An Open Letter to Our Rabbinical Colleagues

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

16 thoughts on “An Open Letter to Our Rabbinical Colleagues

  1. I so appreciate your articulating this and posting it. I completely agree. I was really taken aback when I received the appeals to sign on to backing continued US military aid to Israel and wanted to respond as you have. I would like to do more to make the position we have more well-known in the U.S. Jewish community and in Israel as well.

  2. Kol hakavod, gentlemen. If I had known about this, I would have signed on! Our Jewish communal response to Israel’s aid from the US has become such a knee-jerk one – even for those of us who hold positions of “loving-critique”. Thanks.
    Neil

  3. The Passover Seder emphasizes that each of us must consider that we were personally liberated from bondage. What does this teach us? Simply that a liberation movement thousands of years ago has had real consequences for people living today. And this teaches us that our struggle for liberation today will also liberate people thousands of years from now.

    Let us consider this as we struggle to liberate ourselves from a militaristic ideology that has conquered our religion. The Torah has been replaced by Apache helicopters and D9 bulldozers. Let us work to cleanse our temples, which have been defiled by this blasphemy. Let us struggle to liberate ourselves–and our descendants–from our enslavement to the immoral ideology of Jewish Supremacy, which is the foundation of the Israeli state.

    • Mr. Finkel,
      I think your post is confusing. Our religion has a lot to say about war, self defense, how to treat enemies, how to think about those who attack from behind to kill the children, the women and the old. I’m not aware of any non-violent movement in the Torah. In fact our Passover is based on a story of God handing out great suffering and killing of innocent Egyptian civilians in order to free the Jewish People. So, its not as easy as you paint it to be – our tradition grapples with these issues in a mature way -I don’t think you post does.

      The foundation of the State of Israel is not Jewish Supremacy -but rather Jewish Peoplehood and that’s what the story of Passover is all about. We left Egypt as free individuals and became a free, responsible people at Sinai. Its easy to be a righteous critic when you have no power, no state. Israel is the place where Judaism has to prove itself. That is the foundation of the Jewish State.

      • Christianity, Islam, Judaism, Hinduism, Buddhism, etc, all contain violence in their religious texts with no less prevalence than the violence in the religious texts of Judaism. They all, including Judaism, include nonviolent streams within their religions, drawing their beliefs sometimes from the same texts that others draw a mandate for violence. The Dalai Lama has to contend with opponents of nonviolence who use religious texts to argue their views. Gandhi drew nonviolence from the Bhagavad Gita, a religious text that literally appears to mandate participation in war.
        For some examples of on-line texts of the nonviolent stream within Judaism, see Shomer Shalom’s bibliography of Jewish nonviolence http://shomershalom.org/a-bibliography-of-jewish-nonviolence/
        The bibliography includes an on-line essay from Rabbi Aaron Samuel Tamarat which draws a mandate for nonviolence from the violence in the Passover story.

  4. I applaud the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism for their strong stand in support of Israel. I am equally appalled by your self-righteous and arrogant position, proclaiming that

    -WE are the rabbis of wisdom and clarity. And we are so sure of our rightness that we will fight to withhold military support for Israel in order to apply sufficient force to get them to do what we know, oh so well, is in their interest. Yes, we are like the prophets of old, berating our people for their sins. If they would only put down their weapons and love thy Hamas, Hezbollah, and Fatah; then there would be peace and prosperity throughout the land-

    Thank God that most active Jews disagree with your slant – not because they are misinformed, but because they are informed and just don’t agree with you.

    • IG,

      We didn’t claim at all that we want to withhold military support for Israel to “get them to do what we know, oh so well, is in their interest.” We wrote that we support conditioning aid to Israel on compliance with long held American policy.

  5. “Let us struggle to liberate ourselves–and our descendants–from our enslavement to the immoral ideology of Jewish Supremacy, which is the foundation of the Israeli state.”

    R. Brant, do you agree with this sentiment?

    • Richard,

      If we drop “which is the foundation of the Israeli state,” do you agree with the rest of that sentiment? Or do you not think that ideas of Jewish Supremacy are a problem, in Israel and elsewhere? I certainly encountered such ideas growing up (Jews are smarter, better, etc.), and run into them on a regular basis even now.

  6. Rabbi Brant I respect your passion for justice but feel confused about your chosen ideological boundaries. How can you look at the realities of Zionism and reject that it is an “enslavement to the immoral ideology of Jewish Supremacy, which is the foundation of the Israeli state.” That may not have been the dream but isn’t it the reality of what happened. We Jews have been conditioned by our synagogues and secular institutions to justify any behavior by the state of Israel. Our tribalism on this issue make us blind to the undemocratic nature inherent in an ethnocracy.

    Israel was not founded in Antarctica, but on a land that other people were already on. How can we pretend that the state that developed is just representative of Jewish values. And if you as a rabbi want to tell me that it is, then I as a Jew reject that Judaism. Ultimately it isn’t intermarriage in a free and open society that is killing Judaism, but the traditional tribal nature of a community that views justice through the prism of it’s own needs and not all of humanity.

    • Eric,

      I wouldn’t say that Israel is founded on Jewish “supremacy.” I think that’s an enormously loaded term. I believe it’s more accurate to say that Israel was/is founded on Jewish power and privilege.

  7. In my view, Israel was founded on the principle of Jewish Supremacy (the Labor Zionists’ term was “conquering Arab labor”). The Revisionists were more clear about their aims.

    In practice, it meant the immediate expulsion of over 750,000 non-Jews (the majority of whom were expelled before Israel declared independence). Those who remained were placed under military rule for almost 2 decades.

    Israel remains a Jewish Supremacist state and has never been a state for all of its citizens. Its Declaration of Independence is filled with high morals, which the authors never actually believed; it was all for foreign consumption, never to guide domestic policy.

    This Passover, let us liberate ourselves from Israel’s mythology, which for many has become their primary Jewish identity. A good place to start is Ze’ev Sternhell’s “The Founding Myths of Israel,” in which he explores Labor Zionism, both in theory and practice.

  8. Wow! Once again, you have passionately and articulately stated the position that makes the most sense in this situation. Unquestioning support of Israel that includes unconditional supplies of military equipment that we know has been used to oppress Palestinians cannot be justified as “in pursuit of peace” in any way.

    I continue to be so proud to have a rabbi who speaks out so strongly for what I believe is the essence of what the Judaism I believe in actually espouses. Passover is a perfect time to re-examine this issue, and I congratulate you for your fearlessness in pursuing these critical concerns.

    You’re the best!

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