Rabbinical Support for the End of Unconditional Military Aid to Israel

Cross-posted with The Palestinian Talmud:

The undersigned members of the Jewish Voice for Peace Rabbinical Council stand with our American Christian colleagues in their recent call to “make U.S. military aid to Israel contingent upon its government’s compliance with applicable US laws and policies.”

We are as troubled as our Christian colleagues by the human rights violations Israel commits against Palestinian civilians, many of which involve the misuse of US – supplied weapons. It is altogether appropriate – and in fact essential – for Congress to ensure that Israel is not in violation of any US laws or policies that regulate the use of US supplied weapons.

The US Foreign Assistance Act and the US Arms Export Control Act specifically prohibit assistance to any country which engages in a consistent pattern of human rights violations and limit the use of US weapons to “internal security” or “legitimate self-defense.”  The Christian leaders’ letter points out, in fact, that the most recent 2011 State Department Country Report on Human Rights Practices covering Israel and the Occupied Territories detailed widespread Israeli human rights violations committed against Palestinian civilians, many of which involve the misuse of US – supplied weapons such as tear gas.

It is certainly not unreasonable to insist that foreign assistance be contingent on compliance with US laws and policies. Mideast analyst MJ Rosenberg has rightly pointed out that during this current economic downturn, Congress has been scrutinizing all domestic assistance programs -– including Social Security and food stamps –- to ensure that they are being carried out legally in compliance with stated US policy.  Why should US military aid to Israel be exempt from the same kind of scrutiny?

While some might feel that requiring assistance to be contingent with compliance would compromise Israel’s security, we believe the exactly the opposite is true. As Israel’s primary ally, the US alone is in a place to create the kind of leverage that might challenge Israel to turn away from policies that impede the cause of a just peace for Israelis and Palestinians –- and true security for all who live in the region.

As Jews we acknowledge that the signers of the letter, and the churches they represent, have ancient and continuing ties to the land of Israel just as we do, and that their concerns for the safety and dignity of Christians in Israel and in the occupied Palestinian territories is as compelling as our concern for the safety and dignity of Jews there.

We are troubled that several Jewish organizations have cynically attacked this faithful and sensitive call – and we are deeply dismayed that the Anti-Defamation League has gone so far as to pull out of a scheduled Jewish-Christian dialogue in protest.  We believe that actions such as these run directly counter to the spirit and mission of interfaith dialogue. True dialogue occurs not simply on the areas where both parties find agreement, but in precisely those places where there is disagreement and divergence of opinion. We call on all of our Jewish colleagues to remain at the table and engage our Christian colleagues on this painful issue that is of such deep concern to both our communities.

We express our full support for the spirit and content of this statement and likewise call upon US citizens to urge their representatives to end unconditional military aid to Israel.

Signed (list in formation):

Rabbi Brant Rosen
Rabbi Margaret Holub
Rabbi Alissa Wise
Rabbi Elizabeth Bolton
Rabbi Lynn Gottleib
Rabbi Brian Walt
Rabbi Julie Greenberg
Rabbi David Mivasair
Rabbi Joseph Berman
Cantor Michael Davis
Rabbi Shai Gluskin
Rabbi Tirzah Firestone
Jessica Rosenberg, Rabbinical Student
Ari Lev Fornari, Rabbinical Student

13 thoughts on “Rabbinical Support for the End of Unconditional Military Aid to Israel

  1. Benjy Ben-Baruch

    As my bubby would say, “Gut gesagt!” It is about time for voices of leadership in the Jewish community call for US policies based on ethics and morals and religious values rather than on right-wing nationalist sentiments!

    20+ years ago this was a feaux-divisive issue in New Jewish Agenda. Almost everyone at one of the last NJA national conferences discussing the issue of US aid to Israel believed that the US should not only condition its aid upon certain Israeli actions but actually apply diplomatic and economic pressures upon Israel. But there were very strong splits on the issue of whether or not we should say this as an organization. The fear was that we would lose our voice in the organized Jewish community.

    Today the fear is that an increasingly huge number of Jews are disaffiliating with Jewish organizations because of the nature of the ways almost all Jewish organizations support Israel (and align themselves with some of the most right-wing political forces in this country to further coalitions that “support Israel”). Your voices need to be heard by those Jews who are being pushed out of the American Jewish community because of their liberal or progressive political views or because of their democratic values.

  2. i_like_ike52

    In this matter, I agree with you wholeheartedly. Ending the aid to Israel would benefit ISRAEL first and foremost.
    First of all, Israel doesn’t need the aid. The US has serious economic problems and ending the aid would be perceived positively in the US.
    Secondly, the large majority of the aid is spent in the US and creates jobs in the US. At least some of these jobs would be brought back to Israel so it would help the unemployed in Israel.
    Thirdly, the aid is given primarily for political reasons. It suits the BOTH the US and the leadership in Israel for their to be a perception that Israel is somehow economically dependent on the US even if this isn’t true. Ariel Sharon repeatedly refused to crack down on the Palestinian suicide bomber campaign for a long time by saying that the US “wouldn’t like it if we fought back and we are dependent on them”, even though he knew this wasn’t true. Of course, the US wants to be able to “jerk Israel’s chain” using the same arguments, even if it hasn’t really done this very often.
    Fourthly, Israel is beholden to buy American military equipment and other American products because of the perception of Israel dependence on the US. El Al Airlines was given a better offer by Airbus for new passenger aircraft, but the US demanded that Israel buy from Boeing and Israel capitulated.
    Thus, both the US and Israel would benefit by ending the aid. Israel will become more independent and we in Israel look forward to such a situation. To prevent an economic shock,
    the aid could be phased out over a period of , say 5-10 years.
    Therefore, I wish you all success in your attempts to have the aid ended.

  3. Pauline Coffman

    Thank you for your clear, decisive support! The Christian groups represented by the letter signers feel stronger knowing you are with us, and we are with you.

  4. i_like_ike52

    The country that received the most aid, both military and civilian, after Israel has been Egypt for the last 30+ years. We all know what a corrupt, repressive regime was in power there until recently. No doubt JVP and these church groups, due to their extreme sensitivity to human rights, must have ALSO petitioned Congress to review or cut the aid to Egypt. Could you please give me references to letters or petitions to this effect? I don’t recall hearing about any. I only hear complaints about Israel from these groups. I can’t believe they would be hypocrites.

    1. Rabbi Brant Rosen Post author


      Yes, Egypt is the #2 recipient of military aid from the US. That is because Israel is the linchpin of our nation’s foreign policy in his region. Israel is our “Fort Apache” in the Middle East. US aid to Egypt is sent largely to ensure that it falls in line with our policy and interests there – and first and foremost, to ensure that it continues to abide by its 1979 treaty with Israel. In other words when it comes to US policy in the Mideast, all roads lead to Israel. It’s pretty safe to assume that if our foreign approach to Israel changed, our foreign policy approach to Egypt would not be far behind.

      I’m always amused when people such as yourself attack criticism of Israel by saying “What about Egypt?” “What about Saudi Arabia?” If this is the yardstick that Israel wants to be measured, then fine. Go ahead and be the “Jewish Saudi Arabia.” But then please don’t continue referring to yourself as “the only democracy in the Middle East.” Don’t claim to be part of the Western family of nations that (in theory at least) assumes certain basic standards of human rights.

      Foreign policy aside, your snide accusations of hypocrisy ring hollow. JVP and these church groups have a particular interest in Israel because our faiths have a unique spiritual connection to that land – and thus a particular interest in how it behaves. We made this eminently clear in our statement.

      1. i_like_ike52

        I myself don’t use the “only democracy” argument. I hold by the “progressive” Jewish view that all people and nations are equal and I don’t see any reason why Jews are supposed to be “better” than anybody else. If these Churches want to claim that Jews and the Jewish state ARE supposed to be “better” and should be held to standards they don’t hold anyone else to and should be punished for not doing so when others aren’t, I can only say that there is a well known word for this attitude and I will leave it to you to figure out what it is. I will give you a hint…it starts with the letter “A”.

      2. Rabbi Brant Rosen Post author


        No, they don’t expect the “Jewish state to be better” than anyone else – just that they abide by basic standards of human rights. And home demolitions, forced expulsion, land expropriation, arbitrary imprisonment w/out due process, brutal crushing of non-violent demonstrations, and institutionalized racism ain’t it.

        Ah, now you’re busting out the “A word.” That was only a matter of time…

        In fact, these Christian groups have long spoken out against any number of international human rights issues – particularly the UCC and Quaker denominations, who have a long history of standing up for justice at home and around the world. But they have been largely silenced until now on the issue of Israel-Palestine because people like you tar them as “anti-Semitic” if they dare to criticize Israel’s actions.

        I’m all too familiar with this kind of cynical politicking. And I’m heartened that the signers of this letter were still willing to stand up for what they believe in knowing full well they would likely be publicly branded as anti-Semites.

        I’ll give you the benefit of the doubt and assume you are ignorant about the venerable history of Protestant social justice activism around the world. But please don’t go wielding the “A word” when they apply universal human rights standards to your country.

  5. Sylvia

    “To clarify: this letter does not support ending military aid to Israel – it asks Congress to make such aid conditional on compliance with US laws.”

    Then why not say it clearly and unambiguously? Or is it meant to be ambiguous so as to infuriate and incite against Jews?

    And teargas? Is that the problem? Not the millions of $ given the Haniyyeh government in Gaza this year to buy grads and produce rockets to daily attack and bomb poverty-stricken civilian populations of refugees from Arab lands?

    Personally, I would like to see the military “aid” stop so as Israel is compelled to develop its own aircraft industry.

  6. Kairos Palestine

    Dear Rabbi Brant Rosen,

    Dear undersigned Members of the Jewish Voice for Peace Rabbinical Council,

    Kairos Palestine members and staff commend you for your strong letter of support to the Christian Leader’s call on U.S. Congress to rethink military aid to Israel. Your stand reflects genuine commitment to justice as citizens and a people of faith.

    Your gesture is a keen sign of hope for all of us.

    Kairos Palestine


  7. Pingback: US engagement fostered rogue Israeli policies, but Tom Friedman can't say so

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