NEW YORK, February 7, 2001 - Rabbi Eric H. Yoffie, President of the Union of American Hebrew Congregations (UAHC), sent the following letter of congratulations to Israeli Prime Minister-elect Ariel Sharon. The UAHC is the synagogue arm of the Reform Movement of Judaism.
February 7, 2001
Prime Minister's Office
Dear Prime Minister Ariel Sharon:
On behalf of the Union of American Hebrew Congregations, I want to extend our congratulations to you on your election as the next Prime Minister of the State of Israel.
We have been encouraged by the views you expressed during your campaign regarding the future of negotiations with the Palestinians. In your speech to the Council on Foreign Relations, you stated that once elected, you will "conduct immediate negotiations" with the Palestinians; you may be confident that we will support that effort, as we supported the peace-oriented efforts of your immediate predecessor, Ehud Barak and the three prime ministers of Israel before him: Benjamin Netanyahu, Shimon Peres and Yitzhak Rabin z"l. They all realized one basic and simple truth: that a negotiated agreement, based upon mutual recognition, territorial separation, and security assurances is the only answer to the conflict tearing apart Israel and the Palestinians.
We have all watched with sorrow the flare-up of violence that began in late September. If there was any doubt before now, there can be no doubt any longer that the deadly conflict will be solved neither by continued violence nor by unilateral action. Only serious negotiations can bring about the peace we all desire, that peace for which we have for so long prayed. Peace has brought important dividends to Israel: a stronger economy with greater investments from abroad; greater security for the people of Israel, as illustrated by a vastly reduced level of terrorism inside Israel for most of the past decade; greater standing in the international community; a stronger, strategic relationship with the United States; and the end to the burden of occupation. We will support your efforts to ensure that these trends continue and multiply.
Peace is plainly not the only pressing issue the State and people of Israel face at this time. Because of our commitment to Tikkun Olam and the prophetic vision of our people, we in the Reform movement are particularly concerned with problems of poverty, discrimination, and inequality.
Equality in education, the status of women, Ethiopian and Mizrachi Jews, the growing gap between the rich and poor, religious freedom and human rights are all worthy and important causes. We in the Reform movement commend the efforts of the Israeli government and other hard-working organizations and individuals to address these issues of injustice.
Among our more immediate concerns is the unequal status of the Palestinian citizens of Israel. Your campaign statements reflecting your views about Israeli Arabs were heartening and hopeful. You said you would seek "a full partnership with the Palestinian population of Israel" and work to achieve their full equality in Israeli society. We applaud your words and your future efforts in the areas of education, the economy, politics and government. The issue of equality will find strong support in our community.
Finally, of vital importance to our movement is the issue of equality for Reform and Conservative Jews in Israel. Israel's Declaration of Independence guarantees the "freedom of religion and conscience." Over the years, progress has been achieved but much still needs to be accomplished. We look forward to the support of the Israeli government, under your leadership, in continuing to foster a pluralistic vision of Judaism in Israel.
The UAHC and our constituency of over 1.5 million members will be your willing partners in your quest for a negotiated peace in the international arena and in your quest for equality and democracy domestically. We look forward to a constructive relationship between your government and the Reform movement.
Rabbi Eric H. Yoffie
President, Union of American Hebrew Congregations