West Side (Jewish) Story

A Synagogue Supports the UN Resolution Recognizing Palestine

In November 2012 the United Nations voted to upgrade Palestine to a nonmember observer state. Although more symbolic than practical, the symbolism is strong because of the word “state”. The United Nations thus in effect recognized an independent Palestinian State. As expected, Israel and the United States voted against the motion, while almost everyone else voted in favor or, in some cases, abstained. It should be understood that it is not Hamas that is recognized, but the legally recognized Fatah organization situated on the so-called West Bank, which is willing to negotiate with Israel and has done so.

No American president, Secretary of State or even lowly politician has the courage to speak out against what a reactionary Israeli government says is necessary for its survival. U.S. cowardice and stupidity in the Middle East is akin to the Cuban blockade policy. Both are eminently counter-productive.

American Jewish organizations are naturally in the vanguard of supporting Israel and bashing Palestine...one assumes. But it ain't necessarily so. Look at what the B'nai Jeshurun Congregation of the West Side in Manhattan wrote in an email to its members:

Dear Friends,

Yesterday’s vote at the UN on Palestinian membership was a day which will go down in history, although what history will write about it only time will tell.

In this week’s Parashat Vayishlach, Jacob battles with the angel and earns the name Israel. It is the first time we are recognized as the people of Israel. Our own struggles were rewarded exactly 65 years ago on 29 November 1947 with the UN partition plan that acknowledged the right of the Jewish people to an independent state.

The Parasha also tells us how Jacob prepares to meet his brother Esau again, 20 years after fleeing from him. The risks are real — Esau has threatened to kill him. This meeting is the biblical prototype of confrontation between Israel and the nations. Before the meeting with Esau, Jacob prepares in three ways: he divides his camp in two, he prays to God, and he sends Esau gifts and conciliatory messages. These three tactics mirror the basic strategies that Israel has at its disposal: preparation for battle, prayer, and diplomacy.

We as a nation have had to rely on all three at different times. Today we feel it is critical that we remember the crucial role that diplomacy played in achieving independence for the State of Israel.

The vote at the UN yesterday is a great moment for us as citizens of the world. This is an opportunity to celebrate the process that allows a nation to come forward and ask for recognition. Having gained independence ourselves in this way, we are especially conscious of this. Every people has the right of recognition, every person has the right of recognition.

As Jews deeply committed to the security and democracy of Israel, and in light of the violence this past month in Gaza and Israel, we hope that November 29, 2012 will mark the moment that brought about a needed sense of dignity and purpose to the Palestinian people, led to a cessation of violence and hastened the two state solution.

We continue to pray for a lasting peace between Israel and her neighbors.

It is signed by rabbis Roly Matalin, Marcelo Bronstein and Felicia Sol, a cantor, Ari Priven, and the synagogue's board of directors and executive director. (The Spanish-sounding names is no accident, by the way. Several rabbis who went to the West Side of Manhattan from Argentina in the nineties are credited with rejuvenating the congregation). The reaction of the synagogue's members was mixed, with some being appalled by what they interpret as support for Israel's enemies. In general, though, supporters far outnumber the naysayers. They understand that Israel's harsh attitude towards the Palestinians can only backfire in the long run.

The vote therefore means support for the rational wing of the Palestinian movement and rejection of Hamas, whose leaders still can only think in one direction: destruction of the State of Israel. Some American Jews got it right (and they're not alone). When will Barack Obama – who no longer has to worry about big-money American Jewish backlash, join the rational peace wing and press both sides to agree on a fair settlement?

Frank Thomas Smith