Rabbibrian's Blog

A Voice for Justice and Peace in Israel/Palestine

An Open Letter to our Rabbinical Colleagues

Posted by rabbibrian on April 15, 2011

An Open Letter to Our Rabbinical Colleagues

Rabbi Brant Rosen and Rabbi Brian Walt

This past week, rabbis across the country received a request from the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism to sign a public rabbinic letter to Congress that urged our Representatives and Senators not to cut any foreign aid to Israel as part of the FY2012 budget. The request was co-signed by the rabbinical leaders of four major American Jewish denominations.

As rabbis who received these appeals for our endorsement, we would like to voice our respectful but strong disagreement to the letter. We take particular issue with the statement:

As Jews we are committed to the vision of the Prophets and Jewish sages who considered the pursuit of peace a religious obligation. Foreign Aid to Israel is an essential way that we can fulfill our obligation to “seek peace and pursue it.”

We certainly agree that the pursuit of peace is our primary religious obligation.  Our tradition emphasizes that we should not only seek peace but pursue it actively.  However we cannot affirm that three billion dollars of annual and unconditional aid – mainly in the form of military aid – in any way fulfills the religious obligation of pursuing peace.

This aid provides Israel with military hardware that it uses to maintain its Occupation and to expand settlements on Palestinian land. It provides American bulldozers that demolish Palestinian homes. It provides tear gas that is regularly shot by the IDF at nonviolent Palestinian protesters. It also provided the Apache helicopters that dropped tons of bombs on civilian populations in Gaza during Operation Cast Lead, as well as the white phosphorus that Israel dropped on Gazan civilians, causing grievous burns to their bodies – including the bodies of children.

In light of Israel’s past and continuing military actions, how can we possibly affirm that our continued unconditional aid fulfills the sacred obligation of pursuing peace?

We also take exception to this assertion:

U.S. foreign aid reaffirms our commitment to a democratic ally in the Middle East and gives Israel the military edge to maintain its security and the economic stability to pursue peace.

In fact our ally, the Netanyahu administration, has even rebuffed mild pressure from the US government to comply with the longstanding US position against new settlements in the West Bank. If we believe that any peaceful settlement requires the end of the Occupation and Israel’s settlement policy, how will massive and unconditional foreign aid – and the support of hundreds of rabbis for this aid – promote a negotiated peaceful settlement of the conflict?

An Israeli government that continues to settle occupied territory with impunity will not change its policy as long as it is guaranteed three billion dollars a year.  With every other ally, our government pursues a time-honored diplomatic policy that uses “sticks” as well as “carrots.” We believe the cause of peace would be better served by conditioning support to Israel on its adherence to American and Jewish values of equality and justice.

We are also mindful that the Arab world itself feels under assault by the US when it witnesses Palestinians regularly assaulted with American-made weapons. With the vast and important changes currently underway in the Middle East, we are deeply troubled by the message that this policy sends to Arab citizens who themselves are struggling for freedom and justice.

We know that many of our colleagues who have signed this statement have taken courageous public stands condemning Israel’s human rights abuses in the past. We also know it is enormously challenging to publicly take exception to our country’s aid policy to Israel. Nonetheless, we respectfully urge our our colleagues to consider the deeper implications represented by their support of this letter.

Unconditional aid to Israel may ensure Israel’s continued military dominance, but will it truly fulfill our religious obligation to pursue peace?

In Shalom,

Rabbi Brant Rosen and Rabbi Brian Walt


7 Responses to “An Open Letter to our Rabbinical Colleagues”

  1. Beth Harris said

    Thanks for this important letter challenging the public rabbinic letter to Congress! To see how the message of the prophets is distorted in this way–war is peace– by rabbis is indeed disturbing. I hope that other rabbis will be inspired by your integrity and change their minds.

  2. Gerald Coles-Kolsky said

    I too thank you for this important, principled and courageous letter!

    It’s all too common these days to note the Orwellian cast of political rhetoric that bolsters political and economic oppression, cruelty and carnage, but the rabbinic letter urging Congress to support continue foreign aid to Israel cries out for one more application of Orwell.

    With respect to the Palestinians:
    — Continued Israeli occupation, oppression and murder would answer the call of the Prophets!
    — The foreign aid package would allow Israel to address “poverty, democracy building, human rights and disease prevention”!

    With respect to the U.S.:
    — With a vast amount of foreign aid to Israel going to bolster U.S. military industries that manufacture of weapons for death, this aid “represents a strong investment in the American economy…and American jobs”!

    With respect to U.S. rabbis:
    — signing this letter would provide them the means to “foster the U.S. continuing to be a leader in the world supporting basic human rights”!

    Were he alive today, given the date and content of the rabbinic letter, I think George Orwell would not be able to resist quoting himself: “It was a bright cold day in April, and the clocks were striking thirteen.”

  3. Noa Baum said

    Thank you for this courageous letter. where can people support it? sign it? send it to congress?

    • Beth Harris said

      Perhaps a starting point would be to ask our congregations, or at least the social action committees, to support the letter. This way we could educate our congregations, not just the rabbis.

  4. CY SWARTZ said

    Grateful for your candor and good understanding of the Masoret. American and world Jewry needs more rabbis who understand and advocate clearly the implications of being ‘seekers of peace’. I am a member of Congregation Rodeph Shalom in Phila – which is very forthright in all of its political and social action positions – except…. Trying hard to open the discussion within our congregation to a wider range of opinions. You inspire and encourage me to continue this effort!

  5. Y. Ben-David said

    The letter said:
    Unconditional aid to Israel may ensure Israel’s continued military dominance…
    I would rephrase it this way: “Unconditional aid to Israel may ensure Israel’s continued existence and the lives of its citizens…”.
    Isn’t that of any concern to you of the radical Jewish Left?

    • jo said

      dear Y. Ben David :
      you can win the battle and lose the war. at the end of the day, what is the Judiaism and the Israel you want to see preserved? Remember Hillel?

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