The leaders of Conservative Judaism this week denounced plans by Israeli Jews to purchase land in order to “expand Jewish settlements” which lie beyond the pre-1967 borders. Will that denunciation be applied to the numerous Conservative synagogues and schools that are located beyond the pre-1967 borders?
According to news reports, Mercaz-Olami, the world organization for Conservative Judaism, blasted the Jewish National Fund (Keren Kayemet L’Yisrael) for planning to purchase private Arab-owned land in or near Jewish communities in Judea-Samaria.
What makes this news especially remarkable is that Conservative Jewish institutions are located in those same “settler” communities that the Conservative leadership now wants to stop from growing.
Let’s start with “Tali,” the Conservative, or Masorti, network of schools and school programs in Israel. Tali can practically be described as a Jewish settler project. It was designed by residents of French Hill, a section of Jerusalem that is almost entirely beyond the pre-1967 border. In fact, the very first Tali school was established in the French Hill “settlement.”
Obviously, I don’t think French Hill is any more of a “settlement” than Tel Aviv. Nor do the residents of French Hill consider themselves “settlers.” But when Mercaz Olami declares that the JNF should not buy land in the “West Bank,” it is adopting the definition of that territory which is used by the Palestinian Authority and the United Nations. It is the PA and the UN who say that anything beyond the 1967 line is “occupied territory.” And that’s what Mercaz Olami is accepting in the premise of its new position.
In any event, this discussion does not end in French Hill. Not even close.
There are also Tali schools in the “settlements” of Gilo and Pisgat Ze’ev. There is a Conservative synagogue in the “occupied West Bank” city of Ma’ale Adumim. There is a Conservative congregation, Kehilat Shorashim, in the “settlement” town of Har Adar. There’s another, Shevat Achim, in “occupied” Gilo, and there’s one called “Ramot Zion” in French Hill.
I imagine life must be particularly complicated for members of Ya’ar Ramot, a Conservative congregation on Even Shmuel Street in the Jerusalem neighborhood of Ramot Bet. Part of the neighborhood is within pre-1967 Israel, the other part is what the PA (and, apparently, Mercaz Olami) calls an “illegal Jewish settlement.”
Now here’s where it gets even crazier—part of Ramot’s Even Shmuel Street is on one side of the line, and part is on the other. A congregant on his way to the Ya’ar Ramot synagogue on Shabbat morning might be “illegally trespassing in occupied Palestinian territory” while walking on the sidewalk, but not if he’s walking in the street.
My point, of course, is to illustrate the utter absurdity of Mercaz Olami’s position. Jewish land purchases in Judea-Samaria are not any more “inflammatory” than is a Tali school in Pisgat Ze’ev or a congregant on his way to shul in Ramot.
What happens when that Tali school wants to grow? What happens when enrollment reaches the point that the classrooms are overflowing? What happens when an Arab neighbor is willing to sell some of his private land adjacent to the school grounds? Does the Tali school administration have to obey the dictates of Mercaz Olami, and forego any hope of ever growing, because the Palestinian Authority doesn’t want Jews buying land to expand “West Bank settlements”?
What about that synagogue in Ramot, on the street that straddles the Green Line? What if it needs to expand its social hall, or increase the size of its parking lot? Is the congregation to be prevented from growing, because of the arbitrary demands of the United Nations, which Mercaz Olami is following?
What about those Tali schools and Conservative congregations in Ma’ale Adumim and Gilo and Pisgat Ze’ev? Should they expect that sooner or later, they will be shut down and expelled, because the international community says they are illegal and obstacles to peace?
The position taken by Mercaz Olami is an outrage. Not only because it is ironic, given the number of Conservative institutions in “occupied territory.” And not only because it is hypocritical, for denouncing the growth of Jewish communities in those territories, while setting up Conservative schools and synagogues in the very same areas, presumably because rent is cheaper there.
No, it is outrageous first and foremost because it is so fundamentally unjust. It treats the Green Line as some kind of inviolable, sacrosanct marker. But that’s nonsense. There is nothing holy about the 1967, really a 1948, line—it was an armistice line, determined by momentary battlefield conditions during a war, not by justice or law. If a Jordanian tank column happened to have reached a certain point when the armistice was declared, that point became the “border.” Sorry, but that’s not how the borders of the Land of Israel are supposed to be determined.
Jews have a right to live in the Jewish national homeland, whether the PA and the UN like it or not. Jews who purchase land from Arabs, whether in Ma’ale Adumim or Gilo or anywhere else in Israel, Judea or Samaria are doing nothing wrong and nothing that prevents peace.
Stephen M. Flatow is a vice president of the Religious Zionists of America, an attorney in New Jersey and the father of Alisa Flatow, who was murdered in an Iranian-sponsored Palestinian terrorist attack in 1995. He is the author of “A Father’s Story: My Fight for Justice Against Iranian Terror.”