The Reform movement is revving up the Chutzpah, positioning itself as a standard bearer for both the Israeli and American Left. Having scored two court victories on what are, essentially, Reform services conducted at the Kotel, the movement is now setting its sights on new and promising areas of Israeli policy. To wit, the Reform movement has urged Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to set aside legislation that would “displace 30,000 Bedouin in the Negev Desert,” JTA reported.
As you may recall, In January, Minister without portfolio Benny Begin, serving in a caretaker government, proposed a land reform for the Bedouin population that was going to transform the Negev. Ignoring previous court decisions, the Begin plan was going to sanction the Bedouin squatter tenants, all of them illegal, as the legal owners of much of the Negev.
At stake is land totaling hundreds of thousands of acres all over the Negev, claimed by Bedouin squatters. In the 1970s, the Bedouin were allowed to register ownership claims over these parcels with the Justice Ministry, but the state never recognized these claims, because they were not backed by legal proof of ownership. Moreover, every time the Bedouin tried to take the state to court to secure their legal ownership over the land, they lost and their lands were registered as property of the state.
In April, the new government coalition partners, Jewish Home and Yesh Atid, together with most of the Likud-Beiteinu ministers, reached an agreement to introduce significant changes to the Begin plan, after it had already been approved by the transitional government after the election.
The change, essentially, eliminates the Begin plan in favor of the original 2011 plan, which was approved a much less generous land giveaway to the Negev Bedouin.
Reform Rabbi David Saperstein, the director of the Reform movement’s Religious Action Center, said in a letter sent Sunday that the plan under consideration in the Knesset is premature.
“Any plan to resettle members of the Bedouin community must be developed with leaders of that community rather than be forced upon them,” Saperstein wrote in the letter. “The sense of displacement, along with potential for increased poverty and violence, that will accompany the dismantling of unrecognized villages is very real and must be treated with the utmost sensitivity.”
The letter also said any plan must secure “fair compensation” for the Bedouin.
That’s fair compensation for a land they do not own.
The letter concludes:
In 2001, the Central Conference of American Rabbis called upon rabbis and congregations to “address the issue of social justice in Israel for…Bedouin” and encouraged “the North American Jewish community to work with the Israeli government in addressing these issues.” And in a 2009 resolution, the Union for Reform Judaism declared support for “the Israeli government in addressing the issues of unrecognized Bedouin villages, equal rights for Bedouin citizens, and needed infrastructure in the form of health, education, and other essential services.” In addition to securing fair compensation for those members of the Bedouin community who will be displaced, it is imperative that the government take great care to extend services to those Bedouin who are resettled in recognized villages to protect their quality of life.
We urge you to suspend the plan currently under discussion and allow for greater exploration of its implications and impact, particularly the displacement of existing Bedouin communities.
That’s their justification for weighing in on an internal business of the state of Israel: the fact that they issues one resolution in 2001, and the other in 2009. And if Netanyahu is not careful, they’ll issue a third.
URJ President, Reform Rabbi Rick Jacobs is already on record in a Jewish Week interview that while he opposes BDS action that delegitimize Israel’s right to exist, he is not so certain regarding boycotts of goods made in Judea and Samaria. An avid supporter of both the NIF and J Street, Jacobs is leading his powerful (1,5 million members, many of whom are Jewish), left-wing movement in what’s shaping up to be an assault against the religious right in Israel.