Young Israel: Congressional Letter about Israeli ‘Settlements’ is Pure Propaganda

November 27, 2019

The National Council of Young Israel (NCYI) today sharply criticized a congressional letter in which 106 Members of Congress expressed their “strong disagreement” with Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s landmark announcement that the U.S. State Department does not deem Israeli “settlements” in Judea and Samaria (otherwise known as the “West Bank”) to be in violation of international law.


On November 18, 2019, Pompeo renounced a 1978 decision by the Carter administration which maintained that civilian settlements in the West Bank are “inconsistent with international law,” as well as the December 2016 passage of UN Security Council Resolution 2334, which stated that the establishment of “settlements” in the West Bank and Jerusalem constituted “a flagrant violation under international law.”


“The establishment of Israeli civilian settlements in the West Bank is not per se inconsistent with international law,” declared Secretary of State Pompeo.


In their November 21, 2019 letter to Pompeo, the federal lawmakers, which include Reps. Ilhan Omar and Rashida Tlaib, both of whom are proud supporters of the anti-Semitic BDS movement, claimed that the State Department made a “unilateral reversal on the status of settlements, without any clear legal justification” and maintained that the decision “blatantly disregards Article 49 of the Fourth Geneva Convention, which affirms that any occupying power shall not ‘deport or transfer parts of its own civilian population into the territory it occupies.’”


“This announcement, following the administration’s decision to move the U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem outside of a negotiated agreement; its closure of the Palestinian mission in Washington, D.C. and U.S. Consulate in Jerusalem; and its halting of aid Congress appropriated to the West Bank and Gaza, has discredited the United States as an honest broker between Israel and the Palestinian Authority, severely damaged prospects for peace, and endangered the security of America, Israel, and the Palestinian people,” the lawmakers wrote.


“The Congressional letter includes a litany of complaints against the important decisions made by the Trump administration that were based upon what was just and right,” said NCYI President Farley Weiss. “Recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and moving its embassy was originally approved by a 93-5 bipartisan vote in the Senate in 1995, in which the Senators clearly supported moving the embassy without waiting for a negotiated settlement. The U.S. halted aid to the Palestinian Authority due to its outrageous ‘pay to slay’ program, through which funds intended for aid is instead used to reward murderers of Jews and Americans like Taylor Force.  The Palestinian Authority’s refusal to end this vile program ended their aid.”


Weiss noted that the Hansell Memorandum, a 1978 legal opinion of the State Department which stated that settlements in the Israeli-occupied West Bank were inconsistent with international law, ignored the historical and religious claim Israel had to this land.  Hansell’s Memorandum was rejected by the Reagan administration prior to the Trump administration’s recent reversal of the policy. The legal opinion was also opposed by Eugene Rostow, a former Dean of Yale Law School who served as Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs under President Lyndon Johnson. Rostow, who helped draft UN Resolution 242, which was approved after the 1967 war and set forth the international law principles in which Israel was not required to withdraw from all the territories it won in the 1967 war and settlement on these lands was not against this resolution.


In addition, Weiss pointed out that the Hansell Memorandum did not apply just to Judea and Samaria, but to Jerusalem as well, even though the international community did not recognize Jordanian sovereignty over these areas that Jordan conquered in a war in which it sought to destroy the Jewish state in 1948. After launching attacks on the western part of Jerusalem in an effort to annihilate Israel in 1967, Jordan lost control of this land.


“The Hansell Memorandum views Israelis buying apartments near the Western Wall in Jerusalem as illegal, which is a preposterous position,” Weiss said. “With both the Reagan and Trump administrations rejecting the 1978 memo and opining that Israeli ‘settlements’ are not illegal under international law, the grievances raised by the Members of Congress in their correspondence are merely their own personal opinions and are in direct contradiction to the sound legal reasoning used by two U.S. presidents on this issue. Their missive is not policy-based, it’s propaganda-driven.”


“One can disagree as to whether or not Israel should keep this land for reasons related to peace and security,” Weiss added. “However, a proper interpretation of international law must be made and in doing so, it is important to note that this land has strong historical ties to Israel that go back thousands of years. This land contains some of the holiest sites in Judaism, including the Western Wall, the Temple Mount and the burial place of the forefathers of the Jewish people in the Cave of Machpelah in Hebron. Israel won this territory in a purely defensive war in a fight for its survival, and it is therefore outlandish to fault Israel for maintaining its ownership over these areas.”


“It is extremely telling that Reps. Omar and Tlaib, each of whom unequivocally endorse the anti-Semitic BDS movement, are signatories on the letter, and it is very revealing that J Street, an organization whose membership application to the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations was rejected because people viewed it as being outside the mainstream of Jewish organizations, strongly supports the letter,” Weiss said. “This injurious letter is antithetical to Israel’s best interests and detrimental to the safety and security of its citizens, and we soundly reject it and expect that the Secretary of State does the same.”


For the past 107 years, the National Council of Young Israel has ably served the broader Jewish community. With more than 25,000 member families and approximately 135 branch synagogues throughout the United States, Canada, and Israel, the National Council of Young Israel is a multi-faceted organization that embraces Jewish communal needs and often takes a leading role in tackling the important issues that face the Jewish community in North America and Israel.