Chicago Jewish community unites on position regarding Palestinian unity government

Yesterday, JUF’s  Jewish Community Relations Council passed a consensus position “urg[ing] Congress to conduct a timely and thorough review of the new Palestinian unity government to ensure its makeup does not violate, in letter or spirit, current U.S. law, and then to proceed in accordance with that law and longstanding U.S. policy.”  

JCRC consists of 48 member organizations representing a broad religious and advocacy spectrum of the Jewish community.  Skip Schrayer, chair of JCRC, said, “for the JCRC to reach a consensus on an official position proves yet again that despite differences on a range of issues, what unites our community is a love for Israel and a staunch commitment to advocating for her safety and security.” 

The JCRC policy statement, along with a list of member organizations and how they voted, can be read here.

Addressing the JCRC delegates by videoconference in advance of the vote were, from Washington D.C., Laura Blumenfeld, the State Department’s Senior Advisor for Israeli-Palestinian Negotiations, and Ofer Bavly, Director General of JUF’s Israel Office and former senior member of the Israeli Foreign Ministry.

Blumenfeld outlined the administration’s positions and responded to questions from JCRC delegates. In her opening remarks, Blumenfeld laid out some of the key criteria for continued cooperation with the Palestinian Authority including:

·        Upholding non-violence;

·        Recognition of the State of Israel;

·        Acceptance of all previous agreements;

·        Commitment to a two-state solution through negotiations; and

·        Continued security cooperation with Israel. 

Bavly, providing an Israeli perspective on the issues, said there is an inherent contradiction between the Palestinian acceptance of the three conditions of the quartet (US, UN, EU and Russia) and Hamas’ total rejection of these conditions. 

“This contradiction,” Bavly said, “means that one of three things will happen: either Hamas will abandon its ideology, or the PA will adopt Hamas’ radical views, or this coalition will break up. The third possibility is the most probable.”

Bavly said that while the Israeli government will not to talk with the PA unless Hamas accepts the Quartet principles, Jerusalem is not calling for financial support to be cut off. Israel will, he stressed, monitor what happens in Gaza and hold the PA responsible for any future attacks from the territory.

A roll call vote was taken after a lively discussion among the members of JCRC on several of the key concerns related to Hamas’ inclusion in a Palestinian government, including the management of security operations in Gaza and the planned Palestinian elections as well as potential options for a U.S. response. 

Commenting on the JCRC process, Executive Director David Prystowsky said, “One of the great values of a JCRC is that it allows for a diverse group of organizations, each with its own constituency and agenda, to engage in robust discussion and debate on issues of importance to our community.  When we are able to reach consensus, as we did today, on some common ground, we deliver a powerful statement of unity, civility, and a deep, unwavering support for Israel.”

“It amazes me that our first response as a community to the formation of a unity government between the PA and Hamas--even preceding any public statements--was unity,” said  Rabbi Zvi Engel, vice president of the Chicago Rabbinical Council.  “The JCRC provides both a forum and a framework for our community to sit together and recall our common loves: for the Jewish State, for the Jewish People, and for the Chicago Jewish community.”

Earlier in the day, a letter co-sponsored by Senators Ben Cardin (D-MD) and Susan Collins (R-ME) and signed by a total of 88 senators, including Dick Durbin and Mark Kirk of Illinois, was sent to the President expressing similar concerns of the new Palestinian unity government.  That letter can be seen here.

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