In an unprecedented move today, the Reform Movement
objected to issued a statement about Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump’s invitation to AIPAC’s annual policy conference.
In a joint statement by its two major bodies the URJ and CCAR, the top leadership vowed to “find an appropriate and powerful way” to object to Mr. Trump’s inclusion at AIPAC’s annual policy conference in DC. The statement is unusual for several reasons. First, becasue the denominations do not wade into electoral politics often if at all. And the statement itself takes issue with Trump’s divisive rhetoric and vows to engage his views, but stops short of criticizing AIPAC for the invitation.
What does the statement mean? Is this a Reform movement criticism of the pro-Israel heavyweight? (How can one criticize the attendance of a racist without implicating the invitation?) Will Reform Jews protest Trump’s speech? (Unlikely given the caveat to “appropriate and powerful” methods.)
Full statement below.
The Reform Jewish Movement has always worked very closely with AIPAC. We respect completely its decision to invite all the viable candidates for president to speak at its upcoming Policy Conference. By inviting the candidates to speak, AIPAC does not support or oppose their candidacies, nor does it condone or commend their policies. AIPAC has, as it must, a singular focus: the U.S./Israel relationship. AIPAC’s intent – and its responsibility – is to better understand the candidates’ views on issues that impact the U.S./Israel relationship.
We know the invitation to candidate Donald Trump was issued in that spirit, and we therefore understand AIPAC’s decision to extend the invitation. Mr. Trump is the unarguable frontrunner for the Republican nomination, and he has not yet spoken clearly about his views on U.S./Israel issues. The AIPAC Policy Conference will give him an opportunity to do so, just as it does for other candidates.
At the same time, we cannot ignore the many issues on which Mr. Trump has spoken clearly. His campaign has been replete with naked appeals to bigotry, especially against Hispanics and Muslims. Previous comments he has made – and not disavowed – have been offensive to women, people of color, and other groups. In recent days, increasingly, he appears to have gone out of his way to encourage violence at his campaign events.
At every turn, Mr. Trump has chosen to take the low road, sowing seeds of hatred and division in our body politic.
Mr. Trump’s extreme anti-immigrant rhetoric reminds us that our own ancestors’ access to American shores of freedom and promise were once blocked, with deadly consequences. When he speaks hatefully of Mexicans or Muslims, for example, we recall a time when anti-Semitism put Jews at deathly danger, even in the United States. We cannot remain silent, for we have been commanded to “remember the heart of the stranger, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt.”
His approach to immigration, his proposal to ban Muslims from entering our country, his comments speaking favorably about the use of torture, and his general demeanor of disrespect for the office he now seeks are all anathema to our fundamental values. The values we hold most dear – justice, mercy, compassion, peace – are altogether absent from Mr. Trump’s statements.
The great sage Rabbi Hillel offered us guidance centuries ago, saying, “Do not do unto others what you would not want done to you.” Jewish history is replete with times when political leaders, both at home and abroad, demonized the Jewish community much as Mr. Trump now demonizes Muslims, Hispanics, and African-Americans. We, the leadership of the Reform Jewish Movement, believe we must speak up against such hate speech.
As a religious movement, we do not endorse or oppose any candidates – and we do not do so now. We have often listened to and, more importantly, engaged with candidates and officeholders whose views sharply differ from our own; such interactions are the essence of our political system. But Mr. Trump is not simply another candidate. In his words and actions, he makes clear that he is engaging in a new form of political discourse, and so the response to his candidacy demands a new approach, as well.
The Reform Movement and our leaders will engage with Mr. Trump at the AIPAC Policy Conference in a way that affirms our nation’s democracy and our most cherished Jewish values. We will find an appropriate and powerful way to make our voices heard.
Union for Reform Judaism
Rabbi Rick Jacobs, President, and Daryl Messinger, Chair of the Board
Central Conference of American Rabbis
Rabbi Denise L. Eger, President, and Rabbi Steven A. Fox, CEO