Cheers for US vice president Joe Biden’s criticism of settlements at the Reform movement’s recent convention reflect a long-standing position of the organization and a controversy that has divided Jewish communities and undermines support for Israel and Zionism: Are Jewish communities built beyond the 1949 Armistice Lines – the “settlements” – legal, legitimate, and part of the Zionist vision? Unfortunately, Israeli administrations and leaders have not addressed this question.
Recently, two American professors who claim to be Zionists wrote an op-ed in The Washington Post supporting campaigns to boycott Israel because of “Israel’s occupation of Palestinian territory.”
Although criticism of Israel by Jews and Israelis is not unusual, few have crossed the red line of what is considered legitimate criticism.
But it’s a line that begged to be crossed. If Israel’s policy is wrong in their view, why should it be tolerated? Since criticism of “the occupation” and settlements is raised by Israelis, the media and the international community all the time, why should anyone be surprised or upset that non-Israeli liberal Progressive Jews also hold these views and join the crusade against Israel? Progressive Judaism defines itself as a movement for social justice, civil and humanitarian rights, gender equality and pluralism.
It’s a Jewish tradition. Jews are and have been in the forefront of efforts to help those in need, the suffering and persecuted. It’s a biblical commandment: charity, concern for the stranger and the prohibition of taking advantage of someone who is less fortunate, especially an indentured servant – and, above all, the desire for peace.
It is argued that this is the reason why many Progressive Jews support another Palestinian state, “ending the occupation” and eliminating settlements.
But while advocating “pluralistic Judaism” in Israel is consistent with the Reform movement’s theological position, Israel’s settlement policy has nothing to do with religious belief or practice. It is political and affects only Israeli Jews.
Opposition to settlements supports Arab insistence that violence against Israel is legitimate “resistance against Israeli occupation.”
Disguised in rhetoric of “the peace process,” “the two state” delusion, and “two states for two peoples” opposition to settlements and support for Palestinianism ignores Israeli security and the threat of jihad.
Ostensibly humanitarian arguments like “the right of Palestinians to self-determination” confuse the issue by ignoring the meaning of Palestinianism as clearly stated in the PLO and Hamas covenants: Israel’s destruction.
Since there is consensus in Israel that settlements are a strategic asset and there is no longer any possibility of removing them, the Reform movement’s opposition is difficult to understand.
Most Israelis agree that withdrawing from “the occupied territories” would turn these areas into launching sites for more terrorist attacks. Moreover, the large number of Jews living in there – more than a half million – has passed well beyond the point of no return.
If destroying Israeli settlements is not a realistic possibility, harms Jews and Israel and no Israeli government would even consider such a move, why do liberal Progressive Jews continue to promote it? Although some current and former Israeli leaders, academics, writers and pundits support calls to “end the occupation” and champion the cause of Palestinianism, they have little popular support at home. All recent Israeli polls indicate increasing support for settlements and disenchantment with Palestinian promises.
Even Arab Palestinians are deeply divided about “the two-state solution.”
And few Israeli Arabs – even those who despise Israel – would be willing to give up their privileges as Israeli citizens.
A recent Israel Democracy Institute survey revealed that 83.4 percent of Israeli Arabs prefer to live in Israel rather than move to the US or Europe, and rate their situation as “good” or “very good.”
Yet, in another survey by Prof. Sami Smooha of Haifa University, at least 57% of Israeli Arabs said that they support the radical Islamic Movement; other polls indicate widespread support of violence against Jews – demonstrating the power of ideology over well-being.
Similarly, the Nakba (catastrophe of Israel’s establishment) remains a rallying cry for hatred and incitement, even though everyone understands that it is practically irrelevant. Although Arabs focus on “settlements” built after 1967, they don’t ignore those which were established before.
Opposition to settlements is also the heart of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement and Arab and Muslim efforts to destroy the State of Israel.
The dispute over settlements, moreover, is exploited by the PA/ PLO.
Ironically, PA President Mahmoud Abbas in his recent UN address quoted Yitzhak Rabin that Israeli settlements are a “cancer.”
But settlement-building continued during Rabin’s tenure, as well as all Israeli administrations because settlements are a national priority which insures defensible borders; they are essential to Israel’s security, economy and its survival.
Progressive Jews, especially those affiliated with the Reform and Reconstructionist movements, organizations like J Street and the New Israel Fund, and pro-Palestinian NGOs led by Progressive Jews like Peace Now, T’ruah, Tayush, Yesh Din, Rabbis for Human Rights and B’Tselem leverage their political power and funding outside of Israel in order to change Israeli policies, but they ignore the consequences.
Opponents of settlements who claim to be “liberal Zionists” don’t want to destroy Israel, only to destroy settlements and “end the occupation.” But their demands contribute to Israel’s demonization, endanger its citizens and place Israel at risk – and, therefore, are fundamentally anti-Zionist and anti-Israel.
In 1937, the Reform movement, in its Columbus Platform affirmed “the obligation of all Jewry to aid in [Palestine’s] upbuilding as a Jewish homeland by endeavoring to make it not only a haven of refuge for the oppressed but also a center of Jewish culture and spiritual life.”
Now that's something to cheer.