Learn how the Momentum Campaign is reconstructing Judaism → 

A Memo to Reconstructionist Communities from Reconstructing Judaism’s Israel Affairs Specialist

Since October 7, at least 27 of our 95 congregations have been in contact with us in the Department for Thriving Communities in order to seek our assistance regarding the issues that have been impacting the Jewish community regarding the ongoing war. Sometimes we have played the role of consultant, helping a synagogue board or staff think through their options for how best to handle conflicts over war-related politics within their congregation. We also have helped facilitate congregational discussions, provided online programming on the history of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and co-sponsored webinars that have featured non-profit organizations in Israel and Palestine that do courageous co-existence work despite the times.

In my role as Israel Affairs Specialist, I have been involved in much of this work. Doing so has been both emotionally intense – because of the subject matter – and inspiring – because of the abundance of care and the desire to stay in community despite differences of opinion that I have witnessed working with our affiliates.

The news shifts frequently, and it can be hard to keep up. Nevertheless, over the past couple weeks there have been some important headlines about which I would like to share some thoughts, in the hope that my doing so may be helpful to our members. In particular, I would like to address two important issues: 1) the recent ruling by the International Court of Justice on the accusation against Israel of violating the international convention on genocide; and 2) the growing conflict that is developing between the extremist and messianist religious right in Israel on the one side and, on the other side, the many parties who vigorously oppose their agenda for Israel, including the vast majority of Diaspora Jews and the governments of all of Israel’s key allies including the United States.

I’d like to share my analysis of these matters based on how they relate to our movement’s longstanding positions regarding Israel and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The analysis and opinions that follow are solely my own and do not speak officially for Reconstructing Judaism. My number one hope is that what I share below will be helpful to our congregations and rabbis as possible frames for discussing these complex and often emotionally charged issues.


I have noticed a certain amount of confusion among some of our members about what the ICJ has said in its ruling and what it means. While I am not a lawyer, I’ve read several explanations of the ruling, and most recently I attended a Haaretz-sponsored webinar featuring three Israeli-based journalists (Jewish and Palestinian) who discussed the ICJ’s ruling in depth. Here are the main things I learned:

The International Court of Justice in The Hague, Netherlands

First, the court issued a preliminary ruling, not a final ruling. The ICJ did not rule that Israel is guilty of committing the crime of genocide. Furthermore, the ICJ denied two requests sought by the plaintiffs: one, that Israel immediately enact a ceasefire; and two, that Israel immediately facilitate the return home of all Palestinian civilians who have fled from northern Gaza to the southern part of the strip. In other words, the ICJ declined to rule that Israel’s general war effort against Hamas violates international law, or even that Israel’s temporary displacement of Gazan civilians from the northern part of Gaza is a violation of international law. Some of the people who have been making the argument that the charge of genocide is baseless are citing these aspects of the ICJ’s ruling as validating.

On the other hand, the ICJ did not dismiss the case, which is what Israel requested. What this means is that the ICJ wants more information, and that they have a concern about the possibility that any number of war crimes, possibly including genocide, may be involved. Their ruling states that Israel must take care not to commit crimes that violate the international convention on genocide or other parts of international law, and that Israel must report on its military actions to the ICJ within a month of its ruling. They also ruled that Israel must accelerate and improve the flow of humanitarian aid to Gazans immediately.

Significantly, the ICJ’s ruling revealed that the court has serious concerns about public statements that various Israeli officials have made that have included genocidal language, calls for ethnic cleansing, and incitement to violence against Palestinians as a group. Many of these statements have come from members of the far-right extremist parties in Prime Minister Netanyahu’s coalition. The ICJ ruling says that these incendiary statements can lead to incitement to genocide, and that government officials who have made such statements should be prosecuted to the fullest extent of Israeli law. Some of the people who have been claiming that Israel is guilty of genocide are citing the ICJ’s refusal to dismiss the case as validating.

Finally, it is worth noting that the ICJ does not have jurisdiction on the question of whether Hamas is guilty of war crimes, because the ICJ only handles cases involving nation states, and Hamas is a non-state actor. Nevertheless, even though the ICJ doesn’t have jurisdiction over Hamas, it condemned Hamas’ actions on October 7 and its continued holding of Israeli hostages. While I am on the subject of the Israeli hostages still being held by Hamas, I’d like to mention that while this issue has faded from most Western news headlines, it remains absolutely center stage in Israel. For people in our congregations who don’t have close family or friends in Israel, this is a good time to check in with fellow congregants who do have loved ones in Israel, or who may be Israeli themselves

What I see is a nuanced ruling that is not claiming that genocide has happened, but that is reminding Israel’s leaders that the ICJ is watching, whether with regard to genocide or to other war crimes. On a personal note, when I attended the Haaretz webinar and listened to Sheren Falah Saab, a reporter and a Palestinian citizen of Israel, she said something that has really stuck with me. I understood one of her points to be that the legal arguing over genocide and the political theater accompanying it runs the risk of distracting from the intensity and immediacy of human suffering happening on a massive scale among Gaza’s civilians. Regardless of what labels one puts on it, between one and two million people are displaced, and food and medicines are in short supply. Regardless of how anyone assigns moral responsibility or distributes blame for this ongoing humanitarian crisis, the families and children who are living in an unlivable situation are still in need of immediate relief. When I think about her point, along with the ongoing hell that the hostages and their families are going through, as well as the hundreds of thousands of Israelis who are currently unable to return to their homes near the northern or southern border, I personally conclude that the need for urgent diplomacy to bring this nightmare to an end has never been greater.


On January 30, 2024 I watched a webinar sponsored by UnXceptable, the American sister movement to the huge pro-democracy protest movement in Israel that dominated headlines for all of 2023 until October 7. The speaker was Yair Nehorai, who gave a frightening presentation called “Messianic Zionism, October 7th, and The Future of Israeli Democracy.” You can see a similar presentation with Nehorai at this link, and the discussion that followed his presentation on January 30th at this link. Both offer descriptions of what the Messianist Jewish nationalist movement believes.

Nehorai is an Israeli author and a former follower of similar religious nationalist beliefs. Bernard Avishai writes that Nehorai is “the author of The Third Revolution, a book documenting the teachings of the rabbinic mentors of the messianic movement [who promote] a novel politicized Jewish creed, advanced by ‘Jewist’ activists who, in pressing for a Halachic state, are equivalent to ‘Islamist’ activists who advocate for Muslim governmental supremacy and Sharia law.”

It’s significant to me that UnXceptable sponsored this program, given that its political stance on the Israel-Hamas war has been thoroughly supportive of the Israeli war effort and passionately focused on the plight of the Israeli hostages. What I am seeing unfold within the Israeli pro-democracy movement and its Israeli ex-pat supporters abroad is a growing determination to defend Israel from both the physical threat Hamas poses as well as the threat that the far-right, messianist leaders in Israel’s government represent to Israel’s future as a pluralistic, democratic Jewish state.

Since October 7, some of the most high-profile members of the far right messianist Jewish settler movement are the primary people who have been making dehumanizing or genocidal statements about the Palestinians – the public behavior that in large part caused the International Court of Justice to harbor worries about the potential for genocide in its recent ruling. These are also the political leaders who, along with Netanyahu, are increasing their hostile rhetoric towards the Biden Administration’s repeated statements that a postwar future must include security for Israel as well as a viable Palestinian state along with new peace agreements between Israel and powerful Sunni Arab states like Saudi Arabia. The far right messianists believe they can use Netanyahu to prevent a two-state future and maintain the growth of their ideological movement in Israel. Netanyahu believes he can use the messianists to stave off widespread Israeli public opinion seeking his resignation once the war is over.

We can expect the public differences of vision for the region between the US on the one hand and the Netanyahu/far-right messianist coalition government of Israel on the other hand to intensify in the weeks ahead. Since it’s an election year in the US, we can also expect that various politicians will seek to use that tension to further their own political interests. As a movement with a longstanding set of positions seeking a resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict through a two-state agreement and connected regional peace agreements between Israel and Arab states, we may find ourselves stressed and strained by questions and controversies that play out in ways that attempt to exacerbate divisions within the Jewish community and within coalitions concerned with defending democratic institutions and the rule of law in the US and other Diaspora communities.


President Biden’s recent executive order imposing sanctions and other penalties on specific Jewish settlers who have participated in violent acts against Palestinian civilians living in the West Bank represents one concrete expression of the contours of the current Administration’s Middle East policy. That policy has been to strongly support Israel in its military campaign to disrupt and disable Hamas from continuing to pose a major threat, while simultaneously using vigorous American diplomacy to organize a large coalition of Western and Sunni Arab governments ready to take part in a postwar remaking of the regional order that includes a two-state solution for Israel and Palestine and a strong Sunni-Israeli-Western bulwark against Iran. Since October 7, however, repeated attacks by groups of violent settlers on Palestinian villages in the West Bank have caused more than 1000 Palestinians to flee their homes there. In addition to being morally reprehensible, these attacks also pose a threat to the possibility of achieving the Biden Administration’s postwar diplomatic goals. This Executive Order takes a firm stand against several known perpetrators of this kind of extremist violence aimed at Palestinian residents of the West Bank, and it is designed so that the Biden Administration can act quickly against other individuals who may carry out similar actions. It is consistent with longstanding Reconstructionist resolutions that oppose the violation of the civil rights of Palestinian residents in the West Bank.


We have had multiple requests from members about ways individuals can help by giving money. People have expressed interest in helping in multiple ways, including support for Israeli organizations providing emergency aid for displaced Israeli families from the south and north of the country, for Jewish-Arab co-existence and shared-society advocacy organizations, and for Gazan civilians in need of emergency supplies and medical aid. After doing a good deal of vetting and research, we have updated our “Ways to Help in this Time of War in Israel and Palestine” web page so that it now includes organizations that address each of these areas.

My hope in sharing these thoughts is that they may be helpful, especially to members of our congregations. As said earlier, the opinions I’ve shared here are solely my own, and do not represent official statements of Reconstructing Judaism.

The Reconstructionist Network

Serving as central organization of the Reconstructionist movement

Training the next generation of groundbreaking rabbis

Modeling respectful conversations on pressing Jewish issues

Curating original, Jewish rituals, and convening Jewish creatives

The Reconstructionist Network