Farewell to General Assembly participants, from Tel Aviv

I think that the JFNA made a very wise choice in choosing to hold the GA in Tel Aviv.

By HILLEL SCHENKER
October 29, 2018 22:19
4 minute read.
The traditional sail-by of the Sail Tel Aviv - Yaffo watersports festival

The traditional sail-by of the Sail Tel Aviv - Yaffo watersports festival which aims to promote marine activities along the 14km shoreline of the city, September 22, 2018. (photo credit: DORON SAHAR)

Though born in New York, I have lived in Tel Aviv since 1985 (and in Israel since 1963), and I welcomed the fact that you decided to hold the 2018 GA in our fair city.

Last week, Isi Leibler issued a call to you, which began with an “expression of distress that for the first time, the Jewish Federations of North America are holding their General Assembly in Tel Aviv rather than Jerusalem.”

To provide a counter-point to his distress, I think that the JFNA made a very wise choice in choosing to hold the GA in Tel Aviv. Back when Tel Aviv was founded in 1909, there were two visionaries who claimed to be the father of the city, Meir Dizengoff, the first mayor of Tel Aviv, and Akiva Aryeh Weiss, the one who organized the division of the 60 lots on the Mediterranean shore at the end of Allenby Street – which began the whole enterprise. Weiss’ vision was that the new city would be the gateway to Zion and the Middle East, “just as New York is the gateway to the new world.” The name Tel Aviv was chosen since it was the Hebrew translation for the name of the founder of modern Zionism Theodor Herzl’s visionary novel Altneuland.

I agree with the organizers of the GA that “We Need to Talk.” There is much to be proud of in Israel’s achievements, and I consider myself a proud Israeli and Tel Aviv patriot. However, we also have our share of problems.

One of them is the lack of religious pluralism among the various trends of Judaism, something which you have developed and maintained so effectively in the United States. The fact that only Orthodox Judaism is recognized in Israel – not even modern Orthodoxy – is problematic for you and for many Israelis as well.

Actually, I would wish that we could have a separation of religion and state here in Israel, similar to what you have in the US. This would not undercut the fact that the State of Israel is the realization of the Jewish people’s right to national self-determination, but it would ensure freedom for all trends of Judaism in the state, and also for the 20% of the population that is Muslim and Christian.

Another major problem we have is the lack of a resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The key to that resolution is ending the 51 years of occupation and the establishment of a demilitarized Palestinian state alongside the State of Israel. That state would be based in the West Bank and Gaza, with East Jerusalem as its capital, with mutually agreed upon one-to-one border rectifications that would enable 80% of the settlers to remain within the new sovereign borders of the State of Israel, and a mutually agreed-upon solution to the Palestinian refugee problem. The framework for such a solution exists in the Arab Peace Initiative, which was launched at the Arab League Summit Conference in Beirut in 2002, and has been reaffirmed many times since, backed not only by all 22 Arab states, but also the 57 member states of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation meeting in Tehran.

Then we come to US President Donald Trump, who unfortunately is joining and even providing a role model for the illiberal trends spreading around the world, some of which have also influenced some Israeli government policies, such as limits on freedom of expression and the right to criticize policies that undermine the best interests of Israel.

Liebler praises Trump for moving the American Embassy to Jerusalem, merging the consulate with the embassy, closing the PLO mission in Washington and trying to close UNRWA.

None of these acts are in Israel’s interest.

The American Embassy should have moved to West Jerusalem only when a parallel American Embassy was opened to the Palestinians in east Jerusalem. The fact that the Consulate, which until now has been the address for Palestinians to communicate with Washington, is now under the Embassy’s control, means as former American Ambassador Daniel Shapiro said, that the Trump administration appears to moving away from the two-state solution toward a one-state solution. Such a state would mean the end of the Zionist dream of a predominantly Jewish democratic state. That goes against the wishes of the overwhelming majority of the Jewish Israelis and I assume of the GA participants as well.

I have a dream, in the immortal words of Martin Luther King. My dream is that Tel Aviv would be recognized as the capital of Israel, Ramallah as the capital of the future state of Palestine, while Jerusalem, like in the original Partition Plan of 1947, would be an international city, or as Jordan’s King Hussein once called it, “God’s city,” shared by all three major monotheistic faiths.

I know that won’t happen, because the overwhelming majority of Israelis and Palestinians won’t accept it, which is why the solution should be an open, shared city, with west Jerusalem serving as the capital of Israel, and east Jerusalem as the capital of the Palestinian state.

I can’t conclude this article without expressing the horror and deep condolences that I and my fellow Tel Avivians felt when hearing about the the murderous attack against the Conservative Tree of Life Congregation in Pittsburgh.  We in Tel Aviv and you in the North American Jewish community are struggling side by side against the anti-democratic, xenophobic and racist trends that are endangering our respective societies.  To paraphrase the founding father of modern Zionism, Theodor Herzl – If we will it, it is no legend.

The writer is the former vice chair and chair of Democrats Abroad – Israel, and co-editor of the Palestine-Israel Journal (www.pij.org).


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