Last week, among the flood of daily press releases, I received an unusual statement. The American Jewish Committee issued a release rejecting the Levy Report, which said that settlements in the West Bank are legal and that most unauthorized outposts should be recognized by the government.
Statements condemning this report, of course, are not unusual. The US State Department itself criticized the findings, as well as a bevy of NGOs and activist groups.
But most of those objections did not come from mainstream Jewish organizations who see defending the Jewish state as central to their mission. Indeed, my quick review of websites for the Anti-Defamation League and B’nai B’rith, which have similar missions and standing in the center of the American Jewish community, turned up no similar perspective.
In general, these Jewish groups feel that enough other organizations out there are committed to criticizing Israel, so even if there are things that Israel does with which they disagree, it has to be exceptional for them to be willing to pile on.
Apparently, the AJC felt that was the case with this report. The decision to jump in on this issue highlights the extreme public sensitivities regarding settlements, and how their legitimacy in the American Jewish mainstream is not secure.
Still, the AJC went to lengths to underscore that the organization does see Israel’s presence in the West Bank as legal, and in fact was objecting to the report for reasons of tactics rather than principle.
"It''s clear to us that Israel''s role in the West Bank does not fit the standard legal definition of ''occupation,''" AJC Executive Director David Harris said in the statement. "But what may be legal is not always wise. The Commission''s recommendations that the Israeli government lift key restrictions on settlement and outpost construction, and legalize unauthorized outposts, would pose costly and unnecessary political and diplomatic challenges.” He elaborated: "If accepted by the government, the commission''s findings would offer an unearned excuse for Palestinian resistance to a return to peace talks with Israel” and would "interfere with the message that Prime Minister Netanyahu and previous Israeli governments have sent for the last two decades of a profound commitment to a negotiated two-state solution.”
The call from within the Jewish world might carry more weight than those outside it. At the very least it shows that all of the opposition to the report isn''t merely a knee-jerk response from those looking to criticize Israel.
- Hilary Leila Krieger