Reform Rips U.S. Support For Sharon Gaza Plan

Group Urges Negotiations

By Ori Nir

Published August 06, 2004, issue of August 06, 2004.
  • Print
  • Share Share

WASHINGTON — America’s largest synagogue movement is urging the White House to step up its peace efforts in the Middle East and calling on Congress to refrain from passing one-sided pro-Israel resolutions.

The policy recommendations were outlined this week in a letter to Secretary of State Colin Powell from Rabbi David Saperstein, the Reform movement’s top representative in Washington. Citing a sweeping resolution passed last month by the Reform governing board, the letter states that the administration must “match” its public support for Sharon’s unilateral withdrawal plan with a “vigorous” effort to bring the Israelis and Palestinians back to the negotiating table.

Saperstein’s letter also criticizes Congress for passing pro-Israel resolutions that “fail to recognize the need for withdrawal to be directly linked to a return to the negotiating table” and “fail to address the troubling humanitarian conditions of the Palestinians.” And the letter mentions the movement’s opposition to the “Israeli government’s policy of administrative home demolitions [relating to zoning violations], which is most often applied… discriminatorily against the Arabs.”

Both the letter and resolution outline the Reform movement’s strong support for Sharon’s general plan to pull out of Gaza and parts of the West Bank, in addition to offering severe criticisms of the Palestinians.

Still, the movement’s new policy statements mark a major break from the unqualified support that almost all major Jewish organizations have voiced for the alliance between Sharon and President Bush.

Liberal activists stressed the importance of such sentiments being officially voiced by the leadership of the Union for Reform Judaism, which says it represents 900 congregations and 1.5 million followers.

“It is a hugely significant development, because this is the largest group of affiliated Jews in America,” said Lewis Roth, assistant executive director of Americans for Peace Now, which has criticized Sharon for failing to do more to pursue an agreement. “It makes you question who represents the majority view of America’s Jews.”

“I am thrilled to hear the Reform movement coming out with this position because I think the whole Jewish community has disengaged from the issue” of the peace process, said Kenneth Bob, president of the Labor Zionist Alliance.

The letter also drew harsh criticism. “There is no mention whatsoever [in the letter] of the lack of transparency, the lack of reform, the lack of dealing with security” on the part of the Palestinian leadership, said Abraham Foxman, national director of the Anti-Defamation League and a defender of Sharon’s policies. “It means for the U.S. to become the interlocutor, but with whom? Who is America supposed to push Sharon to negotiate with?”

Foxman also objected to Saperstein’s decision to criticize pro-Israel congressional resolutions for not being sufficiently balanced.

Morton Klein, national president of the Zionist Organization of America, told the Forward that the Reform movement’s position was “unfairly critical of Israel.”

“It promotes pressure on Israel and has the effect of undermining congressional support for it,” said Klein, who frequently has criticized Sharon for agreeing to withdraw from any territory. Saperstein’s letter to Powell, Klein added, “only marginalizes the Reform movement and makes it a part of the extreme left.”

Rabbi Eric Yoffie, president of the Union for Reform Judaism, rejected this characterization of Jewish public opinion. “There are those in the Jewish community who have either said or implied that they are not [eager] for the negotiations to be renewed. And that is not our position,” Yoffie told the Forward. “We wanted to make clear — as the largest grass-roots Jewish organization in North America — that it’s not our position; and that we believe — I would humbly suggest — that the centrist, mainstream position is our position.”

Saperstein, who, as head of the Reform movement’s Religious Action Center, is Yoffie’s chief lieutenant in Washington, told the Forward that he believes negotiations for a peace settlement — not just discussions on how to coordinate an Israeli pullout — must resume immediately, without waiting for a reformed Palestinian leadership to emerge. This position contradicts Sharon’s refusal to negotiate with Palestinian leaders who Sharon says are tainted by terrorism, corruption and their links to Yasser Arafat. Sharon contends that his unilateral initiative is a result of his inability to engage effectively with a Palestinian government led by Arafat.

But, Saperstein countered: “Any time you’re sitting at the table, it’s an opportunity” that could eventually lead to peace between Israelis and Palestinians. “We want to encourage that,” Saperstein said. He insisted that Palestinian interlocutors could be found, even now. He warned that Sharon’s unilateral approach — absent negotiations — could end up deluding Israelis, particularly on the right, into believing that they can gain security without negotiating with the Palestinians.

Asked if the Reform movement’s resolution contradicts Sharon’s policies or undermines them, Saperstein replied: “It is not clear what the official policy [of Israel’s government] is. We know only what is on the surface, what’s being said. We are trying to see that the policies are structured in a way that strengthens the peace process rather than weakens it, strengthens Palestinian moderates rather than weakens them. These are things that we want to encourage [Israel] to be pushing for, and not to give in to hardliners in the Israeli scene.”






Find us on Facebook!
  • More than 50 former Israeli soldiers have refused to serve in the current ground operation in #Gaza.
  • "My wife and I are both half-Jewish. Both of us very much felt and feel American first and Jewish second. We are currently debating whether we should send our daughter to a Jewish pre-K and kindergarten program or to a public one. Pros? Give her a Jewish community and identity that she could build on throughout her life. Cons? Costs a lot of money; She will enter school with the idea that being Jewish makes her different somehow instead of something that you do after or in addition to regular school. Maybe a Shabbat sing-along would be enough?"
  • Undeterred by the conflict, 24 Jews participated in the first ever Jewish National Fund— JDate singles trip to Israel. Translation: Jews age 30 to 45 travelled to Israel to get it on in the sun, with a side of hummus.
  • "It pains and shocks me to say this, but here goes: My father was right all along. He always told me, as I spouted liberal talking points at the Shabbos table and challenged his hawkish views on Israel and the Palestinians to his unending chagrin, that I would one day change my tune." Have you had a similar experience?
  • "'What’s this, mommy?' she asked, while pulling at the purple sleeve to unwrap this mysterious little gift mom keeps hidden in the inside pocket of her bag. Oh boy, how do I answer?"
  • "I fear that we are witnessing the end of politics in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. I see no possibility for resolution right now. I look into the future and see only a void." What do you think?
  • Not a gazillionaire? Take the "poor door."
  • "We will do what we must to protect our people. We have that right. We are not less deserving of life and quiet than anyone else. No more apologies."
  • "Woody Allen should have quit while he was ahead." Ezra Glinter's review of "Magic in the Moonlight": http://jd.fo/f4Q1Q
  • Jon Stewart responds to his critics: “Look, obviously there are many strong opinions on this. But just merely mentioning Israel or questioning in any way the effectiveness or humanity of Israel’s policies is not the same thing as being pro-Hamas.”
  • "My bat mitzvah party took place in our living room. There were only a few Jewish kids there, and only one from my Sunday school class. She sat in the corner, wearing the right clothes, asking her mom when they could go." The latest in our Promised Lands series — what state should we visit next?
  • Former Israeli National Security Advisor Yaakov Amidror: “A cease-fire will mean that anytime Hamas wants to fight it can. Occupation of Gaza will bring longer-term quiet, but the price will be very high.” What do you think?
  • Should couples sign a pre-pregnancy contract, outlining how caring for the infant will be equally divided between the two parties involved? Just think of it as a ketubah for expectant parents:
  • Many #Israelis can't make it to bomb shelters in time. One of them is Amos Oz.
  • According to Israeli professor Mordechai Kedar, “the only thing that can deter terrorists, like those who kidnapped the children and killed them, is the knowledge that their sister or their mother will be raped."
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.