On the Smear Campaign Against Some “Rabbis for Obama”

Here is a post I co-wrote with Rabbi Alissa Wise for the Forward Thinking Blog of the Jewish Daily Forward:

The Republican Jewish Coalition and the Emergency Committee for Israel this week urged a group of rabbis supporting President Barack Obama’s reelection to purge members of the Jewish Voice for Peace Rabbinical Council from its ranks. The conservative groups claimed they were shocked by the inclusion in the “Rabbis for Obama” list of those whose “values are representative of a small and extreme group of anti-Israel activists.”

We are deeply dismayed by this cynical attempt at political gain through smears, half-truths and innuendos that only serve to create division in the Jewish community.

It is certainly true that many of on the JVP Rabbinical Council are deeply critical of Israeli policy (and the U.S. policy that too often enables it). It is not at all true, however, that such criticisms are “extreme” or marginal. Indeed, increasing numbers of Jews and Jewish leaders are finding the courage to speak out publicly against Israel’s practice of home demolition, forced eviction, settlement expansion and administrative detention, as well as its widespread restriction on Palestinians’ freedom of movement in the West Bank and Gaza.

Jewish Voice for Peace rabbis were not the only ones singled out by RJC and ECI’s smear. William Kristol included members of the J Street Rabbinical Cabinet and Rabbis for Human Rights as well. There are many perspectives within the American rabbinical community about how to create a just and lasting peace between Israelis and Palestinians. At the same time, we share a commitment to open and honest conversation about how a negotiated solution can ensure security and human rights for all.

By a margin of more than 2 to 1, according to the Public Religion Research Institute American Jews say that good diplomacy rather than military strength is the best way to ensure peace (63% vs. 24% respectively).

This reality stands in sharp contrast to the Jewish donors to the Republican party, such as Sheldon Adelson, who has reportedly asked Romney to state publicly that Israeli-Palestinian peace talks are a “waste of time.” Adelson is also pressing Romney for a firmer commitment to move the U.S. Embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, in what would be a de facto recognition of Israel’s annexation of East Jerusalem. These views lie far outside what most Americans would tolerate or expect from an American president.

We are saddened, but not surprised, by these smear tactics. They have long been the stock in trade of a Jewish establishment that demands lock-step agreement from Jewish rabbis and leaders – and Jewish neo-conservatives who do not hesitate to use divisive rhetoric and slanderous allegations against their own community members to achieve their political goals.

We are proud of the diversity of the American Jewish community and voice our hope that it will make room for all those who are dedicated to a future of peace, justice and dignity in Israel and Palestine. We are heartened that that by resisting calls to purge individual rabbis from their ranks, the leadership of “Rabbis for Obama” is remaining true to this inclusive vision.

7 thoughts on “On the Smear Campaign Against Some “Rabbis for Obama”

  1. i_like_ike52

    I will repeat what I have stated here in the past. JVP and all those Jews who espouse anti-Zionism have cut themselves off from the main body of the Jewish people. The Jewish people in Eretz Israel, witih the support of the large part of world Jewry decided in 1948 to set up a Jewish State. That issue is now closed. Virtually all Jews in Israel and most Jews around the world find anti-Zionist propaganda to be offensive. Thus it should not be suprising that if organizations like JVP try to “hitchhike” on to side issues, like the rabbis letter of support for Obama, in order to try to get legitimacy from the rest of the Jewish communtity they should not be surprised that those who they are attempting to attach themselves to will resent it.

    I will also repeat that it is legitimate, within the Jewish community, to argue about what is the best path for Israel to follow regarding relations with the Arab world, what the borders of the country should be, what the relationship between religion and state should be, and even the degree to which the state should adopt overtly Jewish symbols, given that the state has a Jewish majority along with a dominant Jewish culture. However, these arguments and disagreements MUST be carried out in a democratic way within Israel and within the Jewish people. For Jews to run to non-Jews and demand they boycott Israel, either partially or totally, to accuse Israel falsely of crimes, to overlook the crimes of Israel’s enemies while excoriating Israel for defending itself and to demand outside organizations like the UN or other countries to condemn Israel is to completely cut one’s self from the body of the Jewish people.

    1. Eric Selinger

      Hmm. It’s true that some issues get “closed” in Jewish history. There was a time when you could be a Jew and think that Jesus was the messiah; there was a time when you could be a Jew and believe in “two powers in heaven”; there was a time (hundreds of years) when you could be a Jew and worship God and his Asherah, evidently. It may be that being a Jew and rejecting the necessity of a permanent-Jewish-majority state will turn out to be one of these. Certainly my children have been told by their classmates, in no uncertain terms, that being anything other than a Zionist means that you’re simply not a Jew, while being a Zionist means that you can be one in good standing, as long as you’re not, you know, a Jesus-believer, too. (Two powers? A Goddess? Probably fine.)

      Now, it may be that all the non- or post- or anti-Zionist Jews in the US will either self-select out of the community–why deal with the tsuris?–or be pushed out, so that this consensus becomes a permanent thing. But it’s only been around for 45 years or so, and that’s not very long in Jewish history. The danger of JVP and folks like Brant, from the RJC / ECI perspective, is that simply by being visible and vocal, they offer a point of affiliation for Jews who would otherwise see no reason to remain affiliated at all. The more Jews who join them, the more possible and thinkable and “legitimate” that position will seem, and the less this issue will seem closed.

      In the end, I suspect that the future of Israel depends very little on the activity of American Jews of any stripe, but the future of American Jewry–or, at least, of non-Orthodox American Jewry–might well be affected in significant ways by what JVP & Co. are up to. It will be interesting to see what happens here in the next 45 years.

      1. Elliot Zashin

        Eric: not all of us have 45 years to see what transpires. So what do you suggest we do in the time allotted to us?

  2. dr. bernhard rosenberg

    With the announcement that there is now a “Rabbis for Obama”list and organization, it is safe to assume there will soon be as making it seem as though all Jews support this President who has refused to visit Israel while in office, blatantly insulted the Israel and her elected leaders, and publicly demanded that the Jewish state retreat to the 1948 “Auschwitz”borders. He even made a tremendous fuss when Israel dared to announce a building plan in her own capital. The announcement came just as Vice-President Biden was visiting, and Obama reacted as if Israel had announced that Arabs would no longer be allowed at their holy sites. Indeed, it is the Arabs, presumably with Obama’s approval (because he has never said a word against it), who do not allow Jews or Christians to so much as think a prayer on the Temple Mount. Closing one’s eyes and standing still (never mind carrying a prayer book) is an offense that can lead to arrest.

    I appeal to all rabbis, of all denominations, whether working in the pulpit, as I do, or not, to band with me to form “Rabbis for Romney.” It is imperative that all Americans understand that there are passionate Jewish spiritual leaders who care very much about the wrongs done to the Jewish state under this administration.

    Every time Obama sounded as if he finally understood the problems, he almost immediately issued a retraction. I refer specifically to his address at AIPAC when he said Jerusalem was the undivided capital of Israel. The next day, he said he meant only that there shouldn’t be “barbed wire” running through the city.

    When he said Israel did not need to worry because “America has your back,” everyone at AIPAC thought he was ready to defend Israel against Iran in every way, not just diplomatically. The next day, he corrected himself, explaining he had not meant there was “a military doctrine we were laying out for any particular action.”

    Some of the rabbis who signed onto “Rabbis for Obama” have told me they do not object to Israel’s existence per se, but rather to Israel’s“occupation of Palestinian land.” “Rabbis for Romney” could show our misguided colleagues that every time Israel has ceded territory to the Arabs, they have turned that land into a base from which to launch terror attacks: Gaza, Judea and Samaria, South Lebanon, and now Sinai. Forcing Israel to surrender will never bring about peace. It will only facilitate her enemies’ destructive promises.

    But Israel would not be our only issue. Americans must see that “Rabbis for Romney” understand why the principles of ObamaCare are in opposition to Jewish traditions. Who better than rabbis to explain what this economy is doing to so many of our people, and why it is being made worse by this administration’s policies, not better.

    Many of us also know that vouchers and school-choice programs are the only way to make sure all children—including our own—receive a proper, appropriate education. We will never get anywhere with this idea as long as Obama is in office.

    I know, as President, he will, as he should, do what he believes is in America’s best national interest. But his and his running mate’s backgrounds and statements make it clear that their response to Israel, especially when the chips are down, will be far more favorable than anything we can expect from Obama.

    If you’d like to join me in this effort, please contact me by email at chaimdov@aol.com

    Rabbi Bernhard Rosenberg


  3. Bill Pearlman

    99% support the existence of Israel. JVP doesn’t. 99% of Jews don’t think that hamas are the good guys, JVP does

  4. Laura Wood

    Jews should be speaking out about this issue. With enough people sharing the opinion that is against the Israeli policy and the US’s interference with it it might create some sort of action to stop the violence and discrimination. Those who do have the courage to speak out should not be attacked how can they not support the existence of Israel when they are speaking out to stop the fighting.


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