Jewish anti-war activists are launching a major campaign to get the country’s largest synagogue movement to come out against the Iraq War.
The campaign was announced to followers Monday in an e-mail from Rabbi Arthur Waskow, head of the Philadelphia-based Shalom Center.
Waskow, a leading Jewish anti-war activist, announced that his organization was attempting to get together members of the Reform movement to pressure their leaders to take part in the action against the war.
According to Waskow, the goal was to get the movement’s congregational arm, the Union for Reform Judaism, to adopt an anti-war resolution at its biennial conference in Houston next month.
“Polls taken a year ago by the American Jewish Committee… show that even then, two-thirds of the American Jewish community decisively opposed the self-destructive U.S. war against and military presence in Iraq,” the e-mail read. “The opposition has surely grown since then, and is surely especially strong in the grass roots of Reform Judaism. Yet the official Reform Jewish movement has utterly failed to speak out against the war or to call for bringing our troops there safely and quickly home. The URJ has not even taken part in mainstream anti-war coalitions like Win Without War, alongside such natural allies as the National Council of Churches, the NAACP, Sierra Club.”
Reform movement officials could not be reached for comment.
The campaign to pressure the Reform movement comes just weeks after the top two leaders of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations issued a statement praising President Bush’s October 6 speech, in which he reiterated his case for war and defended his overall strategy in the war against terrorism.
In their statement, Presidents Conference Chairman Harold Tanner and Executive Vice Chairman Malcolm Hoenlein did not address the topic of Iraq directly. Instead they praised Bush’s “dedication to pursue the war on terror” and his comments about “radical Islamic terrorists and their attitude toward Jews and the State of Israel.”
Several Reform organizations, including the URJ, are members of the Presidents Conference, a loose coalition of 52 national organizations that is widely viewed as the Jewish community’s unified voice on Middle East affairs. At least one member organization of the Presidents Conference, The Workmen’s Circle, has called on Bush to remove American troops from Iraq.
In September 2002, before the United States invaded Iraq, the URJ’s executive committee adopted its own position on the war. It supported “unilateral military action by the U.S.” against Iraq “as a preventative measure, given the alleged presence of weapons of mass destruction in the hands of Saddam Hussein’s regime.” The URJ approved the use of force as long as several conditions were met: an American effort to act internationally; exhaustion of nonmilitary actions before opting for war; a guarantee of congressional approval before taking military action.
The URJ is a member of two organizations — the Presidents Conference and the Jewish Council for Public Affairs — that before the start of the war issued statements voicing some level of support for an American invasion.
Waskow told the Forward that he received a call from a Reform synagogue — which he did not name — that is attempting to present a resolution at the URJ biennial, urging the organization’s steering committee to re-examine its position on the war. According to Waskow, the congregation needs four other synagogues to sign on so that a resolution can be presented. Waskow said that by noon Monday, several hours after the e-mail was sent out, two other congregations had already joined the initiative.