In the year 2000, JPL brought to fruition one of the most important initiatives our organization has undertaken: The Rabbinic Call for a Shared Jerusalem. This document, signed by over 300 Rabbis was designed to break through a pathology of political discourse both within Israel and the American Jewish community: the fantasy that there could be a peace agreement with the Palestinians without Israel relinquishing its claim to exclusive sovereignty over all of East Jerusalem.
To our knowledge, no other Jewish group within the United States was prepared to speak the truth about Jerusalem. And within Israel, even parties to the left of the Labor Party (e.g. Meretz) had been afraid to call for any sharing of sovereignty.
In this environment, a bold statement from 300 rabbis was big news. The Rabbinic Call became the subject of a New York Times story, and subsequently The Washington Post and Ha’aretz. The Rabbinic statement was reported in the Israeli press, and JPL was interviewed on BBC and Israel Defense Forces Radio. Throughout the United States, local Jewish papers covered the story, interviewing some of the dozens of rabbis who signed the statement in every major locality.
Up until July 2000, when Prime Minister Barak at Camp David agreed to Palestinian sovereignty within Jerusalem, indeed within the Old City, JPL remained a unique voice for reason on the Jerusalem question. Of course, once the Prime Minister accpeted some sharing of sovereignty, it became immediately clear that policy discourse had been living in an “emperor’s new clothes” fantasy world. While we do not know whether the Rabbinic Call affected Barak’s thinking, we do know that we succeeded in giving our courageous rabbis a platform from which they were heard round the world – a precise example of JPL at its best.
Key Points from the Rabbinic Call for a Shared Jerusalem
- The question is whether Jerusalem should be under the exclusive sovereignty of one nation.
- Failure to resolve the Jerusalem question runs the risk of replacing the more diffuse Israeli-Palestinian conflict with a Jerusalem-centered conflict.
- Much of municipal Jerusalem can be removed from controversy.
- Present-day East Jerusalem is an arbitrary entity that emerged only 30 years ago.
- Much of East Jerusalem is not urban at all – it is a sprawling undeveloped space.
- Palestinians, be they Muslims or Christians, have rights in regard to Jerusalem that are worthy of respect.
- Jerusalem’s Old City has a population of 30,000; some 90% of its residents are Palestinians.