Does the Reform Movement care about Israel?

One aspect of the recent resolution passed by the American Reform movement calling upon President Bush and Congress “to set a time table for phased and expeditious withdrawal of United States troops from Iraq” should be of particular concern to Israelis: Israel is virtually unmentioned in the long Reform statement supporting the resolution, and the impact of withdrawal on Israel appears to have played no role in the deliberations. One meaningless statement that the phased withdrawal should be done in a manner that “best enhances stabity in Iraq – and we would add … Israel” is the only substantive mention of Israel.

Of all the reasons adduced for American withdrawal only one – the high level of American and Iraqi casualties – has any relevance. The others – the failure to find Saddam Hussein’s arsenals of WMD’s; the humiliation of prisoners in Abu Ghraib prison; President Bush’s failure to secure U.N. Security Council support for a military invasion – look to the past, but have nothing to do with the consequences of withdrawal now that America is in Iraq. (The Reform movement supported the invasion in a 2002 resolution.)

Even the high level of civilian casualties is only an argument for withdrawal if one believes that those casualties will decline after withdrawal. But the Reform statement does not and could not make that claim. According to the most recent National Intelligence Estimate an American withdrawal in the near future “almost certainly would lead to a significant increase in the scale and scope of sectarian conflict in Iraq. . . . Massive civilian casualties and forced population displacement would be probable.”

Nowhere does the Reform statement mention the threat of Islamofascism to the West, including the United States and Israel. Yet what we are seeing in Iraq today is the playing out of the strategy enunciated by the late Abu Musab al Zarqawi in an intercepted letter to Osama bin Laden in 2004. To prevent the evil principle of democracy from taking hold in Iraq, Zarqawi proposed to trigger a civil war by terrorist attacks on Shiites, which would lead to Shiite retaliation against Sunnis, which would then force all Sunnis to join the battle.

If that murderous strategy succeeds, the jihadi historical narrative of Islam ascendant, ever since the expulsion of the Soviet Union from Afghanistan by Islamist mujhadeens, and the West in flight would gain further corroboration and draw more to the banner of worldwide jihad.

The implications for Israel are immense. As Vice-President Cheney told the recent AIPAC Convention, “It is simply not consistent for anyone to demand aggressive action against the menace posed by the Iranian regime while at the same time acquiescing in a retreat from Iraq that would leave our worst enemies dramatically emboldened and Israel’s best friend, the United States, dangerously weakened.” Prime Minister Olmert echoed those sentiments two days later, and they are shared almost unanimously by Israeli policymakers. Yet the Reform statement has nothing to say about the Iranian threat to Israel or the West, or the implications of a withdrawal from Iraq on that threat.

Amazingly, the principal source cited by Reform statement was the report of the Iraqi Study group headed by former secretary of state James Baker III. Yes, the same Baker who as secretary of state directed harsh epithets at Israel and publicly offered Prime Minister Yitzchak Shamir his phone number to call when he became “serious about peace.”

The Study Group made almost no concrete recommendations about how America might achieve its policy goals in Iraq. But it did put its imprimatur on the single most dangerous idea from Israel’s point of view: that the Israel-Arab conflict is the source of all the other conflicts in the Middle East.

The Study Group proposed to convene an international conference to which dozens of states would be invited, with the notable exception of Israel, even though only Israel’s concessions were specified in advance: “Israel should return the Golan Heights.”

Finally, the Reform statement makes the U.N. Security Council the final arbiter of the legitimacy of military force. Yet President Bush’s failure was the result of French determination to prevent any U.S. military action, just as China and Russia use the Security Council today to prevent any serious sanctions against Iran.

The U.N. has become a debating society for the passage of anti-Israel resolutions, and its Human Rights Commission has even gone so far as to sanction terrorism against Israeli civilians. Yet the Reform statement turns the U.N. into the sole source of international legitimacy.

It’s time to ask: When did the American Reform movement stop caring about Jews in Israel?

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26 comments to Does the Reform Movement care about Israel?

  • SM

    It isn’t really time to ask that. This is a political position – with which the author disagrees entirely (and I disagree in part). But in this context one must take the Reform movement at its own estimation. It says, and Orthodoxy frequently uses this as an accusation against it, that religion and politics are different.

    So by all means argue the politics. But one cannot say that because the politics are that of Reform Judaism, that is a religious statement about Reform’s position.

    Interestingly, the centrists/MO (call it what you will) needs to hold the ground here. It does no one any good to ally Reform to the Charedi position on Israel…

  • Joe Fisher

    This column is one-sided. Of course Cheney supports the war. He started it. But where’s the other side? Nowhere in this column.

    Rabbi Rosenblum was equally determined, and totally wrong, many times over in his earlier columns on the war. Go read “Bully Pulpit” to see how far one-sided he got.

    It’s now time for us to examine both sides. Perhaps admitting reality in Iraq would strengthen us in the Middle East, not weaken us. As Kissinger so coldly, and so rightly, said: “The job of a diplomat is to foresee the future and proceed so as to expedite it’s occurrence.”

  • Ori Pomerantz

    I think you’re confusing an error in logic with a value judgement. Consider the related question: “Does the Reform Movement care about the US”. Given that most Reform Jews live in the US and want to continue doing so, the answer has to be yes.

    Yet, as you wrote: Nowhere does the Reform statement mention the threat of Islamofascism to the West, including the United States and Israel.. It’s not that they want to throw Israel to the Islamofascist wolves. It’s that they don’t consider Islamofascists to be a significant risk.

    Why is that? I suspect that they take the playground stricture “no fighting” too seriously, and truly believe that being violent is inherently wrong. Unfortunately, in the real world there is no playground teacher to stop the bullies, so violence is sometimes necessary. I wish more people would raise the ghost of Neville Chamberlin and discuss the matter with him.

  • Will Choose

    Nowhere does this article mention the Shiite-Sunni struggle that is at the center of everything going on in the Middle East. As Henry kissinger once stated,”Too bad they can’t both lose.”

    What is in Israel’s interest is for the intra-Muslim struggle to burn itself out to exhaustion. When Muslims kill Muslims because the Islamic world is no more mature for the next stage of civilization at this time than Germany was for democracy in 1918, it behooves the civilized to let them work it out for themselves, albeit with care to avoid being burnt by the fire. This is difficult because of the nuclear issue, but that needs to be finessed.

  • Bob Miller

    A liberal group says liberal things. Did we expect anything else?

  • Charles B. Hall, PhD

    One does not have to discount the threat of Islamic fundamentalist terror to question whether there is any point to the United States’ continued military involvement in Iraq. The Bush administration has not provided any defined endpoint that could be defined as a success. The comparisons with the Vietnam conflict are not perfect but they are relevant. Identification of the unpopular Iraq war with Israel is not good for Israel and we should not take this on as a cause.

  • Ori Pomerantz

    SM: But in this context one must take the Reform movement at its own estimation. It says, and Orthodoxy frequently uses this as an accusation against it, that religion and politics are different.

    Ori: This is a resolution of the Union for Reform Judaism. The fact that they passed it at that forum makes it officially part of the position of Reform Judaism. If they thought it was a purely political matter, and that religion and politics are distinct, they would have expressed their opinion in other venues.

    As additional evidence, let me quote from the actual resolution, that states this as a matter of Jewish law (lines 100-104): In conclusion, our failure to … – all these and more raise significant abuses and failures of Jewish just war standards.

    Will Choose: What is in Israel’s interest is for the intra-Muslim struggle to burn itself out to exhaustion.

    Ori: Not when both sides can score points by hurting Israel.

  • Barry

    I’m not certain why Rabbi Rosenblum insists on throwing insults rather than offering well reasoned discussion but it doesn’t become him or his chosen profession. If he really believes that the fighting in Iraq, or the 9/11 attack, or the hatred of Israel is concerned with economic principles he really ought to go back to school. (Tell us Rabbi Rosenblum — who are the so-called “Islamofacists”: the Sunnis or the Shiites? If the Suunis, are the Shiites free market Friedman followers? Or the other way around? And if both sides are Islamofacists why are they fighting? Why not just tell the truth Rabbi, and own up to the fact that many of those fighting, on both sides, a religious extremists who can’t stand the idea that their own view of the way that Islam should be practiced won’t be able to control everyone in the country — and thus do what religious extremists do.

    Rabbi Rosenblum quotes that great backer of war — as long as he can get his personal deferments — Vice President Cheney as to making the United States weaker. The question to be asked is whether the United States would be better able to assist Israel keeping Saddam Huessein in his box with high altitude air cover, or after 4 years of war which has drawn down our soldiers and our armaments to dangerous levels?

    As the United States, Israel found itself engaged in a war of choice that was not well planned, run by incompetent leaders. It is to Israel’s credit, and to the shame of the United States, that only six months later, an independent commission has reported on what happened to Israel, without regard to politics, while, four years after the Whilte House had navy personnel mount a “Mission Accomplished” banner, Republican Partisans masquerading as “Rabbis” are still quoting nonsense from our Vice President.

    Yes! The Reform Movement cares about Israel. The question is whether Partisan Republican Hacks who still pretend to support this War, whatever professional title they use, care more about Israel or about supporting the White House.

  • SM

    Ori,

    Thank you for the correction and additional information. In which case the answer to the question is ‘the Reform movement has not stopped caring about Jews in Israel.’ They have simply taken a position on halacha and drawn a conclusion.

    My central point is the same. Of course I KNOW that it isn’t really halacha and ‘they’ can’t rule on halacha. But, within the definition set by Reform itself, this a perfectly legitimate view (whether we think it’s right or wrong). So, expressing that view does not equate to abandoning anyone. Indeed, it is probably the opposite. The worried and the concerned can criticise just as well as the antagonistic and opposed.

  • Ori Pomerantz

    There are two issues here:

    1. Is withdrawal from Iraq beneficial (to the US and/or Israel). It’s a topic that I don’t want to address here because I’d rather discuss it in forums with more current and former members of the military, such as bar.baen.com .

    2. Does the URJ resolution appear like a document written by supporters of Israel. This is completely separate from #1, BTW – a person can support Israel and believe in keeping US troops in Iraq or in withdrawing them.

    The resolution has two sentences that refer to Israel’s future security.

    Lines 183-187: Experts cite the importance of a continuing limited presence of logistical staff, engineers, training and support forces, special operations forces, search-and-rescue-units, air support from outside Iraq, and counter-terrorism intelligence as a means to provide needed support to the new Iraqi leadership, this can help insure an American presence aimed at protecting other US interests in the region including Israel’s security.

    If I understand the English correctly, this means that they acknowledge that some US soldiers would be required to stay in Iraq. Israel is only mentioned incidentally, as one of the US interests in the region.

    Lines 216-218: F. Beginning immediately the process of phased withdrawal of our troops from Iraq in the manner that best enhances stability in Iraq – and, we would add to the 2005 resolution, stability for the region, including Israel.

    Again, the thrust is related to Iraq, and Israel is mentioned as an afterthought, as one of the countries in the Middle East. I won’t argue if it’s possible to withdraw from Iraq in a manner that enhances stability (that’s number 1 and as I said, I don’t think this is the right forum to argue that). However, the resolution does not give us any hints as to what that manner would be. To say “withdraw immediately in a manner that enhances stability” without that is a cop out – “we want X and Y, and somebody else should figure out how to have them both.

    This resolution does appear to be mostly ignoring Israel. Unless I missed it, there is no analysis of what a withdrawal would do to Israel’s security. That is what Jonathan Rosenblum wrote.

    I don’t see anything wrong with US citizens saying they care about the US, and not about Israel – even when they sit in the URJ. However, I can see why an Israeli like Jonathan Rosenblum would feel betrayed to see that people he thought of as friends Israel could rely on were just allies, whose interests now lead them to diverge from the interests of Israel.

  • Ori Pomerantz

    SM, thank you – I’m glad my comment was useful.

    SM: But, within the definition set by Reform itself, this a perfectly legitimate view (whether we think it’s right or wrong). So, expressing that view does not equate to abandoning anyone.

    Ori: I agree, to an extent. However, they did not appear to have considered the effects of a US withdrawal on Israel’s security (at least such consideration does not appear in their resolution in any great detail). That would imply that either they don’t see such a withdrawal as likely to affect Israel’s security, or they consider Israel’s security to be irrelevant to the issue.

  • Jonathan Rosenblum

    I had no intention of turning Cross-Currents into a debate about American policy in Iraq. Yes, it is true that I think the Reform resolution wrong on the merits; and I’m even surer that the argumentation in support of that resolution — both “halachic” and political — cannot withstand scrutiny.

    But that was not my point. I would think it is obvious that what happens in Iraq will have immense consequences for Israel. That being the case, I find it astounding that the Reform statement in support of the resolution never considers those implications, or mentions Israel at all, except in a throwaway line. Equally shocking is the heavy reliance the Baker-Hamilton report, given that Baker’s longstanding hostility to Israel is evident in the very report upon which the Reform movement relies. And even more troubling in the long-run would be making the United Nations Security Council the last word on the legitimacy of military action. Hardly a move that bodes well for Israel.

    Barry criticizes me for not being nice, and then provides an example of what he considers nice talk. He asks whether Islamofascists are Sunni or Shiites? I’ll try to make this simple. Political Islam, or Islamofascism, comes in a number of different colors. Al-Qaeda is Sunni; the mullahs in Iran are Shiites. What they share in common is a vision of the Moslem umma expanding its territorial control and imposing Sharia in areas under its control. They also share a common historical narrative that Islam is rising and becoming the dominant power in the world. Each, of course, would like the rise of Islam to be under its banner. But they agree about the enemy: the Big Satan (America) and the Little Satan (Israel). And they have a common interest in Iraq in seeing the U.S. humiliated and weakened on the international stage. (I would commend to Barry and anyone else who is interested a piece by Lawrence Kaplan a piece in TNR about the shocking ignorance of Senators and Congressmen about the nature of the war about which they are debating.)

  • Will Choose

    “Shocking ignorance” is what I would call conflating Sunnis and Shiites into one “Islamo-Fascist” whole. This conceit is plain nonsense and in fact is the nonsense that the entire Rosenblum straw argument is built around.

  • Bob Miller

    1. “Conflation” must be this year’s Judaeo-Bloggo-American buzzword.

    2. Does anyone deny that the Hatfields and McCoys had many characteristics in common? Both the Shiite and Sunni radicals, each in their characteristc way, have been tapping into the mother lode of Jihad modernized by Nazism.

  • Jacob Haller

    Is it possible that there’s a connection, as reported here and elsewhere, the Israeli populace’s decreasing sense of purpose and fulfilment with her possible increase of dependence on the U.S.?

    How could a country achieve a sense of healthy equilibrium if it constantly requires on someone else?

    It’s because I care deeply about the Eretz that I daven that one day those in power will unilaterally stop receiving aid from the U.S. and continue on some course of independence.

    Furthermore, I fear that playing up the Iraq war for the benefit of Israel endangers the American Jewish community.

    Bush-Cheney and Co, and it pains me to say this, failed miserably in declaring this war and bungled attempts to deal with the Islamofascist threat productively.

    The only reason I would never attend a rally to stop the war is because I despise most of the protesters even more.

  • Will Choose

    Nazism had many sources. Not one of those was Islam in any form.

    No Hatfields or McCoys were found on the register of the Nazi Party.

    To conflate is to bring together things that have no connection in an oversimplified form to confuse those who know little.

  • Bob Miller

    As a postscript to my comment of May 2, 2007 @ 10:55 am referring to “the mother lode of Jihad modernized by Nazism”:

    My apologies to those who didn’t get my drift.

    It’s that today’s Muslim fanatics, including the Shiite and Sunni versions, have buttressed their historic principle of Jihad with modern elements imported from Nazism. My references above of May 2, 2007 @ 2:00 pm illustrate this exhaustively.

    And, yes, the literal Hatfields and McCoys were not Muslims or Nazis, as we all know.

  • Steve Brizel

    Like it or not, RJ’s stances on all issues except for Israel are those of the far left of the Democratic Party-which views all wars through the prism of Vietnam but with no willingness to discuss what happened after a Democratic Congress voted to end our support of what had been a successful Vietnamization of that conflict and handed victory to the Communists. The same party is willing to do the same in Iraq, while simultaneously cutting VA allocations as well. One can only wonder when George Soros, Jimmy Carter, Michael Moore and Al Sharpton will appear at an RJ national convention.

  • Rabbi Zvi

    “It’s time to ask: When did the American Reform movement stop caring about Jews in Israel?”

    I’m sorry, but I didn’t know that they cared to begin with, certainly not from their published statements throughout the years. RJ sees, at most, a merely historic connection with Israel and is considerably more sympathetic to the plight of all other groups.

  • Will Choose

    Say Steve-

    What was the Viet Nam War about? Last I checked the Communist leader of that country was being welcomed at the White House. The U.S. does lots of business with Viet Nam. 55,000 Americans and untold numbers of Vietnamese died in that civil war…and for what? To justify the false theories of a bunch of Jewish intellectuals led by the Rostows. The reason the folks you support hate to hear the Viet Nam analogy brought up is precisely because it fits.

  • Steve Brizel

    Will Choose-We fought the Vietnam War to stop communism. Despite what the news media reported, the Tet offensive was a Communist defeat and the only way that the Communists won was when the Democratic controlled Congress pulled the plug. That led to the debacle of 1975 and the “reducation camps” and the installation of a Communist dictatorship.

    FWIW, IIRC, more Americans died in the Civil War between 1861 and 1865 than during the Vietnam War.There is no dount as George Will has stated that the US would still have slavery today if that war was fought under today’s liberal-left media scrutiny.

    The next time that you see someone who arrived in the US after fleeing Vietnam either via one of our helicopters, transports or as a ‘boat person”, ask them why the US fought that war. While the US does lots of business with Vietnam, China and the FSU, one of the reasons that led to detente was the realization of the Communist world that the US was willing to fight and defeat Communism in all spheres. China and Vietnam today can be fairly analogized to the USSR under Gorbachev-trying to have both economic openness and political repression. All of human history has shown that free markets and minds are the best combination of economics and politics, as opposed to either a totally laisseze faire or overly regulated system.

  • Will Choose

    Which is it Steve?

    “One of the reasons that led to detente was the realization of the Communist world that the US was willing to fight and defeat Communism in all spheres.”

    “The Communists won.”

    You don’t make any sense.

  • Yaakov Menken

    The Communists won in Vietnam, but lost the Cold War. That much is easy. But to express the question better, the period of “Detente” is generally seen as beginning in the late 1960’s, and the U.S. didn’t pull out of Vietnam until the early 1970’s. So Detente continued right when the US was doing the opposite of demonstrating the willingness to fight Communism in all spheres.

    Vietnam and Iraq, however, are not parallel. The difference is that in Vietnam, it’s not clear that the population preferred the US to the USSR. Robert McNamara wrote in 1999 that “The Nixon administration, like the Johnson administration before it, could not give the South Vietnamese the essential ingredient for success: genuine indigenous political legitimacy.”

    In Iraq, the populace wants peace, but the terrorists are trying to spark a Civil War. For the US to pack and run would lead to disaster.

  • Jacob Haller

    Will Choose wrote

    “Nazism had many sources. Not one of those was Islam in any form”

    However, it’s defensible to state that Radical Islamism has many forms and Nazism is arguably one of them.

    Are they paying homage since there were Croatian and Crimean Tartar SS units replete with their own Imams? We’re not talking just German/Axis platoons; SS Units.

    Steve’s argument about detente is that the U.S. was willing to take on Soviet expansion whether the Vietnam engagement was successful or not. Not a contradiction.

    That said, the Vietnam analogy is not completely without its merits. However, 20/20 hindsight can kick in nowadays being that the USSR collapsed because they didn’t have the resources to keep things together. Is there any evidence of opposition to the war back then because someone exhibited the practical foresight that American involvement was pointless because of Soviet collapse in the near future? Not likely.

    I’m under the impression that Democrats are more likely to downplay the threat of radical Islamism (Harry Reid) than they are to state that the threat is for certain real but the approach has to be sensible and not get caught up in battles that aren’t ours, like in Iraq.

    One reason that Nixon won by a landslide in ’72 over the anti-war McGovern is that the American public, although dissatisfied with the war, reserved even greater contempt for the war protesters with their flag-burning, slogans of support for Ho Chi Minh and overall decadent attitudes. The Silent Majority prevailed.

    The Democrats might want to learn that lesson from history before allowing their talking heads from the radical-left faction of the majority upstage the rest. That’s arguably one reason they lost in ’04.

  • Bob Miller

    I’m less optimistic than Jacob Haller that the American public today can be compared to the American public in 1972. Decades of politically slanted education at all levels have taken their toll.