The Conference of Presidents, one of our most right-wing pro-Israel groups, has managed to organize five Jewish religious denominations including the putatively-liberal Reform and Reconstructionists for a High Holiday rabbinic statement that lays the groundwork for the Israeli government’s march toward war with Iran. I always thought the High Holidays were a time of chesbon nefesh, when you contemplated in tranquility your weaknesses of the past year and resolved to do better in the coming one.
The joint statement does away with that concept–unless you believe that the past year in which the Obama administration attempted to engage Iran diplomatically was an error and the way to go in the coming year was to punish all Iranians with the type of universal sanctions invoked by the world against Saddam’s Iraq. These sanctions, by the way, contributed to the death of 350,000 Iraqi children from 1990-2000 as documented by scientific surveys. Now that seems like fine use of the High Holidays: urge rabbis and Jewish educators to tell their flocks that Iran is a danger to the world and must be stopped either by sanctions or any means necessary. And we’re willing to punish Iranian children to do it. Have we forgotten the concept of rachmanut especially during these Days of Awe when we repeatedly invoke God’s mercy?? Not to mention the fact that the Rosh Hashana Torah reading invokes the Akedah, Abraham’s near-sacrifice of his son, Isaac. Shall we put Iranian children up on that altar too? Who will save them?
Ori Nir of Peace Now told JTA that Iran sanctions targeting the average citizen and not specifically the country’s leaders and government were:
“…Not only morally wrong but…also strategically perilous.”
If you belong to a synagogue, PLEASE write to your rabbi and tell him or her that you disagree with this statement and urge that if any message is delivered from your shul’s bimah, it be carefully modulated and nuanced, rather than bellicose and jingoistic. If you are a rabbi, please express your concern and displeasure at this one-dimensional anti-Iranian statement issued in your name.
Here is the political agenda suggested by the Common Call which urges Jews to engage in:
…Mobilizing their communities; contacting their elected officials about the importance of divestment from Iran and tightening sanctions against banks and industries that do business with Iran; writing letters to the editor and op-ed pieces supporting diplomatic and financial pressure on Iran; and displaying signage on institutional and synagogue property urging that we prevent a nuclear Iran.
It is quite interesting that Israel advocacy groups like the Conference of Presidents, under the tutelage of the Israeli foreign ministry, are emphasizing the issue of divestment from Iran. It’s as if that crafty political bouncer, foreign minister Avigdor Lieberman decided that if Israel-Palestine peace activists were going to support a divestment strategy against the Occupation, then he’d turn around and use the very same strategy against Iran. The only problem with this is that the Occupation, like South African apartheid, has simmered for decades. Unlike the Occupation, the world does not yet share any consensus about how to deal with Iranian nuclear development, and divestment does not, and will not resonate until it does. The fact that Malcolm Hoenlein, Avigdor Lieberman, Bibi Netanyahu and a bunch of naive American rabbis are telling the world to divest from Iran means very little in the greater scheme of things.
What is disingenuous about the statement is that it purports to agree with Obama administration policy:
The organizations declare that they support President Obama’s diplomatic initiatives, but…
In other words, those who signed this ill-conceived statement don’t support the actual current policy. But they support what they would LIKE the policy to be: draconian sanctions, increasing isolation, and if all else fails–a military attack. I should be clear that nowhere in this statement are those two words used. There is no mention of what happens if sanctions don’t work (they won’t). But for Israel’s purposes there doesn’t need to be such a reference. When George Bush began the march to war against Iraq he too was careful to couch his regime of sanctions and UN resolutions in modulated diplomatic terms. But many of us knew where he was going then just as many of know where Israel would like to go now.
The question is how many American Jews will be duped by these tactics into believing Israel does NOT want to or intend to attack Iran. In 2002, there were millions of Americans who drank the Bush Kool Aid on Iraq. They believed in the mushroom clouds and WMD that Bush’s team sold us. But I say now in 2009 we must not drink this forbidden drink unless we’re prepared to go down the same road to war Bush trod in 2003.
One passage of the Call to Prevent a Nuclear Iran, quoting the rabbi who organized the statement, grieves me and should cause other rabbis to take offense:
The religious leadership of our Jewish community, with one voice, is urging our people to continue all efforts to confront the danger posed by a nuclear Iran.”
If you are a rabbi, is this “one voice” expressing what you believe? If it isn’t, it is incumbent on you to raise your voice in your High Holiday pulpit for a sane articulation of the issues.
There is more blather in the statement:
“This statement reflects a broad consensus within the Jewish community in addressing the danger of a nuclear Iran.
No, what this statement reflects is the agenda of the pro-Israel advocacy organizations which have been shrying about Iran for the past few years. Now, it seems that every Jewish denomination has fallen in with Chicken Little to cry that the sky is falling and unless we knock out Iran’s nuclear capability the world will be embroiled in a nuclear Armageddon. Well, pardon me if a few of us look up and see the sky seems to be doing just fine though a tad stormy.
The Conference of Presidents, in the statement, urges rabbis and their congregants to participate in the nationwide September 24th Stand for Freedom in Iran program. Though this program appears to be a motherhood and apple pie call for Iran to end its human rights abuses, we should review a bit of the Conference’s past anti-Iran activism to give of the real views of the Conference toward Iran.
Malcolm Hoenlein produced a video last year addressed to Iranians calling on them to free themselves from the clerical yoke. In other words, the Conference’s director supports Iran regime change. Now if you’re considering how to address this issue in your pulpit this High Holiday, ask yourself how regime change would happen? Do you believe Hoenlein is calling for peaceful change within Iran? Of course not, he’s calling for overthrow of the mullahs by whatever means necessary.
Malcolm Hoenlein believes that Iran is evil, that Iran wants to carry out a nuclear Holocaust against Israel, that Israel is justified in using whatever means necessary to protect itself. Do you? I say to any rabbi considering using this Call this High Holiday: know who your friends are. They may not be your friends or real friends of Israel either.
I am not arguing here that Iran does not present a danger or that Iran has not engaged in egregious human rights abuses. I am arguing that there is only one way to deal with Iran and whatever outstanding issues we have with them: negotiation. Sanctions, blockades, divestment, war–these are all tactics that will fail. Some will fail with a dull thud. And some, if tried, will fail spectacularly leading to the spilling of much blood: Iranian, Israeli, perhaps American.