Local rabbis reject one-sided criticism of Israel
New group supports two states, opposes unilateral pressure
Local "Rabbis for Israel"
The following are rabbis within the NJJN coverage area who have signed the Rabbis for Israel petition:
Daniel Cohen, South Orange
Dov Peretz Elkins, Princeton
Josh Goldstein, Springfield
Mark Kaiserman, Livingston
David C. Levy, Succasunna
Mark Mallach, Springfield
Donald B. Rossoff, Morristownn
Douglas Sagal, Westfield
Cy Stanway, Elberon
Shira Stern, Marlboro
Brooks R. Susman, Freehold
Donald A. Weber, Marlboro
Eric Wisnia, Princeton Junction
August 11, 2010
More than a dozen local rabbis have signed on to a new group supporting a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict but critical of Jewish groups they consider too quick to criticize the Jewish state.
Founded by a Reform rabbi based in Israel, Rabbis for Israel has collected signatures from over 200 rabbis from all streams across Europe, North America, and Israel. Of the 22 NJ rabbis on board, 15 come from areas covered by NJ Jewish News.
In its mission statement, Rabbis for Israel supports a peace involving “two independent states, a Jewish state of Israel and a Palestinian state, living side by side in peace, security, and prosperity.”
It also acknowledges “that Israel shares some responsibility for the current state of affairs,” presumably the stalled peace process.
At the same time, the petition declares the signatories “are particularly concerned by the manner in which some organizations within the Jewish community, which profess to care for Israel and her well-being, advocate that pressure be applied upon her to make unilateral concessions.”
Although no organizations are named, observers assume the petition is referring to J Street, the two-year-old group that has positioned itself as a left-leaning alternative to the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, or AIPAC.
Rabbi Michael Boyden, a Reform rabbi in Hod HaSharon, said he founded the group in reaction to the coverage of the Gaza flotilla incident and the response it engendered.
“I was appalled not only by the way in which most of the international media covered the story, but also by the fact that some sections of the Jewish community, particularly in North America, seemed to have accepted that version of events and were calling for an end to the blockade of the Gaza Strip while not demonstrating a realistic understanding of Israel’s security needs,” Boyden wrote in an e-mail exchange with NJJN.
“While much was being written about the harsh lot of the Palestinians of Gaza,” he continued, “the citizens of Sderot had been forgotten and the plight of [kidnapped Israeli soldier] Gilad Shalit was simply given a passing nod.”
The mission statement rejects criticism of Israel that does not recognize the Israelis’ right to self-defense and its “real security concerns.”
Much of the statement is directed at Jewish groups it considers one-sided in their criticism of Israel.
“We believe that such advocacy, which results in intransigence and increased demands from the Palestinians, does not advance the cause of peace,” according to the statement. “In discrediting Israel publicly, such organizations not only weaken support for her but also serve the interests of her detractors and enemies.”
Although no organizations are singled out, J Street seems to be on everyone’s mind.
“I will not say I’m opposed to J Street because we have J Street members and leaders at our synagogue, but I find Rabbis for Israel more reflective of my position toward Israel,” said Rabbi Joshua Goldstein of Temple Sha’arey Shalom in Springfield, one of the signers.
“I have observed over the last few years growing numbers of my colleagues who find it necessary to bash or criticize Israel whenever they want. I think we need to put some limits on that,” said Goldstein. He added, “I don’t believe Israel is without blemishes, but in a world where it is so easy to pile on criticism of Israel, I think it is counterproductive.”
Rabbi Joel Abraham of Temple Sholom in Scotch Plains worked on several drafts of the document. “Although, as do many of my colleagues, I agree with many of the ideals of J Street, I do not feel comfortable in how they have presented themselves or that message,” he wrote in an e-mail exchange with NJJN.
“On the other side, I am uncomfortable with the idea that a maximalist Israel must be supported without any dissent. [Rabbis for Israel] says what it believes — in a two-state solution, lays out reasonable expectations of any partners for peace, and asks the critics of the Israeli government to engage in that conversation with the government itself, rather than through and with third parties.”
Rabbi Douglas Sagal of Temple Emanu-El in Westfield is a supporter of both Rabbis for Israel and J Street. He does not see any conflict. “Maybe Rabbis for Israel was formed in part as a response to J Street. But I think J Street serves an important purpose in providing an alternate voice for those who support Israel. I think they have made errors recently, overstating Israel’s culpability. But I find both organizations worthy,” he said.
Sagal said he joined Rabbis for Israel in part because of his “strong personal admiration and respect” for Boyden. “My experience has been that when Rabbi Boyden has something to say about supporting the Jewish state, I find it’s worthwhile to listen.”
Rabbi Daniel Cohen of Temple Sharey Tefilo-Israel in South Orange pointed out that Rabbis for Israel offers a middle ground — one that is often hard to find among Reform rabbis.
“With so much immediate international condemnation of Israel when anything happens, even before the facts are known, the need for public and loud support for Israel that takes a middle road approach is more important than ever,” Cohen said, adding, “We begin from an assumption that we support Israel but are not blindly supportive.”
Rabbis for Israel also urges Muslim and Christian leaders to teach tolerance and Muslim leaders to denounce violent jihad. It urges the international community and media to recognize “that any resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict will demand that Israel’s very real security concerns be addressed, particularly in the light of the key role played by Iran and Syria in arming and training Israel’s enemies.”
Abraham underscored the increased credibility the document has earned simply by having been drafted in Israel. “This is an organization led by an Israeli rabbi who has invited his colleagues from around the world to join together — rather than each community accusing each other of not understanding what it is like to live in Israel or, conversely, to defend Israel from afar.”
Rabbi Laurence Groffman of Temple Sholom of West Essex in Cedar Grove applauds the group’s goal of raising the level of discourse over Israel in the media.
“The message that tends to get out is biased,” said Groffman. “The impression you get is that the reason we have a problem in the Middle East is Israel. ‘If only Israel would not do this or would not do that, we’d have no problem.’ It’s not just Israel is the oppressor and the Palestinians are the victim. Israel is far more complex than that, and we should look at it as the complex situation that it is.”
Groffman likes the idea that Boyden’s organization is for rabbis of all stripes. “Having a rabbinic organization standing for Israel makes a certain impression,” he said.
Of the 15 in the NJJN catchment areas, however, just two are Conservative and none are Orthodox; the rest are Reform.
Goldstein said that Rabbis for Israel offers “a voice we didn’t hear expressing solidarity for Israel. It’s a model for the rest of the community to emulate.”
So far, Rabbis for Israel is a mission statement with signatories, but Boyden said the group is in the midst of establishing a forum for those with a centrist view, and future plans include disseminating information and developing an advocacy program based on its beliefs.
Rabbis for Israel: Mission Statement
Below is the Rabbis for Israel mission statement, which currently carries over 200 signatures:
Rabbis for Israel is a grassroots movement of rabbis from all streams, who are deeply concerned by the drift in much of world opinion that has made it legitimate to single out Israel for blame and censure in respect of the Israeli/Palestinian conflict.
While we recognize that Israel shares some responsibility for the current state of affairs, we believe that the roots of the conflict and its broader dimensions are much more complex than is generally presented.
Attempts by Israel's detractors to lay the blame for the lack of progress toward peace at her door while pressing her alone to make concessions are not only unjustified, but frequently motivated by political interests, naivety, ignorance, misinformation or even anti-Semitism.
We are particularly concerned by the manner in which some organizations within the Jewish community, which profess to care for Israel and her well-being, advocate that pressure be applied upon her to make unilateral concessions. Similar demands are not made of the Palestinians to respond in kind, if at all. We believe that such advocacy, which results in intransigence and increased demands from the Palestinians, does not advance the cause of peace. In discrediting Israel publicly, such organizations not only weaken support for her but also serve the interests of her detractors and enemies.
At a time when it has become fashionable to castigate Israel for unrest in the Middle East and elsewhere, we appeal to Jews everywhere to respond to criticism of Israel with support and to advocate on her behalf.
A Lasting and Secure Peace for Israel
We, the undersigned, believe that Israel has a legitimate right to exist as a sovereign, democratic Jewish state in the historic homeland of the Jewish people. We support a peaceful and just resolution to the Israeli/Palestinian conflict that will recognize two independent states, a Jewish state of Israel and a Palestinian state, living side by side in peace, security and prosperity.
We call upon the Arab and Muslim world to accept unequivocally and publicly Israel's permanent right to exist in peace.
We believe that any resolution of the Israeli/Palestinian conflict will require Israel to cede sovereignty over most of the West Bank and will need to address the aspirations of both Israelis and Palestinians concerning Jerusalem, a city that is holy to three religions.
Palestinian claims for a right of return will need to find their resolution within the Palestinian state once established.
Teaching Tolerance and Peace
We call upon Muslim and Christian religious leaders to establish frameworks in their own communities to oppose messages of hatred and violence against Israel, to work toward developing a spirit of mutual understanding, tolerance and peace with Jews, and to encourage the strengthening of peaceful relationships and partnerships between Israelis and Palestinians.
We call upon the Palestinian Authority, Hamas and their agents to cease using the media, mosques and textbooks to foster and incite hatred against Israel and the Jewish People.
Support for Israel
We call upon leaders in the Jewish community to support Israel in their public statements and express any concerns they may have with great caution and considerable forethought given the manner in which their views are likely to be manipulated to Israel's detriment by those who use every opportunity to vilify her.
The Use of Violence
We call upon Palestinian political and religious leaders to denounce the use of violent Jihad, and demand that the Palestinian Authority, Hamas and their agents cease all forms of support, complicity and participation in or glorification of terrorist activities.
We recognize Israel's moral right to defend her citizens against attacks emanating from the Palestinian territories. To demand that Israel forgo the right to defend her citizens in order to improve the lot of the Palestinians, without the latter abandoning their call for violent resistance, is neither moral nor ethical. As such, we reject the moral equivalency that some would draw between the suffering of the Palestinians and the lasting psychological trauma not to mention literal endangerment of life with which Israelis have to contend.
We call upon the international community and media to recognize that any resolution of the Israeli/Palestinian conflict will demand that Israel's very real security concerns be addressed, particularly in the light of the key role played by Iran and Syria in arming and training Israel's enemies.
We urge rabbis who agree with this statement to sign on to it, demonstrating their support for a reasonable solution to the Israeli/Palestinian conflict.