and if the Annapolis conference occurs. And last week, as I read one e-mail dispatch after another from these organizations, I became more and more convinced that I could not join their call.

It’s not that I would want to see Jerusalem divided. It’s rather that the time has come for honesty. Their call to handcuff the government of Israel in this way, their call to deprive it of this negotiating option, reveals that these organizations are not being honest about the situation that we are in, and how it came about. And I cannot support them in this.

These are extremely difficult thoughts for me to share, both because they concern an issue that is emotionally charged, and because people whose friendship I treasure will disagree strongly with me. And also because I am breaking a taboo within my community, the Orthodox Zionist community. “Jerusalem: Israel’s Eternally Undivided Capital” is a 40-year old slogan that my community treats with biblical reverence. It is an article of faith, a corollary of the belief in the coming of the Messiah. It is not questioned. But this final reason why it is difficult for me to share these thoughts is also the very reason that I have decided to do so. This is a conversation that desperately needs to begin.

No peace conference between Israel and the Palestinians will ever produce anything positive until both sides have decided to read the story of the last 40 years honestly. On our side, this means being honest about the story of how Israel came to settle civilians in the territories it conquered in 1967, and about the outcomes that this story has generated.

The full article is very much worth reading.

Among hawks and doves alike, there are those who see everything in black-and-white, whose top priority is feeling affirmed in their own certitudes and feelings of self-righteousness. On the left, these are the people who insist with complete certainty that Israel would have peace, if only it behaved justly — ignoring the Jewish state’s very real security concerns (not to mention the agency and culpability of the Palestinians). On the right, those who want Israel to hold onto every inch of the West Bank conveniently conclude that peace is not possible anyway (and turn a blind eye — and a hard heart — to Palestinians’ legitimate grievances).

Rabbi Kanefsky definitely does not fall into either of these camps. That’s why his voice is so refreshing, particularly since he hails from a community that has been known more for zeal on this issue than for thoughtfulness. One can only hope that his article will be widely read and openly debated within the Modern Orthodox world. Let the conversation begin!


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