Breaking rank with most Jewish organizations, America’s largest synagogue movement is calling on Israel to declare a moratorium on new building in East Jerusalem, following the latest dispute over plans to build 1,600 new housing units in the Ramat Shlomo neighborhood.
Rabbi Eric Yoffie, president of the Union for Reform Judaism, called for the move on a March 18 with rabbis and URJ board members.
“I see no reason why Israel should renounce her claim to all of Jerusalem as Israel’s eternal capital, or her right to build anywhere within Jerusalem’s borders. But there are many reasons why Israel should consider a temporary moratorium on all such building,” Yoffie said, adding that such a move could strengthen ties with the U.S. and would potentially help Israeli-Palestinian peace talks.
The leader of the Reform movement stressed that his call does not imply the group does not support the idea of a united Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. He also said that the Reform Movement does not believed Israeli construction in East Jerusalem is illegal, “but a great many things that are legal are not prudent or wise — and building in Arab sections of Jerusalem in the current political climate is one of those things.”
U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton had asked Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu not to issue further building permits in East Jerusalem, but Netanyahu, according to press reports, turned down this request. In his remarks, Rabbi Yoffie called the Israeli decision to announce new building plans in East Jerusalem during the recent visit of Vice President Joe Biden “a serious miscalculation” and said most American Jews agree with the administration that the Israel move was “an error.”
Yoffie’s call for a housing moratorium in Jerusalem put the Reform movement at odds not only with the Israeli government, but also with most other Jewish groups. The Conference of Presidents of Major Jewish Organizations issued a statement on March 16 saying the issue of building in East Jerusalem was never a condition for talks with the Palestinians, and that issuing new plans to build in this area does not contradict Israel’s commitment for a temporary settlement freeze.
The Union of Reform Judaism is an umbrella group of more than 900 synagogues throughout North America; those synagogues represent an estimated 1.5 million members.
Nathan Guttman, staff writer, is the Forward’s Washington bureau chief. He joined the staff in 2006 after serving for five years as Washington correspondent for the Israeli dailies Haaretz and The Jerusalem Post. In Israel, he was the features editor for Ha’aretz and chief editor of Channel 1 TV evening news. He was born in Canada and grew up in Israel. He is a graduate of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.