Seven months work yields JCRC Mideast consensus

Reaching a consensus on the Middle East is not the sort of thing that can be wrapped up over a working lunch.

The S.F.-based Jewish Community Relations Council knows this all too well. It recently released its consensus statement on the Israeli-Palestinian peace process. It is the first consensus statement issued by the agency since 2005, when the issue of the day was disengagement.

Crafting the statement was a seven-month process — and that was just a debate among mainstream Bay Area Jews. As for the Israeli and Palestinian negotiators — good luck and God bless.

The JCRC crafted what its leaders feel is a comprehensive statement of where the Bay Area’s mainstream Jews stand on the peace process. Executive Director Rabbi Doug Kahn described it as a five-page synopsis for any local public official uncertain of what the term “mainstream Jewish opinion” means.

“This is the whole point of the JCRC,” said Yitzhak Santis, the organization’s Middle East affairs director. “Our whole purpose is to build consensus and try to have many voices under the tent.”

When queried if the JCRC’s statement pushed any positions unusual for a mainstream Jewish organization, Santis replied, “I would hope not!”

Among the major points of the JCRC consensus statement:

• The JCRC rejects a binational state or the notion of Greater Israel. Instead, it supports a “two-state solution to end the conflict between Palestinians and Israelis … that promotes the economic development and social welfare of their respective citizens.”

• It urges “a fair, reasonable and practical resolution to both Middle East refugee populations — Palestinians and Jews from Arab countries.”

• In perhaps the most nuanced section, the paper recognizes terror attacks as Israel’s impetus for erecting its security barrier, which it lauds as effective. It also notes the controversial placement of the barrier and acknowledges that it is not intended to constitute Israel’s final border.

The full version of the JCRC consensus statement is available via a link on the organization’s Web site, www.jcrc.org.

While three-quarters of the hundreds of JCRC staffers and volunteers who helped to craft the consensus statement voted for its passage, the settlement issue proved thorny. The statement’s preamble notes that “settlements continue to be a hotly debated issue, and we recognize that within our own community there are divergent views … At the same time, we are united in the belief that the root cause of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is not Israeli settlements.”

A dissenting caveat appears at the end of the statement from individuals who wished the JCRC had gone further in chiding Israel for its failure to freeze settlement construction and ease Palestinian freedom of movement.

Santis is fully expecting to hear from “people on the left who say we’re not progressive enough, and people on the right who say we’re giving away too much.”

That’s to be expected, he said. “We never claimed to represent all Jews,” he said. “We represent the organized Jewish community.”