Local leaders join hundreds of U.S. rabbis, protesting new Israeli government
IsraelDiaspora Disapproval

Local leaders join hundreds of U.S. rabbis, protesting new Israeli government

An open letter included the signatures of over 300 rabbis

Screen shot by David Rullo
Screen shot by David Rullo

Two local rabbis and one cantor have joined more than 300 Jewish clergy from across the country in signing an open letter titled “A Call to Action for Clergy in Protest of Israeli Government Extremists.”

The letter is a reaction to the new Israel coalition government formed by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, his Likud Party, and the far-right Religious Zionist and Otzma Yehudit parties.

“Their policy proposals are anathema to the tenets of democracy, contradicting the spirit and intent of Israel’s own Declaration of Independence,” the letter states.

It further asserts the policy proposals will cause “irreparable harm to the Israel-Jewish Diaspora relationship” and is an “affront to the vast majority of American Jews” and their values.

The letter cites five specific concerns:

• Changing the Law of Return, including the refusal to recognize non-Orthodox converts and their descendants
• Eroding LGBTQ rights and the rights of women
• Allowing the Knesset to overrule Israeli Supreme Court decisions
• Annexing the West Bank
• Expelling Arab Israeli citizens who oppose the government

The letter’s signatories pledge to not invite members of the “RZP block-including but not limited to Otzma Yehudit leaders” from speaking at congregations and organizations they represent. They also pledge to encourage the boards of their organizations to join them in protest to demonstrate their “commitment to our Jewish and democratic values.”

Israeli government ministers sometimes speak at American synagogues to drum up support for their initiatives and proposals.
The letter illustrates a growing schism between Israelis, who are leaning more center-right and right, and American Jews, who are largely center-left politically.

Temple Sinai Rabbi Emeritus Jamie Gibson, who signed the letter, agreed that there is a growing gap between Israelis and American Jews. He also noted his concern regarding various extreme positions held by the ultra-progressive left in some Jewish circles.

“But the far-right really scares me,” Gibson said, “because what they’re willing to do is to deny the democratic principles or basic human rights to Palestinians in ways that I just find unacceptable.”

Gibson has been to Israel 34 times, he said, and supports the country and its right to exist without reservation.

The rabbi, who said he is center-left politically, decided to sign the letter because he supports the Jewish state as a democracy. Elements included in the new coalition, he said, are “frightening for those of us who have a vision of Israel as a Jewish democratic state.”

Temple Sinai Cantor David Reinwald said he learned of the letter from an email sent by a colleague in the American Conference of Cantors.

“I was drawn to the fact that political and religious extremism in the top echelon of leadership in Israel is not in line with Reform Jewish values,” he said. “I don’t think any of us think it’s a good thing for the forward progress of Israel; in turn, it’s probably not good for the Jewish people.”

Many Jewish organizations have spoken out over the last several months against the proposed government coalition and the policies it is believed to support, including the Union of Reform Judaism and the Rabbinical Assembly, the international association of Conservative Rabbis.

And while the large number of rabbis who signed the letter speaks to the momentum in some circles against the new government, many more rabbis did not sign the letter.

Temple Emanuel of South Hills Rabbi Aaron Meyer said he decided against adding his name to the letter because he wasn’t sure if it added any weight to the discussion.

“While agreeing with the concerns about Bazalel Smotrich and Itamar Ben Gvi and the rising extremism in Israel, that parallels the polarization we see in the United States, I don’t know that my voice adds much to the conversation,” Meyer said.

The letter was not signed by any Orthodox rabbi, and no Orthodox group has yet to release a formal statement about the new Israeli coalition government.

The Biden administration, JTA reported, has said that it will judge Israel’s government by its policies, not individuals in Netanyahu’s cabinet. PJC

David Rullo can be reached at drullo@pittsburghjewishchronicle.org.

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