The below op-ed, originally printed in The Jewish Press, explains why the OU voted the way it did at the JCPA plenum in February. You can find the original story here.
Fighting Even Where It’s Uncomfortable: Why The OU Voted As It Did At JCPA
By: Nathan J. Diament
The Jewish Press
March 12, 2008
Orthodox Jews are not a majority of the American Jewish population. It follows, therefore, that major communal institutions that claim to represent the views of American Jewry in the public square frequently do not voice the views and values of those committed to Torah-informed Judaism.
For decades, based on guidance from Rav Soloveitchik, zt”l, the Orthodox Union has sought to influence the actions and statements of these “representative” institutions – such as the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, United Jewish Communities, the Jewish Council of Public Affairs and others – by participating in their meetings and deliberations.
In late February, delegates of the Orthodox Union traveled to Atlanta to participate in the annual conference of the Jewish Council for Public Affairs (JCPA) – an umbrella organization of the more than one hundred Jewish Community Relations Councils (JCRCs) and fourteen national Jewish organizations (such as the ADL, American Jewish Committee, Hadassah, etc.).
Among the items on the agenda for this meeting was a proposed resolution commenting on the “Israeli-Palestinian Peace Process.” As in the past, the OU delegation worked to represent the views of the OU community in these deliberations. And as in the past, we had some successes (despite being vastly outnumbered) and some setbacks (because of being outnumbered).
The OU delegation succeeded in having this resolution call on American Jewry to “support the Government of Israel’s insistence that the Palestinian Authority recognize Israel as a Jewish State.” We also succeeded in defeating an amendment by the Reform movement’s delegation to call on American Jewry to view Israeli settlements as “impediments to peace” with the Palestinians.
The OU delegation failed to block the resolution’s call for American Jewry to support an Israeli government’s willingness to make concessions on Jerusalem and, as has been widely reported, we failed to remove the resolution’s call for American Jewry to support the “two state solution” to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
The OU delegation was able to insert into this latter portion of the resolution a statement that recognizes that Israel’s offers to engage in peaceful negotiations with the Palestinians has “been met, time after time, by violence, incitement and terror.” In a nightmarish turn of events, this statement would be fulfilled once again in Jerusalem ten days later in the murderous attack at Yeshivat Mercaz HaRav.
(Deeply disturbing as well is that even had this tragic event occurred prior to the debate at JCPA over this resolution, it is likely that the call for support of the “two state solution” would have still been adopted. The majority of American Jewish organizations and their representatives automatically support the policies of the Israeli government – which remains, at least theoretically, committed to the “two state solution,” even in the face of such heinous attacks.)
When the resolution came to a final vote containing the mixed set of results listed above, the OU delegation abstained from voting yea or nay, but announced that, in keeping with JCPA procedure, the OU would file a dissent from the portions of the resolution with which we disagree.
The rationale for this action is that it does not put the OU in the position of voting against the provisions of the resolution we support, yet permits the OU to explicitly differ with those we object to, such as the call for American support for the “two state solution.”
Moreover, whenever JCPA circulates the resolution’s text to its member JCRCs or others, it will have to circulate the OU dissent along with it. The OU filed its dissent to the resolution last week, and it is available on the OU website.
In the wake of the adoption of the resolution, many OU constituents have asked why the OU would remain in JCPA. This is an excellent question – and one the OU’s leadership grapples with regularly with regard to its participation in JCPA and other communal umbrella organizations.
The short, albeit not simple, answer is that the OU believes our community’s values and interests are better protected by our being at the table as opposed to abandoning it. If the OU delegation is not at fora such as JCPA, who will speak out against the re-division of Jerusalem? Who will speak out against the perils of the “two state solution?” Who will speak out for Torah values on an array of other issues including aid to day schools, “civil rights” for gays and so many more?
It is not comfortable for the OU to participate in entities like JCPA. We must make sure that we remain firm in our values and principles while engaging with those who not only disagree with us but who do not comprehend the worldview we bring to the discussion.
But the Orthodox Union is not content to remain within our comfortable communities and leave the rest of Jewry and the world to chance. The OU’s mission is to enhance Jewish life for those within our community and to promote the message of Torah Judaism to those beyond it. While the OU might not always succeed in every attempt at fulfilling this mission, we always make our maximal effort in service of Torah and our community.
Nathan J. Diament is director of the Orthodox Union’s Institute for Public Affairs.