Reform Judaism, liberal politics, and Israel

Rabbi David SapersteinI just opened my mail to find a solicitation for funds from Rabbi David Saperstein of the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism.

Rabbi Saperstein finds that this dark, cold winter is “dark politically as well”, and I agree with him. Israel is in as much or more danger today as she has been since 1948, and things don’t look so good for the Jewish people in the USA either, with a surge in antisemitic expression in popular and ‘intellectual’ culture.

Imagine my surprise, then, to find that the issues Rabbi Saperstein is most concerned about do not include antisemitism at all, the issue of Israel is mentioned last — and the policy he advocates in this regard is the worst imaginable!

Here are Rabbi Saperstein’s top ‘challenges”:

  • Supreme court nominations,
  • Civil rights protections for gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgendered people,
  • Global climate change,
  • The international health care crisis,
  • and finally this:

  • “During too many years of a hands-off approach to the Middle East conflict, the Reform Movement was the most outspoken national Jewish organization calling for U.S. efforts to help craft a two-state solution. Finally it appears that the U.S. is reengaging, and there is now an opening toward peace. The RAC is working vigorously with members of Congress and the Administration to advance a viable and lasting resolution to the conflict.”

Now I am quite concerned about climate change, and certainly have opinions about all of the above issues, although they may or may not be the same as Rabbi Saperstein’s. But keep in mind that this is a solicitation from a Religious Action Center to a specifically Jewish audience, supposedly concerned about Jewish issues. Yet most of these issues are simply white bread liberal politics.

I’ve heard it said that Jewish ethics, as understood by Reform Jews, is identical with mildly left-wing liberalism. If this is false, I certainly can’t tell that from Rabbi Saperstein’s letter.

Now let’s get to the last “challenge”.

Rabbi Saperstein would undoubtedly call himself pro-Israel. But as I’ve written countless times, the so-called policy of “engagement” is really a policy of appeasement of violently anti-Israel and antisemitic regimes. The policy embraces arming Israel’s enemies and forcing Israel to make concrete concessions that damage her ability to survive in the face of terrorist and conventional assaults, in return for absolutely nothing — unless it is the increased contempt in which she is held around the world.

Does Rabbi Saperstein really believe that “there is now an opening toward peace”? With whom, the despised, powerless Mahmoud Abbas, who nevertheless refuses to recognize Israel as a Jewish state and insists on the right of return to Israel for 5 million Arabs? The Saudis, with their ‘peace’ plan that requires complete Israeli surrender on every issue before there will be “normal relations” (but not recognition)?

Does he agree with the statement issued under US auspices at at the Annapolis conference — at which Israelis were not permitted through the same door as Arabs — which condemned “terrorism and incitement, whether committed by Palestinians or Israelis”?

Rabbi Saperstein’s position supporting the US present Middle East policy is therefore pernicious. It is a position that no Jewish religious organization should take in view of the importance of Israel and Jerusalem to Judaism (see the Reform Movement’s own ‘Miami platform’ of 1997). It is no more or less than the standard liberal dogma about this issue, like all the rest of his “challenges”.

As a member of a Reform congregation myself, I have a “challenge” for Rabbi Saperstein: explain to me how your letter is supposed to appeal to me as a Jew and a Zionist. Or are these categories irrelevant to Reform Judaism?

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