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American Rabbis Join Debate over Future Status of Jerusalem

January 26, 2000
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As Israel and the Palestinians continue to inch toward a final peace deal, American rabbis are debating one of the most explosive issues yet to be resolved — the status of Jerusalem.

The debate was sparked by the Jewish Peace Lobby, which announced last week that more than 300 American rabbis had signed a statement calling on Jerusalem to be shared by Israel and the Palestinians.

In response, the Rabbinical Assembly, representing 1,500 Conservative rabbis and the Rabbinical Council of America, representing 1,100 Orthodox rabbis, put out a statement on Tuesday reiterating their “previously declared organizational policies that Jerusalem is the united and indivisible capital solely of the State of Israel.”

The rabbinical organizations, in their statement, said they view “with great dismay the statement released by 300 unnamed rabbis, which wishes to promote a `shared Jerusalem,'” and added that “only Israel and her neighbors should determine conditions for peace.”

Highlighting the sensitivity of the subject, Jerome Segal, the president of the Jewish Peace Lobby and a longtime peace activist, said he did not want to release the list of all of the 314 rabbis who signed the statement because he was concerned that they would be targeted for harassment.

Segal did release the names of a number of the prominent members of the list and made available to local Jewish papers around the country names of rabbis from their areas.

Segal said it was his decision not to release a full list of the names at this time, adding that rabbis who sign such a statement “know they are taking some risks.”

Segal said he plans to take out ads discussing the statement which will list all of the signatories.

The statement, a “Rabbinic Call for Shared Jerusalem,” came after a year of reaching out to 1,200 Reform, Reconstructionist and Conservative rabbis, Segal said. He said that no Orthodox rabbis were asked to sign the statement.

Segal, a research scholar at the University of Maryland’s Center of International and Security Studies, expressed concerns that the rabbinical groups did not read the full statement or share it with its members before issuing their statement, which he said was a “knee-jerk reaction.”

Segal’s statement said that given the more than 180,000 Palestinians living in eastern Jerusalem, the question is “whether the pursuit of both justice and lasting peace requires that, in some form, Jerusalem be shared with the Palestinian people. We believe it does.”

Representatives of the Rabbinical Assembly and the Rabbinical Council of America could not immediately be reached for comment.

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