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Rabbi Yoffie's Letter to Shimon Peres

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NORTH AMERICAN REFORM MOVEMENT URGES LABOR PARTY TO KEEP
GAZA WITHDRAWAL, RELIGIOUS FREEDOM AS PRIORITIES IN COALITION NEGOTIATIONS

AUGUST 10—Rabbi Eric Yoffie, president of the Union for Reform Judaism, is urging the Labor Party to remain steadfast in its commitment to the withdrawal from the Gaza Strip and to protect recent advances in religious freedom in the current negotiations over whether the party will join Prime Minister Sharon’s government coalition.

In a letter sent today to Shimon Peres, M.K., the chairman of the Labor Party, Yoffie wrote, “The Reform movement is fully supportive of your desire to move the withdrawal plan forward,” and endorsed the position that the withdrawal be carried out in a way “that…enhances moderation in the Palestinian community, encourages a renewal of negotiations, and generally strengthens the peace process.” (The full text of the letter appears below.)

In his letter, Yoffie also addressed an area of critical concern to Diaspora Jews, namely religious freedom and the rights of non-Orthodox Jews in Israel. “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,” he wrote. ”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.”

Yoffie noted that the current government, which includes the Likud and Shinui parties, has taken some positive steps in the religious realm, including the dismantling of the Ministry of Religious Affairs and preliminary movement toward civil marriage legislation, and said, “It would be tragic if the coalition agreement resulted in a roll back of these modest but promising developments.”

Yoffie noted Peres’ long-standing relationship to the Reform movement, mentioning that he has appeared before the Union’s Board of Trustees and its Biennial convention on numerous occasions, both in Israel and in North America.

The Union for Reform Judaism is the central body of Reform Judaism in North America, uniting

1.5 million Reform Jews in more than 900 synagogues. For more information about the Union, please see http://urj.org

TEXT OF THE LETTER:

Shimon Peres, M.K., Chairman, Labor Party

Dear Mr. Peres:

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 Sharon’s 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 Minister’s 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 Israel’s 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 Israel’s 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 Israel’s 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 Labor’s 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

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The Union for Reform Judaism is the synagogue arm of the Reform Movement in North America, and represents 1.5 million Reform Jews in more than 900 congregations in the United States and Canada. The Union services include youth camps, music and book publishing, outreach to unaffiliated and intermarried Jews, adult education programs, and the Religious Action Center in Washington, DC.

 
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