Olmert Toes a Risky Line by Putting City at Peril


The justification for the modern State of Israel is Jewish history — both glorious and grim — and there has long been a compact between the Jews in Israel and the Diaspora.

Israeli Jews were on the front lines, and Diaspora Jewry was a vital source of economic and political strength. The Jews of Israel bore the lion's share of the pain, but they also reaped the bulk of the benefits. There have been rifts many times in Israel's history, where Jews of one stripe or another took issue with a government's policies. And at times, vulnerable Diaspora communities became front-line victims of terror or violence from Israel's enemies.

But our bond withstood all because Israel's leaders ensured it remained a Jewish state. And perhaps nothing embodied this commitment more than the dedication to preserving Israeli sovereignty over Jerusalem, the 3,000-year-old capital of the Jewish people, reunified in 1967.

In recent months, however, there have been rumblings from Israeli government ministers about the negotiations with the Palestinians on the potential redivision of Jerusalem. On the eve of the Annapolis conference, in response to objections from U.S. Jewish groups about this alarming trend, Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert bluntly declared: "The government of Israel has a sovereign right to negotiate anything on behalf of Israel."

In that, he wasn't wrong; however, his formulation missed a corollary truth — that no Israeli government has the unilateral or unfettered right to negotiate anything on behalf of the Jews when it comes to eternal Jewish verities or heritage, such as our capital. Thus, Olmert's statements were not merely disappointing to Jewish sensibilities, but were dangerous to Jewish interests.

As Israeli prime minister of the moment, Olmert can try to negotiate anything he wants with Palestinians. He just has no right to expect or demand that Jews acquiesce.

Nor do Jews in America — the country whose influence is most strongly felt in Israel, and which also holds the largest and most powerful Diaspora community — require Olmert's permission to exercise our political clout in accordance with our best moral, religious and political assessments.

Jerusalem unites Jews across religious and ideological lines, as well as across geographical ones. This is not a struggle of Diaspora Jewry vs. Israeli Jewry; it is a struggle that unites Jewry.

Jerusalem's mayor is opposed to dividing the city and is working with American Jews. The same is true of a majority of the Knesset.

Contrary to those who characterize this as a "right-wing religious" or an "anti-peace" bloc, the groups in the United States and Israel range all along the religious and secular spectrum, and are fully committed to peace and security. They simply are mindful of the deadly consequences of previous "peace processes" and current realities, like the unending barrage of rockets from Palestinian-controlled Gaza Strip.

As Olmert has himself done numerous times — and is doing even now — Israeli citizens and leaders are working together with Diaspora Jews for that which affects us all.

It surely is awkward for Olmert to be on the other side of an issue that so unites Jews, and to find such tepid support for his own position. We recall Olmert's own adjuration that every Jew is obligated to speak out regarding Jerusalem's fate because "Jerusalem is not only the city of those who live in Jerusalem, it's not only the city of those who live in the State of Israel — it is the city of every Jewish person, no matter where he lives."

In uttering those words, Olmert ratified personally that which every Israeli premier has declared and which Jews have believed since long before the modern State of Israel came into being.

By floating a division of the city, Olmert started down the path of severing the link between his government and the core principle that the land of Israel is by right the Jewish homeland. It should serve as a red flag to him that as an immediate consequence, he found himself undermining the relationship between Israel and Jews everywhere. Olmert should backtrack not only on his unfortunate comment, but on the policies he seems set on pursuing. u

Jeff Ballabon is the director of the Coordinating Council on Jerusalem, an American group opposed to Israeli concessions on the city's future.



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