I have often joked (only partly in jest) that my gravestone will say, “Is it good for the Jews?” That shouldn’t be surprising. I am a Jewish philanthropist and an activist who loves Israel; I have lived in Israel and I visit multiple times a year. Jewish tradition is important to me as well.
It is with all this in mind that I have a question to ask the Jewish Federations of North America: Why alter your long-standing policy of respecting the Green Line, which is the Israeli and internationally respected border of the State of Israel? Why are you considering taking community missions across the Green Line? Is it good for the Jews?
As reported, JFNA has been considering two changes. The first would allow Israel Action Network trips to visit Israeli and Palestinian-controlled areas over the Green Line in order to “impart to participants both the Israeli and Palestinian narratives which necessarily includes visits to Palestinian towns over the Green Line.” (One of IAN’s goals is to build strong relationships with the non-Jewish community, including political, civic and faith leaders, and to educate them about Israel.) This change was approved.
The second change, which began as a technical trip-insurance issue but has implications so great that it was decided to delay the vote, was to allow community missions planned through the JFNA to travel “into Israeli-controlled territories beyond the Green Line (e.g., Ariel or Gush Etzion, etc).” Note that the permission being sought for these trips under JFNA auspices was to Israeli-controlled areas, not Palestinian-controlled ones. And no mention is made of understanding both narratives over the Green Line.
This shift — even of the policy itself — would have long-term implications on America’s relationship with Israel and perhaps on Israel itself. It raises critical concerns. American Jews overwhelmingly support a two-state solution and there is broad consensus in America that Jewish settlements are an impediment to this outcome.
JFNA, your own website describes your group as “the largest grassroots organization representing the North American Jewish Community to the Government of Israel, Knesset members and municipalities.” Why then would you want to blur the distinction between Israel and the territories over the Green line? In this decision, are you really representing the North American Jewish Community?
The American Jewish relationship with Israel is a very important one and it needs to be strengthened. You know this. You nurture this connection. That is why you are JFNA and that is why we need and value you.
As American Jews, we have a significant role to play. We love Israel and can help its people to see themselves in a mirror, just as they can help us to see ourselves. We, American Jews, can lovingly and with conviction show Israelis that, as an organized community, we don’t cross the Green Line, particularly to visit the settlements, because we are afraid that by doing so we may unintentionally embolden those who oppose a two-state solution. In the loving relationship we hold with one another, I am confident there is value to the State of Israel in knowing that one of the largest legacy organizations in American Jewish life still recognizes that some land is “conquered forty-nine years ago but not formally annexed.” And I am confident that those in Israel who toil for a two-state solution will appreciate this beyond measure.
Some will argue that “everyone” easily crosses the Green Line. First, there is a difference between crossing the Green Line as individuals and crossing the line as one of the leading American Jewish communal organizations. Second, I know many Israelis who try to avoid crossing the Green Line and scores of students who would never consider studying at the new university in Ariel, one of the places you suggested you’d bring JFNA trips, precisely because it is in disputed territory.
Finally, there are organizations whose purpose it is to help people understand the issues of the settlers and the Palestinians living West Bank. If American Jews are interested in learning more about how the Jews and Palestinians across the Green Line, how they think about their lives and their political views, they can travel with one of the organizations for whom this is a primary purpose. Indeed, they could travel with IAN. In fact, I would urge all of your constituents — and certainly all of your board members and leaders — to participate on a trip sponsored by one of these organizations, because whether we like it or not, the Israel-Palestine conflict is a defining issue of Israel in our time, and it deserves this type of attention from American Jews, not a one-day visit.
We, the American Jewish community, correctly fault the Palestinians for not showing the Green Line or the State of Israel on their maps. Many American Jews have also despaired that 75% of Israeli maps similarly do not show the Green Line but rather show all the combined land as Greater Israel. Why would JFNA run into the same trap and erase the consciousness of the Green Line from its work? JFNA as an organization has had a thoughtful, intentional, decades-old policy and it should maintain this stance. Then, not on JFNA’s grave — because my hope is that this generation’s stewards will help the organization to thrive — but rather on your conscience, you can know that what you chose in 2016 was “good for the Jews.”