WASHINGTON (JTA) – The call for American Jewish organizations to support the current peace efforts came from an unexpected direction: Israel’s Chief Rabbi Yonah Metzger. For years closely associated with the right-wing National Religious Party, Metzger recently asked representatives of American Jewish groups in Washington to “influence the American administration” to do their utmost for the success of the Annapolis peace conference.
He even had a specific idea: American Jewish organizations should use their political influence to arrange for Israeli and Palestinian religious leaders to be present in Annapolis, at the time of the conference, to give the conferees spiritual support.
Israel’s chief rabbi was accompanied by the head of the Palestinian Muslim courts as well as by other Jewish, Muslim and Christian leaders. They all made pleas similar to Rabbi Metzger’s, which were very moving. So moving, in fact, that their interlocutors – representatives of American Jewish organizations – were too embarrassed to tell the distinguished clerics that America’s large national Jewish groups are not even expressing public support for Annapolis, let alone actively working to make it succeed.
Most American Jewish groups are either silent or, worse, they are seeking excuses to avoid supporting this peace effort.
Americans for Peace Now and several other dovish groups publicly endorsed the Annapolis process. But except for them, hardly any Jewish organization has lauded the Bush administration’s renewed interest in Israeli-Palestinian peace. Hardly any group has commended Prime Minister Ehud Olmert for his bold statements of commitment to seeking a final settlement with the Palestinians.
When asked by reporters to explain the silence, leaders of the largest national Jewish organizations – people who typically are happy to voice an opinion on almost anything – say that it’s too early, that the current process is too short on specifics.
Well, it’s not. The Annapolis conference is around the corner and its goals, as laid out by Olmert and U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, are quite simple:
The idea is to turn the two-state solution from a vision into a reality by relaunching bilateral Israeli-Palestinian negotiations. Unlike past efforts, however, this one hopefully will be supported by Arab countries and other international stakeholders.
It also offers a “political horizon” for Israelis and Palestinians: a joint commitment in advance to address all outstanding “core issues” of the conflict, including borders, the future of Jerusalem and the future of Palestinian refugees. You can either support this initiative or oppose it. But how can American friends of Israel stay indifferent to it?
Some say the Annapolis process is not likely to succeed. They may be right. A reasonable dose of skepticism is certainly healthy. But skepticism ought not be an excuse to deny support for this effort.
Most mainstream Jewish organizations, as a part of their mission statement, claim to support the policies of the democratically elected government of Israel. By failing to support Israel’s current peace policy, these Jewish groups are not only being untrue to their principles. They are also taking part in turning justified skepticism into a self-fulfilling prophecy.
It is not surprising to see the ultranationalist, dogmatic groups rise in opposition to the peace efforts. The American Jewish extreme right always has resisted and always will resist Israel’s efforts to rid itself of its occupation of the West Bank.
But where are the centrist, non-messianic, mainstream Jewish groups that say they support Israel’s quest for peace?
Earlier this month, in a speech that warmly endorsed the Annapolis process, Olmert called on regional and international leaders to “be open to hope and face the genuine and clear risks and difficulties so that the process may move ahead.”
Jewish community leaders are well advised to heed the pleas of Israel’s political and spiritual leaders.
Ori Nir is the spokesman of Americans for Peace Now.