‘Sign here!’

‘Sign here!’

Petition effort launched against likely unilateral Palestinian statehood bid

Sign here. That is what Jewish organizations across the country are asking people to do in e-mails and up-close-and-personal appeals in advance of next month’s opening of the United Nations General Assembly. In this area, many rabbis have joined the effort, although not everyone is doing so.

Earlier this month, the Jewish Community Relations Council of New York, in cooperation with the Israel Action Network (IAN), a nationwide Israel-advocacy initiative, drafted a petition calling on the U.N. to reject an expected Palestinian Authority initiative for a unilateral declaration of Palestinian statehood.

Across the country, rabbis and other Jewish communal leaders have begun to circulate the petition. As of noon on Wednesday, more than 45,000 people had signed it.

While both President Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton have stated that the United States will oppose the initiative should it come before the General Assembly, local Jewish leaders interviewed this week said that American Jews should not take the U.S. position for granted – and that they should continue to make their voices heard on the issue.

Rabbi Neal Borovitz, religious leader of Temple Avodat Shalom in River Edge and chair of the JCRC of the Jewish Federation of Northern New Jersey, said he believes the Jewish community can unite around this issue.

“Support for a negotiated settlement between Israelis and Palestinians [as opposed to] an imposed settlement by the U.N. or any other outside body, is a position we can stand on united, irrespective of other differences,” he said.

Asked whether it is appropriate for rabbis to circulate so political a petition to members of their congregations, Borovitz said yes. In fact, he said, he is circulating the petition to members of his congregation and urging his colleagues to do the same.

“I think there is a very distinct though sometimes hard-to-see line between partisan political activity from the pulpit and standing up and speaking out on issues of social and moral concern,” said Borovitz. “We have the right and responsibility to speak out on issues that impact us.”

Rabbi David-Seth Kirshner, religious leader of Temple Emanu-El in Closter, said he is not sure whether he will circulate the petition to members of his congregation, but if he chooses not to do so, “it will not be because I don’t think rabbis should take a stand, including on political issues. If we don’t, it’ll be because we have 150 things on our plate and this may not be the way we want to go about” standing up for Israel.

That said, he added, “I think it’s an imperative part of our job description to do this kind of thing. Strong rabbis are those who take a stand…. We don’t want rabbis so concerned everything must be pareve – we want to hear what rabbis believe.”

Rabbi Ilan Glazer of Temple Beth El of North Bergen said that he will not promote the petition. He will, on the other hand, discuss it with members of his congregation and “leave it up to individual congregants whether they want to sign it.” He added that, personally, he “would like the petition to go even further to suggest ways we could get the process rolling again. The petition is against unilateral statehood, but what are we for and how do we get the parties back to the negotiating table?”

Only one local Jewish leader who opposes the petition campaign spoke with the Standard by press time.

The leader, a rabbi who wished to be anonymous, said, “I don’t agree with a unilateral declaration, but I don’t think [opposing it] is a good idea,” he said. “Sixty years later, we are resentful the Arab world was against us [when Israel was declared] so for us to go on record opposing [Palestinian] statehood seems like a step backward.”

Hindy Poupko, director of Israel and international affairs at the JCRC of New York, defended the reasoning that led to the petition effort.

“Lobbying efforts are under way to get as many countries as possible to vote against the unilateral declaration of independence,” she said, “but it’s always important to couple lobbying efforts with grassroots initiatives. We felt there was a need for our community on a local and national level to take a public stand against the Palestinian effort to seek unilateral recognition at the U.N. this September. We decided an online petition would give an opportunity for individuals to go on the record to have their voices heard.”

Poupko said that the petition does not oppose Palestinian statehood, only a unilateral declaration outside the Israeli-Palestinian peace process and its potential use as a way to diplomatically isolate Israel.

“The petition is explicit in supporting Prime Minister [Benjamin] Netanyahu’s vision of two states for two peoples….[We] believe the only true path to peace is through direct negotiations between the two parties.”

Poupko added, “The success of the petition both in its numbers and diversity of co-sponsors speaks to the degree to which this message has resonance.”

The 73 co-sponsors listed at the bottom of the petition include Coalition of 100 Black Women, an advocacy organization whose membership is composed of “progressive women of color,” according to its Bergen/Passaic chapter’s website (www.ncbwbergenpassaic.org); dozens of Jewish federations; JCRCs; and synagogue movements across the United States.

What the petition says
A petition calling on the United Nations to reject an expected call for Palestinian statehood reads, in part: “We, the undersigned, call upon the 193 Members of the United Nations to vote against endorsing a unilaterally declared Palestinian state and to promote the resumption of bilateral negotiations. We are of the belief, as reaffirmed by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in his May 24, 2011, speech to the United States Congress, that a central goal of direct negotiations between the Israelis and the Palestinians is the establishment of two states for two peoples – a Palestinian state alongside the Jewish state in secure and recognized borders. A unilateral declaration of a Palestinian state would serve only to undermine a lasting and negotiated peace agreement and deepen the conflict.”
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