The Jerusalem Gambit, The Presidents Conference And Peter Beinart

The more I think about it, the more I see why left-of-center pro-Israel groups like J Street and Americans for Peace Now are bouncing off the walls about last week's ad on Jerusalem by the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations.

The ad and the thinking behind it may also be good evocations of what Peter Beinart is talking about in his current, hugely controversial essay in the New York Review of Books entitled “The Failure of the American Jewish Establishment.” That establishment, ostensibly representing a Jewish majority that still tilts to the progressive side, is being adroitly pulled to the right – fueling, in Beinart's view, a growing estrangement, particularly among the young, from Israel.

By invoking Jerusalem in an emotional context, by repeating the unchallengeable fact that the city is central to Judaism and then coupling that to what seems like an absolutist position that goes against the core assumptions of all recent Israeli-Palestinian negotiations, the Presidents Conference ad seemed to be staking out a political, not a moral or religious, position on negotiations that probably a majority of American Jews would reject.

It's one thing to say Jerusalem should be Israel's eternal capital, and argue against a re-division of the city; I don't hear many Jews arguing for a return of the Mandelbaum Gate.

It's another thing to repudiate 17 years of Israeli-Palestinian negotiations that assume at least a nominal compromise on a city that now encompasses much more territory than it did before 1967.

Isn't that what the Presidents Conference is doing when it says in the ad “There are not two Jerusalems. There is only one Jerusalem. For us, Jerusalem is not subject to compromis?”

Take Jerusalem out of the peace process and there is no peace process. 

Does the Presidents Conference now reject the position of previous Israeli governments that Jerusalem is a key “final status” issue, to be decided by the two sides who will have to -dare I say it ? – compromise?

When you say “no compromise,” that's sure what it sounds like.

Is that a position advocated by all Presidents Conference member organizations? I have a hard time believing that the Reform movement, among others, sees Jerusalem as something that must not even be talked about – although when I asked him, Rabbi Eric Yoffie, president of the Union for Reform Judaism, refused to criticize the Jerusalem ad.

It seems particularly cynical to put at the center of the ad the late Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin – the Israeli leader most responsible for structuring a peace paradigm that sees Jerusalem as one of the critical “final status” issues that must be part of any eventual Israeli-Palestinian peace agreement.

The ad lauds efforts to force the State Department to move its embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem – ignoring the fact Rabin urged pro-Israel groups here not to press for the legislation.


About the Author
Douglas M. Bloomfield is a syndicated columnist, Washington lobbyist and consultant. He spent nine years as the legislative director and chief lobbyist for AIPAC.