(JTA) — Hundreds of Conservative Jews have signed an open letter opposing their movement’s support for U.S. recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.
The letter, first published Sunday night, has garnered some 250 signatures in its first 36 hours online. All of the signatories are affiliates or alumni of the Jewish Theological Seminary, the movement’s leading educational institution, or the United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism, the movement’s umbrella organization. Dozens of the signatories are rabbis.
After President Donald Trump formally recognized Jerusalem as Israel’s capital last week, the Conservative movement’s institutions released at least three statements, all of which supported the move. The JTS statement said it was “heartened” by the recognition. A movement-wide statement, signed by those institutions and 11 more, said the movement was “pleased” with the decision.
“The status of Jerusalem is a matter to be settled in direct negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians,” the movement-wide statement said. “But in recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and planning to move the American embassy to a location under uncontested Israeli sovereignty, the U.S. government acknowledges the age-old connection that Israel and the Jewish people maintain with the holy city.”
The only note of criticism appeared in the USCJ’s statement. While saying “Israel, like all nations, must be free to determine its capital,” it added, “we question the purpose of the recognition at this time.” All three Conservative statements make extended reference to the need for a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
“What’s to be gained by doing it now at this moment?” USCJ CEO Rabbi Steve Wernick told JTA on Tuesday, adding that recognizing Jerusalem was “always viewed as something the U.S. could do to leverage the parties to move toward peace. That’s the context that’s missing.”
But, he continued, “how can we as a people who understand that Jerusalem has been the capital of the Jewish people for 3,000 years, and of the State of Israel for 70 years, not welcome the decision?”
The letter from dissenters opposes U.S. recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, which was signed Dec. 6, on the grounds that it will inflame tensions in the city, risking lives, and will reduce prospects for peace.
“We believe that support for President Trump’s announcement is both politically shortsighted and morally unsound,” the letter reads. “It has already cost the lives of several Palestinians and will surely cost more. As institutions committed to Kevod HaBriyot, human dignity for all peoples, JTS and USCJ should neither be ‘heartened’ by nor ‘applaud’ a decision that will lead to violence, further entrench the occupation, and damage prospects for peace.”
The Reform movement called the decision “ill-timed” and said it could not support the decision absent a comprehensive plan for a peace process, while Orthodox organizations enthusiastically supported it.