WASHINGTON — Despite previous vows to press the Bush administration to set an exit strategy from Iraq, leaders of the Reform synagogue movement have decided not to push for a resolution on the issue at the Jewish community’s major policy conference.
Movement leaders promised to mobilize the American Jewish community on the issue after delegates to the biennial assembly of the Union for Reform Judaism overwhelmingly passed a resolution last November that called on the Bush administration to establish an exit strategy. But Reform officials have decided not to push for a similar motion at the annual plenum of the Jewish Council for Public Affairs, a consultative public policy group that brings together 123 local Jewish communities and 13 national Jewish organizations.
As a result, the issue is not expected to come up for a vote, though polls show that a large majority of American Jews opposed the war. One survey, published this past December by the American Jewish Committee, found that 70% of American Jews oppose the war and only 28% back it.
Rabbi David Saperstein, director of the Reform union’s advocacy arm in Washington, said his movement concluded that a strong statement on Iraq would have failed to secure the consensus support needed for a resolution to pass at the JCPA plenum.
In October 2002 the JCPA issued a statement in support of the “diplomatic efforts by the United States, its allies and the U.N. to secure the elimination of Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction.” The statement endorsed “the use of force by the United States and its allies only as a last resort.”
Following consultations with other members of the JCPA, Saperstein said, Reform leaders realized that “we would have had to water it down so much, as to not have the kind of substance we wanted, or it would have been so divisive that it wouldn’t have passed.”
Faced with the choice of weak language or a failed resolution, Saperstein added, the Reform movement decided not to submit an Iraq resolution.
“There are times when the organizations are ahead of where the majority of folks in the Jewish community are, and there are times when they are behind where the majority of the people in the community are,” Saperstein said. “And for many reasons, this is one of those cases where they are behind.”
Unlike Jewish individuals, Jewish “organizations are balancing a lot of different interests and concerns in developing their policy positions,” he said.
In recent years, officials at several Jewish organizations have said that some groups have avoided taking positions critical of the Bush administration so as not to offend their Republican donors or have their White House access cut off.
The Reform union’s decision to refrain from submitting a resolution on the war at the upcoming policy plenum does not appear to be attracting criticism from within the Reform movement.
Since the Reform union adopted its Iraq resolution, most of the movement’s activity regarding the war has focused on raising the issue within Reform congregations rather than on taking public action. The reason, Reform sources said, is that the movement’s leaders have been busy with other issues, including efforts to block the administration’s budget cuts.
“We are in the process of developing more comprehensive programmatic plans on how to implement” the movement’s resolution on the Iraq War, Saperstein said.
Saperstein is slated to participate in a panel discussion on the Iraq War at the JCPA plenum, which will take place in Washington between February 25 and February 28.
JCPA members will discuss draft resolutions on a variety of domestic and foreign policy issues, including one opposing the use of torture by American security personnel in the war on terrorism. Among the other resolutions being considered are measures calling for enforing stricter laws to curb international human trafficking, stopping the violence in Sudan and the genocide in the Darfur region, enacting United Nations reform and advancing religious pluralism in America.