Houses can be seen at the Jewish West Bank settlement of Maale Efrayim in the Jordan Valley.
(photo credit: REUTERS)
J Street came under fire Sunday after opening its fifth annual conference in Washington over the weekend with a call for Jewish organizations to distinguish between Israel and the West Bank, including in fundraising.
“We plan to challenge Jewish communal institutions to remember the physical and symbolic significance of the ‘Green Line,’” said Jeremy Ben-Ami, president of the left-wing Middle East policy group, at the outset of its annual conference Saturday night in Washington.
Ben-Ami encouraged the 3,000 activists present to ask whether Jewish fund-raising reached West Bank settlements.
“Do the Jewish institutions that you give money to, does your money stay within the Green Line?” he asked. He also encouraged the activists, including more than 1,000 students, to replace maps of Israel in Jewish institutions with maps that clearly delineate the West Bank.
An official in Jerusalem said that since much of Jerusalem, including the Old City, is over the Green Line, if J Street is calling on American Jews not to be involved in institutions in the capital “that would show how far out of the consensus they are and to what extend they are not connected to reality.”
In all the various peace plans that have been put on the table over the years, the official said, including the Geneva Initiative and the Clinton parameters, the Jewish neighborhoods of Jerusalem stay part of Israel.
“So what are they saying?” he asked.
Several American Jewish organizations also came out strongly against J Street’s call, including B’nai B’rith International, which said: “We totally disagree. In essence this is a call for a boycott, which is destructive for the prospect for peace.”
Rabbi Avi Shafran, spokesman of the haredi umbrella group Agudath Israel of America, told The Jerusalem Post that regardless of one’s position on the two-state solution or its current feasibility, and no matter one’s opinion of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, it is “unconscionable” – especially for a Jewish group – “to seek to punish a close ally by, ‘selectively’ or otherwise, joining its worst enemies’ tactics.”
Israel, he said, is a “sovereign country,” and while in an ideal world the territories would be a part of a peaceful and demilitarized Arab state, such a world “still beckons from a very great distance.”
Rabbi Yosef Blau, president of the Religious Zionists of America, likewise objected harshly to J Street’s campaign, telling the Post that Israelis had voted in a democratic election and even if the lobbying group is disappointed with the results, he sees “no reason for Jewish organizations in America to support J Street over the Jewish people.”
Morton Klein of the Zionist Organization of America went even further, asserting that J Street’s “ugly position” was proof it was a “pro-Arab group.”
“Why isn’t J Street asking the Jewish community to condemn the Palestinian alliance with the Nazi-like Hamas, Abbas’s websites calling for the murder of Jews, his paying pensions to families of Jew killers and demands that no Jews be allowed in Palestine?” he asked.JTA contributed to this report.