I write to you as the President of the Union for Reform Judaism, representing almost 920 Reform synagogues in the United States and Canada and 1.5 million Reform Jews. You are, of course, familiar with the work of our Union, and we have been honored to host you on numerous occasions at our conventions and board meetings in North America and Israel.
I know that you are currently involved in intense negotiations that might lead to the Labor Party joining Prime Minister Sharons government coalition. I am aware as well that a primary concern of your party in conducting these negotiations is to assure support for the Prime Ministers plan to withdraw from the Gaza Strip. The Reform movement is fully supportive of your desire to move the withdrawal plan forward; we are sympathetic as well to the views that you have expressed urging the withdrawal to be carried out in such a way that it enhances moderation in the Palestinian community, encourages a renewal of negotiations, and generally strengthens the peace process.
At the same time, I write to ask that you keep in mind the impact that these negotiations could have on the critical issues of religious freedom that are now on the public agenda. We know from its excellent platform on religion and state that the Labor Party attaches great importance to these matters and that it understands that both Israels citizens and Diaspora Jews care deeply about them. Our hope, as the largest grassroots Jewish organization in North America, is that those who draw up the coalition agreement will be sensitive to these concerns. We therefore ask that no support be given in this agreement to legislation that will ignite religious tensions in the Jewish world, and that no actions be taken that will discriminate against Reform and Conservative Judaism in Israel or the Diaspora.
We further hope that the achievements of the current government will not be compromised in the coalition talks. We take note in this regard that Israels government has decided to dismantle the Ministry of Religious Affairs and to transfer its authority to municipal government bodies; to move toward the passage of civil marriage legislation; to prevent discrimination against any ethnic group or religious stream in the allocation of government and educational funds; and to provide resources for the establishment of cemeteries that are free from the control of the Orthodox establishment. It would be tragic if the coalition agreement resulted in a roll back of these modest but promising developments.
At a moment when our attention as a people should be focused on fighting terror and securing peace in Israel, surely it is in the interest of the Jewish state to avoid taking any steps that would divide us from one another or that would send a message to millions of Reform and Conservative Jews that their Judaism is seen as inauthentic by Israels leaders. This is a time for unity and solidarity, and not for turning back the clock on matters of religious rights. As noted, your platform is a fine statement of the values of your party on such matters, and we hope that it will guide Labors considerations as the coalition negotiations progress.
I thank you for your consideration. I look forward to seeing you during my next visit to Israel.
Sincerely yours, Eric H. Yoffie, President Union for Reform Judaism