Oct 22, 2021

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The threat by left-wing Jewish groups to boycott the Jewish National Fund in Israel strikes a blow at the Jewish unity to which we all aspire. But it also serves a clarifying purpose—it shines a light on the hypocrisy of many on the Jewish left, especially concerning the future of Jerusalem.

In February, the board of the Jewish National Fund – Keren Kayemet L’Israel (which is separate from the American JNF) voted to authorize the purchase of private land in, or adjacent to, Jewish communities in Judea-Samaria. It was a democratic vote. Left-of-center groups voted against it, but they lost.

What do you do when you lose a democratic vote? If you are committed to the value of democracy, you accept votes that you lose just as you accept the ones that you win. Instead, several chapters each of a dozen left leaning Jewish organizations sent a letter to JNF-KKL chairman Avraham Duvdevani, threatening to boycott the group if Duvdevani respects the democratic vote.

This “I’m—taking-my-marbles-and-going-home” approach undermines civil discourse in the Jewish world. How can we maintain standards of tolerance and free debate if the losing side in a democratic vote stalks off and starts threatening boycotts, instead of accepting a perfectly legitimate decision by the majority…?

It also reflects a regrettable Balkanization of world Jewry, in which each side seals itself off in its own camp, associating only with like-minded factions and refusing to interact with those who differ.

And it also reveals some interesting things about the intellectual state of the Jewish left.

Consider, for example, the fact that a Labor Zionist youth movement, Habonim Dror, is one of the signatories on the boycott threat. If the Habonim youngsters know anything about the history of their movement, they know that it was their Labor Party that established the first Jewish communities in Judea-Samaria after the Six Day War. They created 36 such towns from 1967 to 1977.

All the storied leaders of Labor Zionism—some retired, some still active—supported these efforts. David Ben-Gurion. Golda Meir. Yitzhak Rabin. Shimon Peres. Yigal Allon. If Habonim Dror wants to renounce its Labor Zionist forefathers and foremothers, it has that right. But it shouldn’t pretend to be carrying the mantle of Labor Zionism when it denounces today’s Zionist officials for carrying on the work that Rabin and Peres started. Additionally, Avraham Duvdevani’s decision, when he assumed the post of Chairman of the Jewish National Fund (KKL) in November 2020 was fully backed by his predecessor, Danny Atar, a veteran Labor party politician.

Then there is “Noam: Masorti Youth in Israel,” which also joined the threat to boycott the JNF for purchasing land beyond the 1967 borders. That’s right, the Masorti (Conservative) Youth, whose own parent movement has established synagogues and schools in communities such as Ma’ale Adumim, which is in the “West Bank,” and in neighborhoods of Jerusalem that are likewise beyond the 1967 lines. What do the Masorti parents in Gilo and Ramot think about Masorti youth boycotting them?

Which brings us to another interesting question. The organizations which are threatening to boycott include American Friends of Peace Now, J Street, the Reform Zionist youth movement, and the New Israel Fund. In their literature and press releases, these groups deny that they favor dividing Jerusalem.

But when they say they will boycott JNF over buying land in the “West Bank,” they are, in fact, adopting the Arab position on Jerusalem. Remember, the term and concept “West Bank” are modern-day inventions by Arab propagandists to make it seem as if those areas have no connection to the Jewish people. Before the Israelis came on the scene, there was never any historical or geographical area known as the “West Bank.”

The Arabs do not distinguish between the “West Bank” and Jerusalem. To them, anything beyond the 1967 line is “occupied Palestinian territory.” (Of course, everything within the 1967 line is also “occupied Palestine” to them—but that’s a different issue.) The Arabs don’t see any difference between a Jerusalem neighborhood such as Gilo and a Jewish town in the heart of Judea-Samaria. They don’t make any distinction between the Western Wall Plaza and a “Jewish settlement” near Hebron or Ramallah. To them, it’s all the “West Bank.”

So unless Peace Now or J Street specifically announce that their boycott threat does NOT apply to purchases of land in parts of Jerusalem that are past the 1967 line, we can only conclude that they are boycotting those parts of Jerusalem, too.

If the Jewish left intends to boycott Gilo or Ramot or other parts of Jerusalem, that’s their right. But the Jewish public has a right to know if that’s what their position is. The boycott threat puts the ball in their court concerning Jerusalem. They have an obligation to tell us: how, exactly, do they define the “West Bank”? Where do they draw the line? Precisely which parts of the Land of Israel do they believe belong to the Palestinians and should be off-limits to Jewish development?