CENTRAL CONFERENCE OF AMERICAN RABBIS
(with the support of ARZA and ARZA-Canada)
ST. PETERSBURG, FLORIDA • DECEMBER 2, 2012
THE CENTRAL CONFERENCE OF AMERICAN RABBIS, DECEMBER 3, 2012
On November 29, 2012, the U.N. General Assembly voted 138-9 to recognize Palestine as a "non-member observer state," with 41 abstentions. This change was opposed by Israel, the United States and Canada, among others, which rightly held that any steps toward Palestinian statehood must come through direct peace negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians, rather than the international body. In the words of U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, "[O]nly through direct negotiations between the parties can the Palestinians and Israelis achieve the peace that both deserve: two states for two people, with a sovereign, viable and independent Palestine living side-by-side in peace and security with a Jewish and democratic Israel.''
The URJ and the CCAR have, for decades, been vocal and engaged proponents of a two-state peaceful resolution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and has strongly opposed actions that would undercut prospects for peace. The ongoing failure to establish a viable peace poses security and other risks to Israel and is a disservice to those Palestinians who desire a peaceful future for their children and grandchildren. The U.N. vote undercuts incentives for a final arrangement that must be directly negotiated by the two impacted parties. This vote also has the potential to enable the Palestinians to challenge Israel, both diplomatically and legally, in U.N.-sponsored venues such as the International Criminal Court (ICC). Such a move would do serious damage to rebuilding the trust that needs to be fostered between Israel and the Palestinians.
A two-state solution, so vital to Israel's security and well-being, and its character as a Jewish and democratic state, as well as to the hopes for a viable Palestinian state, requires a Palestinian Authority (PA) strong enough to take political risks for peace. Endangering the viability of a PA already teetering on financial bankruptcy, or taking steps to make the prospects of returning to the negotiating table without preconditions more difficult, will only empower Hamas and its like-minded allies in Iran and elsewhere.
The recent violence in Gaza, with missiles reaching Tel Aviv and Jerusalem, and this U.N. action dramatize the urgency of resolving the underlying conflict. Many experts in Israel and the U.S. are expressing fears that prospects for a two-state solution are fading in the face of the growth of Hamas' influence, the weakening of the PA, the growth of settlements on the West Bank, and the instability in the region.
Strong steps must be taken by the U.S., Canada and the broader international community to foster the conditions for peace, including renewed negotiations and support for those voices among the Palestinians who seek peace through peaceful means. Foreign aid has historically been a key means of such support, including significant aid from the U.S. to the Palestinian Authority. This aid has, since its beginning, come with significant restrictions that have ensured it is used only by approved entities for approved purposes. (No U.S. aid is provided to Hamas, which controls the Gaza strip.)
In this context, we commended the Israeli government on its decision to refrain from calls for immediate cuts in aid. The day after the U.N. vote, however, the Israeli government announced the expansion of settlements on the West Bank, including in the critical "E1" area. (Settlements in E1-the area connecting Jerusalem to a city that is one of the larger Israeli settlements-would split the Ramallah region off from Bethlehem, effectively cutting the West Bank in two and making a contiguous Palestinian state virtually impossible. Because of this reality, previous Israeli governments have not proceeded with plans to build in this area.) Building there makes progress toward peace far more challenging, and is difficult to reconcile with the Government of Israel's stated commitment to a two-state solution. At the same time, we recognize that this week's action-beginning the permitting process for new settlement-is only the first step in a long, and by no means inevitable, process.
In response to the Palestinians' successful bid to become a nonmember observer state at the U.N., members of the United States Senate have proposed legislation that would require retaliatory measures against the PA, primarily if they use their new status to file charges against Israel in the ICC or if they fail to engage in meaningful negotiations with Israel.
THEREFORE, the Union for Reform Judaism and the Central Conference of American Rabbis resolve to:
1. Condemn the Palestinian Authority for the unilateral decision to seek upgraded status at the United Nation as counterproductive to the cause of peace , and express our deep concern to those countries that supported the upgraded status, and to those who abstained;
2. Commend the U.S. and Canada for their forceful and consistent efforts to prevent consideration of, and for their votes against, the General Assembly's decision to upgrade the formal status of the Palestinians, an action that is counterproductive to peace and undercuts negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians;
3. Call on the Palestinians to return to the negotiating table immediately without preconditions, as Israel has committed to doing;
4. Urge the U.S. and Canada to act assertively in facilitating a return to negotiations and to take other steps that would strengthen the prospects for a negotiated two-state solution;
5. Support appropriate measures if the Palestinians use their new status at the U.N. to initiate formal action against Israel via the ICC or other agency;
6. Oppose actions taken after the U.N. vote that would undercut the prospects for renewing the peace process leading to a two-state solution, including:
a. Funding cuts in U.S. or Canadian support to the United Nations;
b. Funding cuts to the Palestinian Authority, which are likely to weaken the prospects for a two-state solution, endanger the viability of the Palestinian Authority, and empower Hamas and its like-minded allies; and
c. Any reduction in the currently recognized Palestinian diplomatic presence; and7. Oppose increased settlement-building activity by Israel, especially in the critical "E1" area
“There’s got to be a sense that Israel gives non-Orthodox Jews the same kind of Jewish opportunities. Because of issues such as Anat Hoffman’s arrest at the Kotel ... North American Jews don’t see an Israel that reflects their core values,” Jacobs said in an interview with Haaretz.
The Israeli police arrested activist Anat Hoffman for leading a women’s prayer service at the Western Wall in violation of Israeli laws governing the Israeli holy site, which bar women from praying while wearing a tallit prayer shawl or from reading aloud from the Torah.
The URJ President added that American Jews are applying stricter definitions to the meaning of “pro-Israel” and the US Jewry is “afraid” to conduct internal discussions regarding Israel.
“Conversations about Israel often get polarized, so we’ve stopped having them. And that’s the worst kind of disengagement there is,” Jacobs said.
Jacobs, who is the ‘scholar in residence’ at this year’s General Assembly in Baltimore, also noted that “the ever-diminishing circle of who is included in the word ‘we’ has gotten so small that it’s a shame. There is a wider community that cares a great deal about Israel, but they don’t care within the narrow parameters that the organized Jewish world has framed.”
Jacobs is the first denominational leader and the first Reform Jew to ever serve as the Baltimore General Assembly’s “scholar in residence.”
In accordance to the Orthodox rabbi who dictates the protocol at the Kotel, a Supreme Court ruling deemed that police would block any woman who attempted to defy the tallitot ruling. Including those checked for smuggled tallitot was Bonnie Devora Haberman, one of the founders of Women of the Wall, a movement to allow more freedom for women in prayer at the Wall that began in 1988. Haberman asked the unmoved guard: "How can you say this to me? I'm a Jew. This is my state."
In 2003, it was ruled that a discreet part of the Wall would be open to co-ed prayer with tallitot, tefillin and kippahs, but women like Rabbi Laura Geller of Temple Emanuel argue that it's not enough.
We are "allowed" to convene eleven times a year in the women's sections for public prayer, as long as we move to Robinson's Arch for the Torah service. There we can wear tallitot and tefillin; there it is possible to have women and men pray together. But Robinson's Arch, while technically part of the Western Wall, is not the "main" Kotel, not the iconic symbol that so many Jews consider sacred.As some of the women who have been leading the protests are not native Israelis, the head of the ultra-Orthodox Western Wall Heritage Fund denounced the movement as an attention-seeking movement by foreigners. "They don't come here to pray, they want to protest. They hurt us, the Jewish people, by distorting the truth." However, Elana Sztokman, the director of the Jewish Orthodox Feminist Alliance says that the women's prayer movement is only one of the inevitable changes that comes along with determining a modern truce between the Jewish diaspora and the Jewish state—and the changes are probably going to be good.
Says Sztokman: "The next chapter of what it means to be a Jewish state is being defined right now. We have to figure out what does Israel want, what role do we really want religion to have in this state? And it's happening on the backs of women."
'Women at the Wall: Wrapped in Light Like a Garment' [HuffPo]
By JODI RUDOREN
Published: December 25, 2012
“The prime minister thinks the Western Wall has to be a site that expresses the unity of the Jewish people, both inside Israel and outside the state of Israel,” Ron Dermer, Mr. Netanyahu’s senior adviser, said in an interview on Tuesday. “He wants to preserve the unity of world Jewry. This is an important component of Israel’s strength.”
Mr. Sharansky, whose quasi-governmental nonprofit organization handles immigration for the state and is a bridge between Israel and Jews around the world, said that Mr. Netanyahu asked him on Monday to take up the matter, and that he expected to have recommendations within a few months. He and Mr. Dermer said the agenda would include improvements for Robinson’s Arch, a discreet area of the wall designated for coed prayer under the court ruling, and the easing of restrictions in the larger area known as the Western Wall plaza, along with the more sensitive questions regarding prayer at the main site.
Mr. Sharansky said the Jewish Agency itself stopped having ceremonies for new immigrants in the plaza about two years ago after the Western Wall Heritage Foundation, which controls the site, said that men and women could not sit together. Under pressure from the international groups that provide its financing, the agency passed a resolution on Oct. 30 calling for a “satisfactory approach to the issue of prayer at the Western Wall.”
Asked whether he could imagine a day when women could wear prayer shawls and read Torah at the wall itself, Mr. Sharansky said, “I imagine very easily a situation where everybody will have their opportunity to express their solidarity with Judaism and the Jewish people and the state of Israel in a way he or she wants, without undermining the other.”
“That’s as much as I want to say at this moment,” he added. “Now I have to share this vision with the appropriate bodies.”
Mr. Sharansky, a former Soviet dissident and widely respected figure, has been called upon before to broker peace with the diaspora over questions of religious pluralism, most recently during a harsh fight over conversion. Anat Hoffman, the chairwoman of Women of the Wall, reacted with cautious optimism to Mr. Netanyahu’s initiative, but said it would not stop the Israel Religious Action Center, of which she is executive director, from filing a Supreme Court petition as soon as next week challenging the makeup of the heritage foundation’s board.
“It’s a good thing that after 24 years the highest echelons in Israel are actually paying attention to this rift that is breaking diaspora Jews from Israel,” she said. “The table that should run the Western Wall should have everyone who has an interest in the wall sitting around it.”
Rabbi Shmuel Rabinowitz, the head of the heritage foundation, said in an e-mailed statement that he was unaware of the Sharansky initiative and therefore “does not have an opinion about it.”
While Ms. Hoffman said the women’s group would be satisfied if it were allowed to pray at the wall once a month with full regalia, her religious action center wants hours each day, between scheduled prayer times, when the gender partition is removed and people can freely enjoy the site as a cultural monument.
“If in the end what happens is that the Robinson’s Arch area will be run by the Jewish Agency instead of the antiquities department, then we’re talking about who’s going to take care of the air-conditioning in the back of the bus,” she said. “I don’t care about that. I don’t want to sit in the back of the bus. I want to dismantle the Western Wall Heritage Foundation.”
Abraham H. Foxman, the director of the Anti-Defamation League, said he discussed the wall and other questions of religious pluralism with Mr. Netanyahu in Jerusalem on Monday.
“This is a wise initiative, but it’s only a beginning,” Mr. Foxman said.