LEAKED: Full text of letter by Reform & Conservative movements, ADL, others to President Trump regarding annexation of West Bank

Editor’s note: selected quotes from this letter have already been printed in the JTA article “Reform and Conservative movements join letter asking Trump to oppose Netanyahu bids to annex territory” (April 12, 2019). The Zooming Etrog has obtained the full text, which we print below.  

Dear President Trump,

We write to you asking you to help preserve the two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict by opposing the annexation of the West Bank. West Bank annexation is a topic that is currently being debated in Israel, and was endorsed right before the election by Prime Minister Netanyahu himself as an electoral pledge. We realize that you do not actually support the two-state solution, but we respectfully ask you to help preserve it anyway.

We believe that annexation will lead to greater conflict between Israelis and Palestinians. Not only that, annexation will create intense divisions in the United States and make unwavering support for Israel and its security far more difficult to maintain. It might even be more off-putting than Israel’s policies of shooting unarmed demonstrators, child detention, family separation, home demolition, and deportation of African asylum seekers.

In addition, annexation will severely undermine, if not entirely eradicate, the successful security coordination between the State of Israel and the Palestinian Authority. If the PA collapses, people will realize that it has very little actual power, and then people will be unable to say, “Look at Abbas on his fourteenth year as president — my, my, those Palestinians are not ready for their own democracy yet!”

Annexation would also galvanize efforts such as the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions movement that are intended to isolate and delegitimize Israel. We know you are working on laws against that, though, so if you find this point less compelling, that is understandable.

We respectfully request that you affirm — even though you have not done so yet after being repeatedly asked — long-standing bipartisan consensus that the two-state solution is the essential path to an Israel existing alongside a future state of Palestine in peace and security. We ask that you declare that the United States will not support any Israeli proposals to annex the West Bank, in whole or in part.

If you ignore this letter, we will maybe send another with slightly stronger wording. (You did not even invite us to your meeting at the White House tomorrow, so there’s nothing we can do besides sending another letter.)

Signed,

The Central Conference of American Rabbis

The Union for Reform Judaism

The United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism

The Rabbinical Assembly

MERCAZ

The Anti-Defamation League

Ameinu

The National Council of Jewish Women

The Israel Policy Forum


P.S. — Some of us applauded1 2 the relocation to Jerusalem of the U.S. Embassy to Israel. Even though this seems like an obvious move toward annexation, especially since the United States also closed its consulate location that primarily served Palestinian residents of the city, Palestinian relations are now overseen by pro-settlement Ambassador David Friedman, and the new Embassy building literally says “Embassy, United States of America, Jerusalem, Israel,” we did not think that it was actually a step toward annexation. Huh.

Last remaining member of Meimad offers brief post-election thoughts

NAHLAOT, JERUSALEM — The Zooming Etrog found the last remaining member of Meimad, Meir Ben-Oni, walking out of Nahlaot’s heavily Anglo shul Kol Rina after Shacharit on Wednesday morning. Meimad is a left-leaning religious party founded by Rabbi Yehuda Amital in 1999. It is largely considered to be defunct, not having run in this year’s elections nor having held a seat in the Knesset since 2009, under an agreement with Labor.

Commenting on Netanyahu’s projected re-election as prime minister, Ben-Oni said, “Look, we really couldn’t have expected any better. I spent all my energy trying to get my friends to vote for parties that weren’t outright fascists. For some of them, a vote for [Israeli Prime Minister] Bibi [Netanyahu] was a victory.”  

In response to Netanyahu’s statement that video surveillance of Arab polling places was necessary to make sure that the results were “kosher,” Ben-Oni also shared his thoughts.

“I don’t think Bibi should be the mashgiach [kashrut supervisor] of his own elections. And the only time we should be performing video surveillance on the goyim is to make kosher cheese production less economically burdensome by relying on the Rema.1”  

When asked how this was relevant in Israel, which already has an abundance of kosher cheese and Jews to add rennet, Ben-Oni replied that he had made aliyah from the United States fairly recently, in response to the election of Donald Trump. But after having lived here for the last two years, he is starting to plan a move back to America.

“Since I’m planning my return, I guess I’ve started thinking of halakhic questions from that frame of reference again,” he said.  

“My sal klita [economic assistance] has run out, and the other benefits for olim hadashim are starting to expire now too, so I’m not sure how much longer I’m going to stay here,” Ben-Oni continued. “Not that I can say I’m looking forward to explaining my move back. There was no critical discussion about Israeli politics in my community back home — the closest we came was going to AIPAC conferences whenever we could get the cost subsidized.”

“Even when I did a gap year in yeshiva before college, we didn’t talk much about politics. Except for maybe that time Rav [Hershel] Schachter visited us and explained under what circumstances someone should shoot the prime minister.2”    

“I didn’t realize this until I moved here with the intention of staying permanently, but basically, this place is f***ed.”

Hillel CEO, who has previously threatened legal action against students for controversial speakers, decries ‘crisis’ of free expression on campus

Dramatic reversal as Hillel International president and CEO Eric Fingerhut announces support of open discourse, shocking Jewish student activists.

Eric Fingerhut, President and CEO of Hillel International; Photo: Hillel International website

WASHINGTON — Eric Fingerhut, president and CEO of Hillel International, recently spoke on a panel at the Bipartisan Policy Center entitled “Crisis on Campus: The Future of Free Expression and Intellectual Diversity.” In a stunning about-face, Fingerhut — whose organization has previously suppressed student debate on issues related to Israel, including via lawsuit threats — now says that he realizes the importance of open discourse.

“We do need to be attentive to the cases that exist when we end up in a situation where there really is sort of an enforced way of thinking on any set of issues and students feel oppressed, truly unable to fully express their identities,” Fingerhut said. 

Hillel International, the largest Jewish campus organization in the world, has gained attention in recent years for their Standards of Partnership, which do not allow Hillel chapters to “partner with, house, or host organizations, groups, or speakers” that “delegitimize, demonize, or apply a double standard to Israel” or “support boycott of, divestment from, or sanctions against…Israel.” In response, students formed the Open Hillel campaign in late 2012 to protest these policies and instead support a Jewish communal conversation that also includes opinions that they encounter on the campus at large. In practice, Hillel’s policies often exclude perspectives that range from liberal Zionist,1 if more harshly critical of Israel, to non- and anti-Zionist views.

Until this surprising reversal, Hillel has consistently thwarted students’ efforts to engage with dissenting opinions within their campus Jewish communities. In 2015, Hillel threatened to sue students for hosting speakers that violate their Israel policies.

(above) Hillel International’s letter threatening to sue Swarthmore College’s Hillel chapter should they host a panel of civil rights activists, some of whom supported BDS. Photo: Open Hillel Facebook page

Even association with offending groups has had consequences, in at least one known instance where Hillel disaffiliated a group for being one of fifteen co-sponsors of an event unrelated to Israel, because one of the other co-sponsors supported BDS. 2

More recently, Hillel has taken their ideological interference outside of campus Jewish institutions, such as by endorsing the nomination of Kenneth Marcus — who has a long record of targeting First Amendment rights of pro-Palestinian students and endorsing vague definitions of antisemitism that would include any criticism of Israel — as the leader of the Office for Civil Rights at the US Department of Education. 3

Yet at the event, Fingerhut reportedly explained that the idea that certain views on Israel “should be banned or defeated rather than studied and discussed is so prevalent [on campus] that it intimidates Jewish students and others, excludes them from some campus organizations and activities, and discourages them from openly sharing their views.”

“It can result in censorship of student behavior so they can’t fully engage in the life of the campus community,” he said. He suggested a wider range of programming and guest speakers could be helpful for ensuring diversity of viewpoints, adding, “[I]f we find ourselves in a position that a train of thought is not being represented on campus, we should take steps to make sure it is represented.”

Open Hillel has tweeted at Hillel International to ask when the Standards of Partnership will be officially rescinded so that they can declare the end of their campaign. We will update with new developments.