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June 12, 2009

On Judaism, Israelis Are Pro-Choice

There are a couple of points worth noting with regard to your important article about the fight for religious pluralism in Israel and for fair treatment for the Masorti (or Conservative) and Reform movements (“Conservative Jews Decry Bias in IDF,” May 29).

While you suggest there are only 40,000 Conservative Jews in Israel, we should resist the temptation to measure Israeli events by American standards. Because the Israeli government has for so long provided so much subsidy to Orthodox institutions, Israelis have only recently begun to acquire the habit of “joining” a congregation in the sense of paying dues and specifically affiliating.

But there are some other numbers that are illuminating. In 2008, 500 b’nai mitzvah were celebrated at Masorti congregations. This was in addition to the close to 300 special needs b’nai mitzvah under the auspices of Masorti’s highly regarded national program. The Masorti movement now has 53 kehillot (communities) and havurot established throughout the country.

Just prior to this last Rosh Hashanah, a poll was reported on Ynet in which Israelis were asked if they would go to services on the holidays and, if yes, where. In one sense, the poll could not possibly have been correct. Based on the results, about 350,000 would have been expected at a Masorti kehilla. We know that did not happen. What the poll results do mean is that Masorti is now an acceptable “shul to not go to.”

Your article suggests that the Masorti movement is “unlikely to experience much support” from secular Israelis, who expect religion in government and society “to be Orthodox.” But while you would have been correct 10 years ago in saying that Israelis wanted the religion they did not observe to be Orthodox, that is far from true today. Times change.

One reason that Masorti’s efforts are so much more in the public eye is that the Israeli public wants it to be so. The issue is not whether any one approach to a religiously meaningful and fulfilling life is right, or better than any other. The issue is that the government should not be choosing sides. The recent landmark decisions of Israel’s Supreme Court are clearly steering the country in the direction of pluralism and democratic values. It is a pity that legal battles seem to be the only way to bring about change.

David H. Lissy
Executive Director and CEO
Masorti Foundation for Conservative Judaism in Israel
New York, N.Y.

On Iran, Doves Are Flocking With Obama

In his May 29 opinion article, “When Doves Can’t Flock Together,” Ephraim Sneh laments that dovish American Jewish organizations are “adopting positions that contradict Israel’s most basic security needs and that ultimately are at odds with the goal of Israeli-Palestinian reconciliation.”

Sneh, a former Israeli deputy defense minister and longtime peace advocate, complains about dovish groups seeking to include Hamas in a Palestinian unity government, fighting against the swift enactment of tough sanctions against Iran and opposing the option of taking military action against the Islamic Republic as a last resort.

I agree that unless Hamas changes its spots by ceasing terror activities and recognizing Israel, reconciliation talks between Hamas and Fatah will continue to fail.

But with respect to Iran, it’s important to be realistic. The enactment of tougher sanctions against Iran is not currently in the cards, since the Bush administration failed at bringing allies together to support an effective sanctions regime. Military action by the West against the mullahs also seems like a pipe dream.

Israel should encourage Washington to reach out to Tehran in an effort to end Iran’s nuclear program. But if President Obama’s diplomatic efforts fail, and if tougher sanctions fail, with both being given a reasonable and clear time frame, then Washington and all American Jewish organizations, including dovish groups, should support Israel if it undertakes military action to halt or delay Iran’s development of a capability to launch a nuclear attack against Israel.

Seymour D. Reich
New York, N.Y.

The writer is past president of the Israel Policy Forum and a former chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations.

Ephraim Sneh criticizes the stances of some unidentified pro-peace American Jewish groups. Although he does not mention Americans for Peace Now by name, his article is clearly directed in part at us.

Sneh implies that groups such as ours are “adopting positions that contradict Israel’s most basic security needs.” We take offense at that characterization. Our imperatives, when discussing and adopting policy positions, are the national security interests of Israel and the United States.

The picture Sneh paints reflects a superficial understanding of our positions, both on Iran and Hamas. We do not reject sanctions against Iran and do not rule out the use of military power. We do not suggest hugging the Iranian regime. We do agree with President Obama, however, that engagement with Iran is neither futile nor a waste of time. We agree with the president that the path of sanctions and military threats alone has been tried unsuccessfully.

Sneh proposes creating a “revolutionary situation” in Iran. In our opinion, waiting for sanctions to induce regime-change in Iran is a waste of time.

We urge Sneh — and the readers of the Forward — to carefully read our detailed policy positions on Iran and Hamas on our Web site before passing sweeping judgments on them.

Ori Nir
Americans for Peace Now
Washington, D.C.

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