An Open Letter to Our Rabbinical Colleagues

This past week, rabbis across the country received a request from the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism to sign a public rabbinic letter to Congress that urged our Representatives and Senators not to cut any foreign aid to Israel as part of the FY2012 budget. The request was co-signed by the rabbinical leaders of four major American Jewish denominations.

As rabbis who received these appeals for our endorsement, we would like to voice our respectful but strong disagreement to the letter. We take particular issue with the statement:

As Jews we are committed to the vision of the Prophets and Jewish sages who considered the pursuit of peace a religious obligation. Foreign Aid to Israel is an essential way that we can fulfill our obligation to “seek peace and pursue it”

We certainly agree that the pursuit of peace is our primary religious obligation. Our tradition emphasizes that we should not only seek peace but pursue it actively. However we cannot affirm that three billion dollars of annual and unconditional aid – mainly in the form of military aid – in any way fulfills the religious obligation of pursuing peace.

This aid provides Israel with military hardware that it uses to maintain its Occupation and to expand settlements on Palestinian land. It provides American bulldozers that demolish Palestinian homes. It provides tear gas that is regularly shot by the IDF at nonviolent Palestinian protesters. It also provided the Apache helicopters that dropped tons of bombs on civilian populations in Gaza during Operation Cast Lead, as well as the white phosphorus that Israel dropped on Gazan civilians, causing grievous burns to their bodies – including the bodies of children.

In light of Israel’s past and continuing military actions, how can we possibly affirm that our continued unconditional aid fulfills the sacred obligation of pursuing peace?

We also take exception to this assertion:

U.S. foreign aid reaffirms our commitment to a democratic ally in the Middle East and gives Israel the military edge to maintain its security and the economic stability to pursue peace.

In fact our ally, the Netanyahu administration, has even rebuffed mild pressure from the US government to comply with the longstanding US position against new settlements in the West Bank. If we believe that any peaceful settlement requires the end of the Occupation and Israel’s settlement policy, how will massive and unconditional foreign aid – and the support of hundreds of rabbis for this aid – promote a negotiated peaceful settlement of the conflict?

An Israeli government that continues to settle occupied territory with impunity will not change its policy as long as it is guaranteed three billion dollars a year. With every other ally, our government pursues a time-honored diplomatic policy that uses “sticks” as well as “carrots.” We believe the cause of peace would be better served by conditioning support to Israel on its adherence to American and Jewish values of equality and justice.

We are also mindful that the Arab world itself feels under assault by the US when it witnesses Palestinians regularly assaulted with American-made weapons. With the vast and important changes currently underway in the Middle East, we are deeply troubled by the message that this policy sends to Arab citizens who themselves are struggling for freedom and justice.

We know that many of our colleagues who have signed this statement have taken courageous public stands condemning Israel’s human rights abuses in the past. We also know it is enormously challenging to publicly take exception to our country’s aid policy to Israel. Nonetheless, we respectfully urge our our colleagues to consider the deeper implications represented by their support of this letter.

Unconditional aid to Israel may ensure Israel’s continued military dominance, but will it truly fulfill our religious obligation to pursue peace?

In Shalom,

Rabbi Brant Rosen and Rabbi Brian Walt

19 Responses to “An Open Letter to Our Rabbinical Colleagues”

  1. Yep.


    Jew Guevara · April 15th, 2011 at 10:30 pm
  2. How will the elimination of US defense aid to Israel affect the pursuit of peace by Israel’s neighbors? Are Arab countries, Islamist and Palestinian organizations organizations more likely to make peace with an Israel that is militarily vulnerable, or one that is militarily dominant?

    As is typical of the line of thinking presented in this open letter, a reasonable commitment to context is lacking.


    Victor · April 16th, 2011 at 10:02 pm
  3. The US and Israel pursue a strategy of qualitative military superiority, allowing Israel to treat nearly any combination of Arab and Palestinian military threats as surmountable.
    I’d rather Israel be motivated to seek a peace treaty under threat of worse outcomes down the line. Which is to say, I’d rather Israel not feel like it has an adequate military solution to the strategic problems related to the occupation of the West Bank, East Jerusalem, and Gaza.
    Let the generals say ‘sorry Bibi, looks like our hands our tied. You’ll have to make concessions to the Palestinians because we are no longer able to maintain the occupation.’


    Jew Guevara · April 16th, 2011 at 11:10 pm
  4. Anyone who wants to end US military aid to Israel is asking for the elimination of the State of Israel. Period.


    uzi · April 17th, 2011 at 1:04 am
  5. Anyone who wants to maintain current policy in Israel is asking for the elimination of the State of Israel. Period.


    BZ · April 17th, 2011 at 10:26 am
  6. BZ I don’t want to maintain current policy in Israel.
    I’m just not sure that the way to change Israeli policy is to withhold advanced weaponry and money that also helps keep Israel and Israelis safe.


    uzi · April 17th, 2011 at 11:01 am
  7. Is American funding for Iron Dome more likely to prevent the loss of life on all sides?


    Victor · April 17th, 2011 at 11:51 am
  8. Alternatively, US military hardware gives Israelis the arrogance and blindness they need to maintain the occupation.


    Jew Guevara · April 17th, 2011 at 11:51 am
  9. Which the Israelis have offered to end twice? How does that make sense?

    But you haven’t answered any of the questions I’ve raised, JG. Does American funding for Iron Dome prevent the loss of life on all sides?

    Are Arab states and non-state organizations more likely to make peace with an Israeli that is militarily vulnerable, or one that is militarily dominant?

    You’re very focused on affecting the Israeli decision cycle, but in a way that presumes Israelis are the only thinking party to the conflict. Why do you think this way?


    Victor · April 17th, 2011 at 12:10 pm
  10. With respect to my friend Rabbi Rosen and comrades here at Jewschool, I disagree.

    The qualitative military advantage has very little to do with the Palestinians. Both Israel and the US are involved in traning and arming (albeit lightly) PA security forces. Yes, some arms are indeed used against terror units in the process of planning or implementing operations against Israelis. I actually have no problem with that.

    By and large, however, these armaments are intended to provided the IDF with deterrence and superiority over forces, conventional and otherwise, based on foreign soil.

    We’re talking about Hizballah with its 100,000 rockets aimed at Tel Aviv, Syria where a wildcat Assad is so desperate he could do anything and their benefactor Iran whose regime is generally up to no good. There is also the remote possibility of some break in the cold peace with Egypt, however unlikely, against which to prepare.

    These are the ‘known unknowns.’ Instead of turning everything into a slam against the gradually shrinking occupation and the resistance of the right-wing coalition now in power, lets consider for a moment our brethren in this Passover season.

    Shall they be slaves to fear rather than Pharaoh?

    I dont think opposing for Israel’s continued defense of her citizen accomplishes anything but devalue Jewish lives and give a permission slip for extremists to willfully murder them.


    adam · April 17th, 2011 at 1:52 pm
  11. Anyone who wants to end US military aid to Israel is asking for the elimination of the State of Israel. Period
    hyperbolic much? and that’s coming from me! so you know it’s hyperbolic ;)

    I gotta say, buddy, you’re thinking like your father on this one. no offense to your father. love him. But that mentality is so ‘last generation’. But on a serious note. Israel has a robust economy, and is completely able to be self-sufficient. If they cannot afford cluster bombs and MOABs without US assistance, maybe they shouldn’t have them. I think they can defend themselves without weapons such as these. The question comes down to, as JG noted, if Israel can’t afford the occupation without US $, then it would be a good thing for Israel to receive less $. Because the occupation is bad. period.

    Let’s also realize this. the US does not support Israel because of good will or democracy or any of that bullshit. Israel is supported by the US because it provides them a military foothold in an oil rich region. When that foothold is no longer necessary, it will have become expendable. This is the trademark of US foreign policy. Use a nation for our own interests, pump it filled with money and aid, then walk away without any remorse leaving it to fend for itself. Plus, if the US actually wanted to work for its own interests with the Arab public, it wouldn’t fund the occupation or the oppressive regimes in the region. it’s common sense people.

    this whole nonsense that Israel will be eradicated if the US stops funding it is nonsense.


    Justin · April 17th, 2011 at 4:02 pm
  12. @Victor,
    I think most Israelis are deeply racist. Opinion polls bear this out. I also think they prefer to control Palestinians as subordinates rather than negotiate as equals. Finally, I think that absent pressure on Israel to force it to remove settlements and end the occupation, it will continue to do so.
    May Israel bend like a reed if it can, and snapped like a twig if it must – as long as the occupation is over and the Palestinian flag goes up over all of occupied East Jerusalem.
    So far, Israel appears to prefer the twig snapping…..


    Jew Guevara · April 17th, 2011 at 4:50 pm
  13. I agree with Justin. Funding Israel’s military is not about survival, it’s about control. If Israel did not have a qualitative edge, it would be attacked more often. It would respond with lower tech weapons, carpet bombing and artillery barrages, followed by traditional tank warfare. Many more people would be killed. Is this what everyone here is advocating?

    I mean, whether Israel has precision guided munitions to take out one room in a 20 story apartment building, or whether it brings the entire apartment building crashing down is the difference American weapons and funding make. Because American weapons and funding don’t affect the threat from Arab terrorism, but only the way in which Israel responds to that threat. A lower quality Israeli army will take less risks, and will kill a lot more people by accident. It will also have to preempt strategic threats, instead of having that security of mind a dominant army that can take the chance of allowing a militia with thousands of rockets to operate on its borders.

    So, if you want more collateral damage and more wars, stop funding Israel. Because the Jews of Israel are obviously not going to ever allow the Arabs to kill them without consequence, and will never stop defending themselves, no matter how embarrassed this makes JG or progressive American Jews.

    Justin, this whole “last generation” bit is already “last generation”. Israeli youth are increasingly less tolerant of Arab violence, and for all the progressive talk, American Jews in my 25-30 age group are, in my midwestern experience, readily disposed towards ethnic cleansing the Arabs. Which is terrible and something I try to explain is wrong, but that is my experience. I don’t see this great generational peace divide in young Jews. I see a less intellectual sensitivity to Jew hatred, and a willingness to kill those who wish Jews harm.


    Victor · April 17th, 2011 at 5:18 pm
  14. JG, I always listen to what you have to say, but I think you know that your reasoning on all things Israel is rarely purely rational or reasonable, and is often simmering with vindictiveness.


    Victor · April 17th, 2011 at 5:37 pm
  15. oy, victor. if only i had time to respond. maybe after pesah. a zissen pesah to all!!!


    Justin · April 17th, 2011 at 6:00 pm
  16. @Victor, I own the part of me that is responding from emotions. My world view is not wholly rational.
    By way of example…. you should see me struggle at home with getting my daughter to be committed to Israel. She says ‘but daddy, you aren’t even a Zionist!’ and I say ‘I’m an Israeli-but-not-a-Zionist, thank you very much!’


    Jew Guevara · April 17th, 2011 at 8:33 pm
  17. @ victor finding myself in strange agreement with you on this…
    Happy Pesach All!


    adam · April 17th, 2011 at 11:40 pm
  18. Justin, it’s not a one to one correlation between US foreign aid to Israel and the occupation. I am against the occupation like everyone else but I am also very pro having an Israel that can defend itself if she needs to. Like I said before, there have to be better ways to try to move Israeli policy vis a vis the occupation without strong-arming her into a weaker security position. Be creative people. This is just lazy and frankly (and this is my father talking) anti-Israel.
    Chag Sameach to all (who celebrate)


    uzi · April 18th, 2011 at 12:27 am
  19. JG, wow! How old is your daughter?


    Victor · April 18th, 2011 at 1:38 am

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"I may attack a certain point of view which I consider false, but I will never attack a person who preaches it. I have always a high regard for the individual who is honest and moral, even when I am not in agreement with him. Such a relation is in accord with the concept of kavod habriyot, for beloved is man for he is created in the image of God." —Rav Joseph Soloveitchik