Speaking Out on Iraq

Published February 24, 2006, issue of February 24, 2006.
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History almost certainly will judge President Bush by the ultimate success or failure of his decision to invade Iraq. But American Jews already have decided: About 70%, according to a recent poll, think the war was a mistake.

Jewish organizations — the entities that wield political power in the community’s name — are another matter.

Before the invasion, the two major communal umbrella groups — the Jewish Council for Public Affairs and the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations — issued statements that supported the use of force as a last resort to ensure that Iraq did not possess weapons of mass destruction. The statements hardly amounted to a call for war or an endorsement for Bush’s later democratization doctrine, but they certainly could be read as deferring to the judgment and character of the president and his security team.

In recent months, one major Jewish organization — the Union for Reform Judaism — has seen fit to revisit the issue in a comprehensive manner, eventually calling on the Bush administration to outline an exit strategy from Iraq. Other organizations, including dozens that affixed their names to the JCPA and Presidents Conference resolutions, have sat on their hands, as if the most divisive and most pressing issue facing America was no longer a matter for their concern.

As Ori Nir reports on Page 7, the situation is unlikely to change anytime soon; the issue is not expected to come up for a vote at the upcoming plenum of the JCPA, a body that brings the synagogue movements, national organizations and local communities under one roof to hammer out joint positions on a raft of policy issues. Reform leaders say they opted not to introduce a resolution at the plenum after concluding that any measure would almost certainly have ended up being rejected or watered down by other organizations.

Whether or not one agrees with the decision to avoid a fight at the upcoming policy conference, the Reform movement deserves credit for its overall willingness to tackle the issue head on. Now that leading Republicans and neoconservatives are asking the administration tough questions about its postwar policy in Iraq, other groups no longer can justify avoiding the issue on the grounds of wanting to avoid a partisan fight.

Almost every pressing issue on the Jewish community’s foreign- policy agenda — Iran, the war on terror, Israeli-Palestinian relations — has been and will be affected by American policy in Iraq. To stay silent is to abdicate responsibility for the past and the future.

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