Whenever there is a major diplomatic development involving Israel, news reporters call the presidents of various American Jewish organizations for their comments. Naturally they are tempted to immediately respond. But the statements some Jewish officials issued in response to the Israel-United Arab Emirates deal remind us that caution is often the more prudent course.
Of course, leaders of Jewish organizations have a practical need for the public’s attention. Getting quoted in a newspaper is critical to fundraising. It demonstrates to potential donors that their particular organization is significant and valuable. It’s the donations that keep our many Jewish and Zionist organizations alive. That’s what pays for the salaries and the per diems and more.
Still, although Jewish leaders may have their reasons for rushing, to give statements and issue press releases, it’s fair to ask whether it is appropriate for a leader of a American Jewish organization to take a public stance on a major controversial issue without consulting the members of that group. Especially when it involves taking a stance that differs significantly from the traditional positions taken by that organization.
Consider the decision to suspend declaring sovereignty over any part of Judea-Samaria, in exchange for diplomatic relations with the United Arab Emirates.
This question might not apply to the various left-of-center American Jewish organizations. They have always been strongly opposed to Israeli sovereignty in the territories, so the leaders of their groups are on safe ground with their constituents on that issue. It’s hard to imagine any members of J Street or Peace Now opposing the statements which their leaders made in support of the Israel-UAE agreement. The very essence of the agreement is the fulfillment of the classic slogan that Peace Now dreamt up in the 1970s, “Peace is better than an undivided Land of Israel.”
But what about the self-described right-of-center American Jewish and Zionist organizations? What about the groups whose presidents previously asserted, in news releases and op-eds, that they strongly support applying Israeli sovereignty to Judea-Samaria?
If you look back at those pro-sovereignty news releases and op-eds before the UAE deal, you won’t find a single one that said anything like “But if there is a chance to get a tiny Gulf dictatorship to have diplomatic relations with Israel, we would gladly forego sovereignty over Judea-Samaria.”
In fact, you won’t find a single one that included any kind of a qualifier. Those news releases and op-eds asserted unequivocally that they were committed to the 3,000 year-old Jewish principle that the Land of Israel belongs to the Jewish people and that Israel should fully assert its rights, by immediately declaring sovereignty. The authors of those press releases and op-eds never even hinted that they would support suspending those rights in exchange for the opportunity to fly directly from Tel Aviv to Abu Dhabi.
Therefore, their praise of the Israel-UAE agreement on suspending sovereignty represents a major reversal of their previously stated position. So shouldn’t the people who pay dues to those organizations have a say in whether or not those groups take a brand new position on such a major issue?
Would it be so difficult for an American Jewish or Zionist organization, with their multimillion dollar budgets, to take a survey of their members? Would it be so expensive to send each of their members a ballot? We are only talking about the cost of printing and postage to send a few thousand pieces of mail. Or they could send them for free, by email. It shouldn’t be that hard.
Maybe some members of those groups would agree with their organization’s president that suspending sovereignty is a worthwhile price to pay. And maybe some would be unhappy, but would go along with it, feeling there was no alternative.
But as for the majority—a free and fair referendum might well find that the majority of members of the religious and nationalist organizations are men and women of principle, and they would say that Jewish sovereignty in Judea-Samaria is an inviolable principle that should not be surrendered, suspended, or taken “off the table.”
Remember back in the early 1990s, when there were rumors that Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin was planning to give up some or even all of the Golan Heights to Syria? Remember how right-of-center American Jewish groups began urging the Israeli government to hold a referendum, in order to find out if the Israeli public really agreed with such a drastic move?
Well, what’s sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander. The principle of democracy demands that American Jewish groups ask their members what they think, before taking drastic new positions in their name.
Joshua Goldstein is chairman of Herut North America’s US Division. Herut is an international movement for Zionist pride and education and is dedicated to the ideals of pre-World War II Zionist leader Ze’ev Jabotinsky. Joshua will be a delegate to the 38th World Zionist Congress for Herut. Herut’s website is https://herutna.org/