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October 25, 2014 | 1st Cheshvan 5775

Yoffie Urges North American Jews to Support Israel's Ties with U.S.

Contact:
Annette Powers
apowers@urj.org
212-650-4154

Yoffie: “Our task as North American Jews is to offer Israel our love and support; to do everything possible to deepen the friendship between Israel and her most important ally, the United States of America, keeping in mind always that the goal of Israel advocacy is for American – and Canadian – support of Israel to be broad, inclusive, and bi-partisan; and to send the message that Israel’s fate rests not only in the hands of her citizens but in the hands of Jews everywhere.”

May 25, 2011, New York - In response to speeches given recently by President Obama and Prime Minister Netanyahu regarding Israeli-Palestinian issues, Rabbi Eric Yoffie, President of the Union for Reform Judaism, issued the following statement:

Despite its military strength, Israel is a small and vulnerable state, and is now facing especially difficult times.  The United Nations will vote in September on whether or not to recognize Palestinian statehood, and if the resolution passes, it will be a distressing sign of Israel’s isolation on the international stage.  Uprisings throughout the Arab world create hope for democracy and change, but could also pose serious threats to Israel’s security.  And Iran continues its efforts to develop nuclear weapons that will threaten Israel and the world.   

Against this backdrop, we have had five tumultuous days of meetings and speeches from President Barack Obama and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on issues related to Israeli-Palestinian peace.  President Obama spoke once to the State Department and once to AIPAC, the pro-Israel lobby; Prime Minister Netanyahu spoke to AIPAC and before a joint session of Congress; and the President and Prime Minister met in the White House last Friday. 

(Prime Minister Netanyahu also met with a small group of Jewish leaders during the AIPAC Conference, a meeting attended by the Union’s President-designate Rabbi Rick Jacobs.)

There have been no end of commentaries on these developments, but I would like to offer a few reactions of my own.

In his two speeches, the President expressed in the clearest possible terms the unshakable support of the United States government for the State of Israel (and in some cases went well beyond what had previously been said by him or previous administrations).  He said for the first time that a Palestinian state must be a demilitarized state.  He insisted that Israel be recognized as a Jewish state and the homeland of the Jewish people.  He warned the Palestinians against bringing their statehood resolution to the UN. He expressed deep concern about the Hamas-Fatah pact.  He affirmed that peace could not be imposed from the outside but must be agreed upon by the parties.   

It is difficult to imagine, in fact, a more ringing endorsement by the President of America’s traditional support for Israel.  This support was obscured, in some measure, by the bizarre claim that the President had called for a return to 1967 borders; such a step would indeed be impossible and unacceptable, but the President said no such thing, as was clear from his call for secure and recognized borders arrived at through negotiation and mutually agreed exchanges of land.  As noted by Ehud Barak, Israel’s Defense Minister, a statement that negotiations start with discussions of the 1967 borders is very different from saying that that is where they end up.
 
The central premise of the President’s message was that if peace is to come, it will be through the establishment of a Palestinian state living in peace and security alongside a Jewish state.  The principle of a two-state solution, of course, has been supported by the last three U.S. administrations and by both major parties; it is also the policy of the State of Israel.  The Reform Movement has supported a two-state solution since the early 1990s.

The President also deserves our appreciation for his current efforts to convince our European allies to oppose the UN resolution on Palestinian statehood.  Both of his speeches, which affirmed Palestinian rights to a state of their own, have been well received by our allies and should assist in these efforts.  As noted, passage of the statehood resolution could seriously undermine Israel’s diplomatic standing.  

Prime Minister Netanyahu’s powerful statement to Congress expressed gratitude to the United States government for its support and promised painful compromises for peace.  The Prime Minister reviewed the policies of his government and gave special emphasis to security threats that Israel is now confronting.  He spoke of Hamas’ commitment to terror and to Israel’s destruction; of the need to confront the dangers posed by Iran to the international community; and of the possibility that democratic stirrings in the Arab world could, if they take a wrong turn, lead to hostile governments rather than democratic ones. These threats are real and deeply troubling.  The need for peace between Israel and the Palestinians is not less important on their account but more important; still, they remind us that true security must be an essential component of any peace agreement. 

Is there a possibility now of genuine negotiations and progress toward peace?  I am far from certain.  I believe that the current leadership of the Palestinian Authority is generally moderate in outlook, but is surrounded by mostly unreasonable voices; the presence of Hamas makes progress far more doubtful still.  Nonetheless, we know that every effort must be made.  Israel has pledged yet again to do its part, and the Administration has pledged to help move the process forward.  We are thankful for these efforts because President Obama is surely right that the current situation is unsustainable, and if peace does not come, Israel’s situation will be more grave five years from now than it is today.  For that reason, my hope is that if the Palestinian Authority is not forthcoming, Israel’s leaders will take what steps they can take to separate themselves from the Palestinians in order to preserve Israel’s Jewish and democratic character.

In the meantime, our task as North American Jews is to offer Israel our love and support; to do everything possible to deepen the friendship between Israel and her most important ally, the United States of America, keeping in mind always that the goal of Israel advocacy is for American – and Canadian – support of Israel to be broad, inclusive, and bi-partisan; and to send the message that Israel’s fate rests not only in the hands of her citizens but in the hands of Jews everywhere.

As I wrote on Yom Ha’atzma’ut, let us pray, today and everyday, that peace and redemption will come to Israel’s borders and that harmony will hallow Jerusalem’s gates, bi’meheira u’viyameinu—speedily, and in our day.

 

 

Comments

Ilana Rossoff

May 25, 2011
01:01 PM

no palestinian state?

I don't understand what is so condemnable about Palestinians declaring their own statehood. Is it just that it is not on the terms of the Israelis? Why are Palestinians only allowed to make political decisions at the approval of the Israeli government, the occupying power? And calling for a demilitarized state is the most hypocritical thing I have ever heard. The Palestinian state would not exist only in relation to Israel, it is a place of its own people who deserve dignity, so why the Israeli government should determine the future of the Palestinian state is beyond me.

As an American Jew, I feel no special obligation to "be by Israel's side at this time." I stand for truth and justice, and that means realizing Palestinians' right to determine their own futures.

  Reply

Cheryl Renner

May 25, 2011
04:43 PM

Rabbi Yoffie,

We American Jews speak English as our first language. We heard the President speak, and we listened carefully. Please do not insult us or our intelligence by claiming that he did not say exactly what he did say. The security of Israel, and Jews in general, is something that most of us take very seriously. I will not forget my Russian grandmother teaching me to hide in the attic in case of pogroms. My Christian colleagues do not share that as a childhood experience. But for me, it was an important one, and one I will never forget.

The threats to Israel are real. The hatred of Jews worldwide is growing. To tell us that we did not hear a statement that undermines the safety of both Israel and the Jewish people is a dangerous act. It is time for American Jews to stand with Israel and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in protecting the welfare of the Jewish state.

  Reply

Ben Goldstein

May 27, 2011
08:57 AM

This is what the President said, "We believe the borders of Israel and Palestine should be based on the 1967 lines with mutually agreed swaps, so that secure and recognized borders are established for both states." Please don't say that Mr. Obama didn't say this when he did.

  Reply

Jay

May 27, 2011
12:25 PM

genuine negotiations and progress toward peace [is] far from certain

Rabbi, you wrote: "Is there a possibility now of genuine negotiations and progress toward peace? I am far from certain. I believe that the current leadership of the Palestinian Authority is generally moderate in outlook, but is surrounded by mostly unreasonable voices; the presence of Hamas makes progress far more doubtful still."

You seem to suggest that the Palestinian leadership is solely responsible for this uncertainty. I find that very disturbing.

  Reply

jmm

May 30, 2011
11:57 PM

Sadly, most liberal, Democratic Jews value liberalism and the left-wing agenda over what's in the best interest of Israel. So, even if Moshe ran as the Republican candidate for President, the liberal, Democratic Jews would not vote for him and President Obama along with his advisors knows this simple truth. Also, if anyone thinks that the President is anti-Israel now, how much more so will he be more anti-Israel once he's re-elected and he does not have to run again for office.

Unfortunately, most American Jews would not know a Jewish value if it hit them in the head and equate Judaism with liberalism and the left-wing agenda. Liberalism's values and traditional Judaism's values are not the same. Too bad that most American Jews hold numerous academic credentials, but they do know the basic, rudimentary concepts/values of the mesorah (tradition) and they cannot answer the basic question of ''Why be Jewish? ''. Without being able to answer this question , or even a lot of the Rabbinic leadership being able to supply an adequate answer to this fundamental question, most American Jews will continue to drift farther and farther away from Judaism, to assimilate, and to not support Israel since their connection to Judaism will , at best , be nominal and their attitude is why support Israel over the American Red Cross or any other social organization. Cultural Judaism only will carry on so far from generation-to-generation and ,unfortunately, the end result is a lot of our children and grandchildren becoming non-Jews. Without Jewish education and actually practicing Judaism, there is no continuity of Judaism.

  Reply

Arthur matzkowitz

June 8, 2011
10:36 AM

I'm afraid rabbi Yoffe chooses to hear what he wishes perhaps for ideological reasons - yet he preaches bipartisanship .President Obama has a poor middle east policy and is no great friend to Israel.

  Reply

Stanley Krantz

June 16, 2011
02:52 PM

None -

I would respectively ask Rabbi Yoffie to learn about Barack Obama before he became President. His close associates were and are anti-Israel and his words were anti-Israel. I remember after my Bar Miztvah asking my grandparents, parents, uncles and aunts how they could not know what was happening in Europe in the '40's. I do not remember receiving any response. I believe we are currently in that same place today when it comes to the survival of Israel. One day we will be asked, How could you not know that the US was not going to help Israel survive? What did you do when the US turned its back on Israel? Rabbi, please stop ignoring the facts.

  Reply


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