Contact: Lauren Theodore at 212-650-4154
New York, NY; April 26, 2017 -- Rabbi Rick Jacobs, President of the Union for Reform Judaism (URJ), sent the following letter today to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu:
Dear Prime Minister Netanyahu:
I am writing to you in your capacity as Israel's Foreign Minister, asking for clarification regarding the new law that Israel passed barring entry to non-Israeli citizens who have publicly called for boycotts of Israel, including settlement products and companies working in the settlements.
This law is, as we suspected it would, raising concern among hundreds of Birthright Israel participants. Just before Pesach, we received a heartfelt letter sent by some of the URJ's upcoming Kesher Birthright Israel participants, all of whom are excited to be registered to leave soon for Israel, but all of whom, too, are worried that based on their opposition to settlement expansion, they will be stopped at the border when they land in Israel. These are young people raised in our Movement who are active in a range of Jewish organizations on their campuses where they face nearly daily situations where they are put on the front line of defending and explaining Israel. Now, they find themselves in this very difficult and troubling situation.
As you know, as president of URJ, I have been a fierce personal opponent of BDS and boycotts against Israel, as has our Movement, speaking out in public and private venues, debating resolutions against Israel and spending countless hours on this very issue. However, the new law, as I stated at the time it was instigated, is, I believe, counter-productive to Israel’s interests both as a democracy and as a vibrant nation worthy of exploration and engagement by countless Jews and others around the world. I am frustrated that by passing this law, the Israeli government has, in essence, posted a giant sign by the door of the Jewish state saying, 'Don't come unless you agree with everything we're doing here.'
We continue to welcome all young people who qualify for the Birthright Israel trips that the Reform Movement runs to join our trips and to experience Israel for themselves. As a progressive religious movement, Reform Judaism is uniquely positioned to cultivate support for Israel's Jewish democratic vision among the young Americans represented by the authors of the letter we received.
We would like to hear from you and your government what message we should be sending to these young people regarding what, indeed, they should expect when they arrive. We owe nothing less to them and to their parents.
There is simply no better way to understand the complexity of the country without a hands-on experience. It would be detrimental to our mission and to our wish for Israel to be not only a homeland for all the Jewish people, but a true light unto the nations, were this new legislation to deter some of the best and brightest among our youth who are asking the questions we taught them to ask and are searching for a way to live a life infused with the Jewish values we hold so dear. We have committed to staying in touch with these young people and will continue to offer them our support.
I look forward to a clarification on this matter at your earliest convenience.
Rabbi Rick Jacobs
Union for Reform Judaism
About the Union for Reform Judaism
The Union for Reform Judaism (URJ) builds community at every level—from the way we collaborate with congregations, organizations, and individuals to how we make connections across North America to advance contemporary and inclusive Jewish life. Providing vision and voice to transform the way people connect to Judaism, we help congregations stay relevant and innovative, motivate more young Jews to embrace Jewish living, agitate for a more progressive society, and foster meaningful connections to Israel.
Founded in 1873, URJ has grown into the largest and most powerful force in North American Jewish life, with nearly 900 member congregations and work that inspires, connects, and educates millions of people. Our legacy, reach, leadership, and vision mean that we can unite thousands of years of tradition with a modern, evolving Judaism to strengthen Jewish communities today and for future generations.
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