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Reform Movement Letter to President Bush

Contact: Emily Grotta
212.650.4227
ESGrotta@urj.org

REFORM JEWISH MOVEMENT CALLS ON PRESIDENT BUSH
TO PROVIDE CLEAR EXIT STRATEGY FROM IRAQ
WHILE SUPPORTING PEACE AND STABILITY

Yoffie Terms Republican Jewish Coalition Attack Ad “Predictable and Misleading”

NEW YORK – DECEMBER 13: Following up on the resolution adopted at last month’s Union for Reform Judaism’s Biennial General Assembly, the top leadership of the nation’s largest synagogue Movement today wrote to President Bush calling a for a clear exit strategy from the war in Iraq, with some troop withdrawal beginning after this week’s parliamentary elections.

The leadership also responded today to an ad placed by the Republican Jewish Coalition in the New York Times as “predictable and misleading,” and suggested the Coalition needs to read the resolution more carefully before it takes aim.

The letter, from Robert M. Heller, Chairman of the Union for Reform Judaism Board of Trustees, and Rabbi Eric Yoffie, President of the Union for Reform Judaism, also called for an overall withdrawal as soon as possible, in a way that supports peace and stability in Iraq; greater transparency with regard to the conduct of the war; appreciation and support for our service men and women and their families; and equitable sharing of the war’s financial burden among Americans. (The full text of the letter follows; a similar letter was sent to all Members of Congress last week.)

In releasing the letter today, Mr. Heller noted that the Union’s resolution “was the result of weeks of rigorous debate among rabbis and lay leaders in our Movement, in which such topics as the continued and tragic destruction of American and Iraqi lives, the intelligence failures leading up to the invasion, the lack of planning for its aftermath, the increasingly negative public perception of the war, and Jewish teachings on war and related issues were discussed.”

Rabbi Yoffie added that “although no single opinion can adequately encompass the views of all members of Reform Movement congregations, we are proud of our representative democratic process and reaffirm our position as one that is timely, sensitive and nuanced. The final version of the resolution was cosponsored by six congregations from across the United States and was approved overwhelmingly by the more than 2,000 voting delegates (among over 4,000 participants) at the Union’s recent Biennial General Assembly in Houston.

Speaking to the RJC ad, which suggests that the Union for Reform Judaism does not believe that “Freedom is Worth Fighting For,” Yoffie said, “Does the RJC believe that anyone who has expressed doubts about the execution of the war and urged the Administration to come forward with a clear exit strategy is against the very freedom that makes it possible to express those doubts?”

“It is not surprising that the Republican Jewish Coalition takes issue with our criticism of President Bush’s Iraq strategy,” Yoffie said. “They exist, after all, to support the President. What is surprising, and disappointing, is that the ad bears no relationship to our policy.”

“We are, to be clear, committed to freedom for the Iraqi people; we disagree with the Republican Jewish Coalition about how to bring that about,” he said. “One of our goals in passing a resolution at our Biennial was to stimulate a debate on the war within the American Jewish community. We are pleased to see that debate beginning. It’s too bad the RJC’s contribution to that debate is misleading, and ignores the crucial issues facing our nation today which are raised in our resolution.”

Editor’s note: The full text of the resolution may be found online at http://urj.org/worldconflict/iraq/)

* * *

Dear Mr. President:

As you may know, at our recent Biennial General Assembly, the Union for Reform Judaism – the synagogue arm of the nation’s largest Jewish denomination – adopted a series of new policy statements. Our statement on the Iraq War has received considerable media attention, so we thought it important to write you directly to lay out what our resolution said. (The full text of the resolution is attached to this letter.)

The discussion and debate that preceded the consideration of the resolution on the Iraq War at our Biennial convention was intense, befitting the magnitude of the subject. The process involved various committees of our leadership. The resolution was drafted and redrafted, each clause considered, reconsidered and revised, every nuance scrutinized again and again until the very eve of the convention. In the end, the resolution – the first by any major Jewish organization (and among the first by any American religious movement) to explicitly speak to our nation’s “failures before and during the war” and to call for “a clear exit strategy with specific goals for troop withdrawal” – was overwhelmingly approved by the more than 2,000 voting delegates (among nearly 5,000 participants) at our Biennial General Assembly.

Some have publicly criticized our Movement, first for speaking out on this issue at all and second for supposedly suggesting that we speak for each and every member of our congregations. We cannot fulfill the responsibility of our prophetic tradition without addressing the great moral issues of our day; every major faith group and denomination does so. And none speaks for all their members, or pretends to do so. They speak for the decision-making bodies of their faith groups, which in our case, culminates – as it did here – with our Biennial General Assembly, one of the largest and most representative gatherings in American Jewish life.

Our delegates were painfully aware that they were being asked to deal with a major tragedy. Whatever the rationale for going to war, whatever the intelligence and planning failures, the cruel facts that have since unfolded and now obtain – specifically, the continuing costs of the war in blood and treasure, its discrediting of America in the international community and its contribution to the growth of terrorism – have brought us to the very brink of disaster. A rapidly growing number of Americans share that fear; none can celebrate it.

What, then, to do?

In answering that question, we are today a nation divided. Little wonder: We worry about the safety of our troops; we worry about the prospect of civil war in Iraq; we worry about the brutality of the insurgents and the attendant loss of American and Iraqi lives; we worry about the prospect of Iraq becoming what some mistakenly said it was before our invasion, a center for international terrorism; we worry about America’s credibility in the world; and we worry about the evident lapses of our own institutions and agencies in adhering to international humanitarian norms in prosecuting the war; and none of these worries are given to easy solutions.

Yet our delegates achieved remarkable consensus on certain key points. And while no one would claim that Reform Jews across the country are of one view regarding the war (or, frankly, anything else!), we are confident (and public opinion polls bolster that confidence) that a substantial majority, not only of Reform Jews but of American Jewry in general, broadly support the spirit and quite likely the letter of our statement.

What does our statement call for?

Respectfully but firmly, Mr. President, we want our leaders to tell us the truth, the whole of it, and we therefore call on your Administration to adopt a policy of transparency. With regard to troop withdrawal, we call not only for a clear exit strategy but also for specific goals for troop withdrawal to commence after the completion of parliamentary elections scheduled for later this week and then to be continued in a way that maintains stability in Iraq and empowers Iraqi forces to provide for their national security.

We also call on Congress to provide more effective oversight of the war and to ensure that the financial burden of the war falls not just on the poor and on future generations but is shared equitably.

We came to these views based on Jewish teachings on war and our best judgments as citizens of the United States. In addition, but by no means as afterthoughts, our resolution

commends our service women and men (and their families) and supports generous benefits for them, both in Iraq and at home; we call for the establishment of a bipartisan independent commission to determine the lessons learned from our strategic, intelligence, planning and implementation failures before and during the war; we condemn, in the strongest possible terms, violations of the Geneva Conventions and other applicable laws, including torture and abuse of prisoners and detainees in U.S. custody; and we condemn those who would use opposition to the war in Iraq as justification for anti-Israel efforts.

And perhaps most importantly, we call on our congregations across the nation to: provide a venue to address these issues, to advocate consistently on behalf of the principles set forth in the resolution, and to adopt respectful and meaningful methods of honoring the contribution of our military.

All this we say with sorrow, and with pride.

/s/ /s/

Rabbi Eric Yoffie Robert M. Heller

President Chairman of the Board

 
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