On Jerusalem Day, Don’t Write Off Liberals


May 12 (Iyar 28) will mark 43 years since the Israeli army’s triumphal entry into the Old City of Jerusalem. This is certainly a moment for the Jewish People to celebrate the restoration of Judaism’s holiest sites to our people.

Recently, however, rather than providing a moment for us to come together to celebrate our spiritual patrimony, Jerusalem Day has been seized upon by some as an occasion to divide us, to push aside those who are pro-Israel and pro-peace and to impugn their devotion to Israel. We are told that we must either adopt an uncompromising view on the future status of Jerusalem including its conquered Palestinian neighborhoods or be written out of the pro-Israel community.

The reality of Jerusalem is complex, and has been throughout its history. The “official” view that presents Jerusalem as seamless and undivided is inaccurate, and it is misleading and unconstructive to accord the same measure of holiness granted to the Western Wall to every new Jewish suburb or Palestinian village that is added to the city by expansion. Furthermore, the notion that Jerusalem can be both undivided and shared is viewed as naïve, and those who suggest such an alternative are accused of disloyalty, or even of endangering the State of Israel itself. If we want to talk peace, we’re told, Jerusalem must not be on the table. But, of course, this precludes genuine negotiations.

In recent weeks, some in the “pro-Israel” camp have made clear that they have little interest in promoting substantive peace talks, including any discussion of the future of Jerusalem, which in the eyes of the world remains to be resolved. This has become part of a larger pattern of resistance to any progress towards peace, under the false assumption that the status quo is beneficial for Israel and can be sustained. The assertion by President Obama that progress toward peace between Israel and the Palestinians is vital both for Israel and for the United States is claimed as evidence that Obama is hostile to Israel.

It’s time for the pro-Israel, pro-peace community to speak out. It must not allow itself to be intimidated by well-intentioned but ultimately dangerous voices whose resistance to genuine progress towards peace endangers the future of Israel as a Jewish and democratic state.

Jerusalem is the spiritual heart of the Jewish people — the whole Jewish people. But Jerusalem belongs to the whole Jewish people, not to one side of the political spectrum. What could be more politically offensive than using our attachment to Jerusalem’s holy sites to forestall progress on resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict? What can be more dangerous to Israel’s future than placing obstacles on the road to peace through a two-state solution that respects the differing narratives of two peoples? 

At a recent protest over Palestinian home evictions and demolitions in the east Jerusalem neighborhood of Sheikh Jarrah, Israeli author David Grossman offered a scathing indictment of our heretofore uncompromising attitude: “We actually cultivated a kind of carnivorous plant that is slowly devouring us,” he said, “consuming every good part within us, making the country we live in a place that isn’t good to live in. Not [for anyone] … who cherishes some hope to be in a place where … humanity, morality, and civil rights aren’t dirty words.”

The ongoing conflict threatens not only our values, but the State of Israel itself. The demographic realities indicate that it will soon be impossible to maintain a state that is both demographic and Jewish. Israel’s security and prosperity can only be achieved through a negotiated two-state solution, whereby a peaceful and viable Palestinian state lives alongside a secure Israel. Jerusalem can remain undivided and serve as the capital of two independent countries. This is only solution that is compatible with both our interests and our values and will restore Israel’s standing in the international community.

A majority of American Jews already knows this to be true. Jerusalem Day is the appropriate occasion for us to come together and reaffirm our commitment to peace. “Jerusalem” means “city of peace” and “city of wholeness.” We need to come together on Jerusalem Day to support a peace, strategic, spiritual and ethical, which leads to a restoration of relationships and an end to the demonization of the other.

On this Jerusalem Day, I pray with the Psalmist: “Pray for the well-being of Jerusalem; May those who love you be at peace. May there be well-being within your ramparts, peace in your citadels. For the sake of my kin and friends, I pray for your well-being; for the sake of the house of the Lord our God, I seek your good.”

Rabbi David Gordis is the former president of Hebrew College and a member of J Street’s rabbinic cabinet.


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