Rabbis call on Netanyahu to cease Har Homa project

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"To unilaterally create a new Jewish neighborhood in East Jerusalem runs contrary to the spirit of negotiations."

Among the rabbis from various movements who signed the letter are:

Rabbis Michael Barenbaum of Reform Congregation Rodef Sholom in San Rafael; Steven Chester, who is currently on sabbatical from Reform Temple Sinai in Oakland; Burt Jacobson of Kehilla Community Synagogue, a Jewish Renewal congregation in Berkeley; and Lavey Derby of Conservative Congregation Kol Shofar in Tiburon.

"The Israeli government is in such a sensitive moment in terms of peace negotiations," Derby says.

"I signed this letter because I believe that for the Israeli government to do anything that undermines or even possibly undermines the movement of the peace negotiations toward final status," during which the future of Jerusalem will be discussed, "seems to me terribly unwise if not disastrous."

The letter, which was initiated by the Jewish Peace Lobby, is reputedly the first broadly based rabbinical protest on Har Homa.

It contends that the area was never part of Jerusalem, even when the city was divided during the 1949-1967 period before the Six Day War.

Har Homa, a portion of the letter charges, is a rural area that became part of East Jerusalem only when the Israeli government redrew the municipal boundaries after the city was reunited in 1967, incorporating large areas of the surrounding West Bank into what was redefined as "Jerusalem."

Refraining from construction at Har Homa, the letter says, "does not deny the strength of the 3,000-year connection of the Jewish people to Jerusalem…it is naive to believe that lasting peace can be achieved with the Arab world and the Palestinians without some compromise on Jerusalem."

Derby says he does not pretend to assume that an open letter on such an issue as Har Homa will sway the Israeli government's actions.

"I think, in point of fact, that Prime Minister Netanyahu has proven himself to be quite deaf to the concerns of American Jewry."

Nonetheless, Derby continues, "It seems to me that American Jews who are concerned about Israel have the right and the obligation to make public statements about what is taking place so that the Israeli public and those Israeli government officials who are at all interested will know where some of us stand."

Leslie Katz
Leslie Katz

Leslie Katz is the former culture editor at CNET and a former J. staff writer. Follow her on Twitter @lesatnews.