American Rabbis Respond to Anti-Israel Voices

May 28, 2021

3 min read

As a tenuous cease fire between Israel and Hamas takes hold, and against the backdrop of Secretary Blinken’s visit to the Middle East, a diverse group of over 300 American rabbis have signed a public letter reaffirming their support for Israel and its right to defend itself against an onslaught of rockets and riots.

The rabbis decry the attacks on Israel and the unique standards to which it is being held by those who sympathize with its enemies, as well as the recent spate of attacks on Jews in the United States and throughout the world.

The letter deplores the fact that Israel is “being pounded by pundits, politicians and people who object to its defending itself from indiscriminate attacks, and who overlook or excuse the stated goal of Hamas, which is the destruction of Israel.”

The attacks on Jews, it says, are rank intimidation that is making supporters “afraid to speak out in support of Israel.”

The letter was initiated by a newly formed organization, the Zionist Rabbinic Coalition (ZRC), a group of Reform, Conservative and Orthodox rabbis who have come together in response to the conflict — but also, in response to political undercurrents in the Jewish community.

The multi-denominational character of the Zionist Rabbinic Coalition is unprecedented in the current conflict and comes at a time of growing polarization in the Jewish community.

“We are rabbis from different movements who have come together,” said Rabbi Stuart Weinblatt, founder and chairman of the ZRC and senior rabbi of Congregation B’nai Tzedek in Potomac, Maryland, “because now more than ever, the Jewish community and the rabbinic community in particular must counter the voices of those who disparage Israel.”

Indeed, he said, “The letter and the formation of the group are a counterweight to those in the American Jewish community who express criticism and are distancing themselves from Israel.”

The rabbis fear that such voices will, in the end, lead to estrangement from Judaism and damage American Jews as much, if not more, than Israel.

“Parts of the Jewish community that are cool on Israel, that are distancing from Israel, that are non- Zionist and anti-Zionist are becoming more vocal,” said Rabbi Ammiel Hirsch, senior rabbi of Stephen Wise Synagogue in New York City and a member of the Steering Committee of ZRC. “If they are successful, it will harm Israel but mostly, it will harm the future of American Jewry.”

Rabbi Ariel Boxman, for one, said she has often felt the need to be “closeted,” having to hide her support of Israel from other colleagues in the rabbinate.  Director of Lifelong Learning, at Temple Shalom in Naples, Fl., and also part of the leadership of ZRC, she said that the ZRC allows her to come out of the closet.

“Knowing we are supported across denominations and have a voice and that others stand with us is a source of strength,” she said.

The letter is also a response to a recent missive signed by some 100 rabbinic and cantorial students excoriating Israel for what it calls its “complicity with racial violence” against Palestinians. “The students’ letter epitomizes the kind of alienation and misinformation that we seek to counter,” said ZRC Chair, Rabbi Weinblatt.

“The lack of support and tepid expressions of solidarity are leading some elected officials to feel it is safe to question longstanding U.S. support for Israel, and is contributing to an environment conducive to anti-Semitism and attacks on Jews,” adds Weinblatt. “It’s important for rabbis to lead and show that we will not stand by and tolerate such outbursts, nor shall we be silent and allow support for our only democratic ally in the Middle East to be diminished.”

The uniqueness of the ZRC as a multi-denominational organization is a testament to the demands of the current crisis and of the widespread support for such an organization.

Rabbi Hirsch commented, “It is critical to convey to the Jewish community that we are the majority and beyond any kind of differences that might define the movements themselves, that there is unanimity of beliefs and purpose with regard to the relationship with Israel,” he said.

Ultimately, the group hopes to expand membership and become recognized in the larger Jewish community as a resource and as an important and responsible voice.

“We are seeking to fill the vacuum,” said Rabbi Weinblatt.  “We are trying reassert that the vast majority of American Jews and certainly, the vast majority of American rabbis support and stand with Israel.”

 

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