Learn more about this exciting new platform, where Reform congregational leaders connect with colleagues and peers who have similar concerns, interests and responsibilities.
Contact: Lauren Theodore at 212-650-4154
New York, NY; July 7, 2016 -- Rabbi Rick Jacobs, President of the Union for Reform Judaism (URJ), wrote an open letter yesterday to the campaign of presumptive Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump in response to campaign adviser David Friedman's comments to CNN about a two-state solution in the Middle East.
Mr. Friedman's comments about the campaign's views on Israel mark a significant departure from the policies of the governments of both the United States and Israel, as well as the traditional positions of both the Republican and Democratic parties.
Mr. Friedman's detailed reply to Rabbi Jacobs' letter raises additional questions and concerns. The URJ has posted Mr. Friedman's letter in its entirety below. Rabbi Jacobs has written annotations to the letter, which are shown as being attributed to Union for Reform Judaism (click on highlighted text to read the annotations).
Relatedly, earlier this summer, the Reform Movement provided testimony to the platform committees of both the Democratic and Republican parties, offering the perspective of the largest denomination in American Jewish life on a variety of issues, including American policy on Israel and the Middle East.
Though the Republican Party has not yet released a draft of its platform, the Democratic Party recently released a draft of its 2016 platform, to which the Reform Movement offered a brief response:
"In formal testimony to the platform committees of both parties, the Reform Movement called for the reaffirmation of U.S. support for a two-state solution. The recently released Democratic platform draft continues the tradition of U.S. support for Israel and for her security as well as the aspiration of a Palestinian state living side by side with Israel in peace and security for all. I hope that the Republican platform expresses similar support. Only two states can end the conflict and bring peace and security to Israelis and Palestinians alike. A two-state solution is our best hope for securing a Jewish and democratic future for the State of Israel."
Rabbi Rabbi Jacobs is available to discuss these issues and the Reform Movement’s vision for a strong, secure, and democratic Israel.
July 6, 2016
Dear Rabbi Jacobs,
In your letter earlier today to Donald J. Trump and me, you state that you were “taken aback” by my comment that a “two state solution was an answer, but not the only answer,” to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. I am happy to engage in a discussion with you on the subject, which I believe is more detailed and complex than either your letter, or my response below, can do justice. Nonetheless, I am happy to offer some brief summaries of my views.
That a two-state solution has been a part of American foreign policy for some length of time – something you place great weight upon -- is, to me, entirely irrelevant. The wars in Vietnam and Iraq were also part of American foreign policy and I have no doubt that these were policies you opposed. As I’m sure you recognize, and as we witnessed this past week with the brutal murder of Hallel Ariel as she lay sleeping in her bed, followed the next day by the murder of Rabbi Michael Mark, a father of 10, the numerous proposals and initiatives for a two-state solution over the years have brought neither peace nor security to the State of Israel.
The issue confronting both the Israelis and the Palestinians is fundamentally humanitarian in nature. It is not political and it is not geographic. Both peoples are entitled to live in peace and dignity, and both peoples are being deprived of those fundamental rights because of one thing and one thing only – radical Islamic jihadism, a cancer that infects Israel and much of the rest of the world. No re-allocation of land will cure this scourge, and, indeed, Israel knew no peace from 1948 to 1967 when it did not even control Judea and Samaria.
So what should we do? Should we continue to force a square peg into a round hole and demand that Israel cede land to Palestinians in exchange for a naked promise that the Palestinians will change their behavior? Are you not concerned that Mahmoud Abbas has no electoral mandate (his term expired six years ago), and that his justification for not calling for new elections is that he will be replaced by an even more violent jihadist? Are you not concerned that Mr. Abbas presides over ceremonies honoring Palestinian terrorists or that he has been accused of massive fiscal corruption? Are you not concerned that Palestinians teach their children to hate and murder Jews, even putting on school plays enacting such despicable behavior? Are you not concerned that the Palestinian Authority has no ability to control the Hamas factions in Hebron, Jenin and Nablus, which continuously assault and kill Jewish people? Are you not concerned that the Palestinian Authority pays generous stipends to the families of terrorists who are jailed or killed after murdering Jews? Are you not concerned, after seeing the disastrous results of Israel’s withdrawal from Gaza, that a Palestinian state on the West Bank will bring missile attacks to the entire population of Israel?
I know that you have no doubt that the People of Israel want peace and that they are overwhelmingly well-intentioned, well-informed, and non-hateful. Given that, are you not concerned that your desire to divide Israel in two, leaving it without defensible borders, is solidly rejected by a super-majority of Israelis? Indeed, even many Palestinians now sensibly prefer Israeli rule to a nascent Palestinian state. Where but in Israel do Arabs have educational opportunity, first class healthcare, social and religious freedom and civil rights for women?
There are – and there must be -- other “answers” to a two-state solution, some short term, some longer. I would begin by making appropriate demands upon the Palestinians to end terror, incitement and hateful indoctrination. I would condition further US funding on meaningful progress in this regard. I would also encourage significant economic investment in Palestinian communities – a challenge given the difficulty of identifying non-corrupt leaders but still worth pursuing – to strengthen the Palestinian middle class. I would improve infrastructure and commit resources to enhance the quality of life for every inhabitant of the region. Simply put, I would focus on what most Palestinians and Israelis care the most about – better living conditions and better opportunities. If and when those initiatives bear fruit and tensions are reduced, talks could continue about long term solutions.
But, even then, I must reject categorically your statement that Israel must either be a democratic state or a Jewish state. The numbers simply do not support that conclusion. The Jewish population of pre-1967 Israel is now about 6.3 million out of 8.4 million people – about 75%. The Jewish population of Judea, Samaria and East Jerusalem is another 700,000 people out of about 2.4 million people (it may be lower as many think the Arab population is overstated). Thus, the Jewish population of the entire region is about 7.0 million out of 10.8 million – still a solid 65% majority. (By the way, many people quote all kinds of numbers for the West Bank population – these are, I believe, the most accurate)
I’m not saying, one way or the other, that a “one state solution” is the correct path. That is a decision for the Israeli people to make in consultation with the Palestinians. But it is simply not true that Jews will become a minority in their own land if a two-state solution is not implemented. Indeed, given the demands of the Palestinians for a return of so-called “refugees,” even the two-state solution they envision would provide no demographic certainty to Israeli Jews.
Let’s not grandstand this issue any more with “open letters” that I can’t help but feel have more to do with American politics than doing what’s best for Israel. Let’s have a cup of coffee (or some Israeli wine) and continue the dialogue.