EDITOR’S NOTE: This letter was sent to Westchester Jewish Council president Lisa Roberts and executive director Elliot Forchheimer after the council praised President Trump’s decision to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, and to move the U.S. embassy there.
As a longtime organizational member of the Westchester Jewish Council, we are writing to express our strong disagreement with both the substance of your recent statement celebrating President Donald Trump’s declaration on the status of Jerusalem, and the process by which you made it.
Our congregation, Mishkan Ha’am, is a Reconstructionist movement affiliate, based in the Rivertowns/Yonkers/Riverdale area for the last 20 years. As a result of significant concerns expressed by many members of our congregation about your recent statement on the president’s declaration, the Mishkan Ha’am steering committee voted unanimously to register our objection to your position.
The statement issued by the WJC is at odds with the position of the Reconstructionist movement, which disapproves of — rather than celebrates — the president’s unilateral action. As noted below, concerns within the Jewish community about the president’s action are not limited to the Reconstuctionist movement.
Your jubilant statement took at face value the notion that President Trump’s decision to change longstanding American foreign policy, and unilaterally declare Jerusalem the capital of Israel, was not only “Jewish history in the making,” but beneficial to Israel’s long-term security and efforts to achieve “a true and enduring peace” in the Middle East. Our concern with your statement is that it does not appear to recognize the complex dynamics of peacemaking and the reason why American presidents of both political parties have long deferred making any unilateral statements about the final status of Jerusalem.
The Reconstructionist Rabbinical College, Jewish Reconstructionist Communities and the Reconstructionist Rabbinical Association of the Reconstructionist movement expressed our concerns about President Trump’s decision well in a Dec. 6 statement, noting that his decision to formally recognize Jerusalem outside the framework of Israeli-Palestinian peace negotiations dangerously ignored “the need for careful and constructive diplomacy by the U.S. when dealing with a place as utterly unique as Jerusalem, where deep religious, historical and national claims overlap.”
And it warned that the “abrupt disruption of the diplomatic status quo by the U.S. on this unusually sensitive and explosive issue may lead to dangerous unintended consequences, including renewed escalations of violence and terrorism.”
The leadership of the Reform Jewish movement also made clear that President Trump’s brash declaration was “ill-times” and that it could not support his decision to begin preparing to move the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem from Tel Aviv, “absent a comprehensive plan for a peace process.”
With so much at stake, now is not the time to stay silent or imagine that unilateral action outside the framework of Israeli-Palestinian peace negotiations will magically forge a path to a “true and enduring peace.”
On such a critical topic, we believe that the WJC leadership should have recognized the sensitivity, complexity and nuance of this issue, and refrained from issuing a statement until after engaging the WJC member organizations. We are troubled by the lack of process.
One key purpose of the council is to give voice to the “united concerns of the Westchester Jewish community.” But your statement was issued without any prior consultation of the WJC’s membership, and thus cannot be said in any way to reflect a meaningful survey of the Jewish community’s views on President Trump’s unilateral decision.
As dues-paying members of the council, we believe we are entitled to a voice and a vote on major statements made in our name.
The author is president of Mishkan Ha’am.
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