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Statement Opposing Netanyahu’s Annexation Pledge

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Responding to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s announcement of his intent to extend Israeli sovereignty over large parts of the West Bank, the Progressive Israel Network released the following statement:

A democratic and peaceful future for Israelis and Palestinians requires national self-determination for both peoples. Any step to unilaterally impose Israeli sovereignty over Palestinian people and territory in the West Bank is a step away from the two-state vision and toward the formalization of two separate and unequal legal systems. Both Israelis and Palestinians want and deserve to live in peace, with justice and dignity. Israelis deserve to live in a healthy and vibrant democracy. Palestinians deserve to live free from occupation.

Netanyahu’s suggested move would entrench Israel’s military occupation in the West Bank. It harms millions of Palestinians living under occupation and poses an existential threat to Israeli democracy. Israeli democracy cannot endure without putting an end to the 52-year occupation.

Our vision for Israel and its relationship with the U.S. includes:

  • A strong and democratic Israel that ends its 52-year occupation and that provides for all its citizens justice, dignity and equal rights. An Israel that seeks peace, rather than entrenching occupation and inequality.
  • Strong US leadership towards a two-state solution, which opposes unilateral Israeli annexation of the West Bank.
  • A US-Israel relationship that reinforces our countries’ shared democratic values and institutions.

 


The Progressive Israel Network is a coalition of the ten leading organizations representing Americans committed to pursuing democracy, equality in Israel and to peace between Israelis and Palestinians. The coalition speaks with a unified voice in support of democracy and equal rights, religious freedom and pluralism, and a two-state solution. The network’s founding members are Ameinu, Americans for Peace Now, Habonim Dror North America, Hashomer Hatzair, The Jewish Labor Committee, J Street, The New Israel Fund, Partners for Progressive Israel, Reconstructing Judaism, and T’ruah. This statement is further joined by the National Council of Jewish Women.

Statement on Israeli Government Decision to Bar Entry to Reps. Omar and Tlaib

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Reconstructing Judaism and the Reconstructionist Rabbinical Association strongly oppose the decision of the Government of Israel to deny entry into Israel to U.S. Congressional Representatives Ilhan Omar and Rashida Tlaib. To quote Daniel Sokatch, CEO of the New Israel Fund, “When the Prime Minister of Israel uses political litmus tests at the border, he abandons Israeli democracy.” Knesset member Stav Shaffir writes, “A country with smart foreign policy invites Members of Congress with positions we don’t like and we make sure they’re exposed to the complexity of the conflict, see our narrative and show the world we are strong and open.” We hope that the Israeli government will reconsider this mistaken and damaging decision, which stands to harm the longstanding relationship between the US and Israel, and which contributes to growing anti-democratic trends in Israeli society.

We also condemn President Trump’s tweet claiming that Representatives Tlaib and Omar hate all Jewish people. As the American Jewish community continues to face ongoing threats from violent white nationalists, it is painful to hear the president badly misuse and distort the very real problem of active antisemitism in the U.S. 

Rabbi Deborah Waxman co-authors op-ed on xenophobic dangers and democratic hopes in Israel and U.S.

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By Rabbi Deborah Waxman, Ph.D., Rabbi Jill Jacobs and Libby Lenkinski on behalf of the Progressive Israel Network

Originally published in the Forward on July 24, 2019

For American Jews, the recent resurgence of American nativism recalls the worst moments of the last century. American nativism brought us the Immigration Act of 1924, a racist law that closed America’s borders to Jews and other “undesirables,” and that ultimately barred our forebears from escaping the Nazis and finding refuge in America.

Jews then were considered by nativists to be dirty, racially inferior, and unassimilable. We were not welcome on American shores. President Donald Trump’s “Make America Great Again” hearkens to those times, and his cruel immigration policies are inspired by them. This is not what democracy looks like.

It is for this reason that last June, we helped form the Progressive Israel Network — a coalition of ten leading organizations committed to building a vision of a democratic and progressive future for Israel. This week, we are laying out an affirmative, values-based vision to guide the Israel-America relationship into a strong, free and democratic future.

President Trump’s nativism is not new, but it recently found newfound furor, as he cast aspersions on the loyalty of whole categories of American citizens — women of color, immigrants, refugees, Muslims. Dangerously, he has attempted to drag Jews and the State of Israel into his racist tirades.

For Trump, Jews are synonymous with Israel, and Israel is synonymous with a right-wing expansionist vision shared by Prime Minister Netanyahu and his allies. That’s why Trump referred to Israel in a roomful of American Jews as “your country” and to Benjamin Netanyahu as “your prime minister.” It is how he could say that he was defending Israel as he engaged in a racist screed against those four Democratic Congresswomen of color last Wednesday.

Trump has fashioned the terms “anti-Jewish,” “anti-Semite,” and “anti-American” into a political weapon to use in the service of his neo-populism and then handed off that blunt cudgel to his right-wing base to use with reckless abandon.

On a visit to America, David Ben-Gurion, Israel’s first prime minister, noted that, “From the first, Americans everywhere have understood Israel’s democratic hopes and ambitions.” But a White House with a narrow, corrosive vision of citizenship that threatens the core of American democracy is not a vantage point for understanding and furthering “Israel’s democratic hopes and ambitions.” Quite the contrary. Trump’s vile racism is a toxin as poisonous to the American body politic as it is for Israel’s democracy.

Benjamin Netanyahu has joined the list of illiberal populists around the world seeking to dismantle multi-racial, liberal democracy piece by piece. This has included inciting against human rights organizations, passing legislation that creates inequality between Jewish and Arab citizens of Israel, and pursuing legislation that would restrict the power of the Supreme Court and that would prohibit the removal of a sitting Prime Minister (as Netanyahu is facing indictment on multiple corruption charges).

This list of xenophobic, fearmongering leaders certainly includes Trump, but it neither starts nor ends with him. Putin in Russia, Orban in Hungary, Morawiecki in Poland, Salvini in Italy, and Bolsonaro in Brazil, Erdogan in Turkey are all birds of a single populist feather.

These demagogues sow fear and stoke racial tension. They promote an exclusivist, chauvinist white nationalism. But they will not win. Jewish history teaches us that tyranny cannot sustain itself. From Pharaoh to the Roman Emperors to the monarchs who expelled us from multiple parts of Europe, Jews have outlasted the tyrants who have sought our destruction. And we American Jews know that the only way for the Israel-America friendship to survive — and not be tossed out along with these demagogues — is to center our democratic values.

We encourage all presidential candidates to stand behind these values and articulate a proactive and constructive vision of the best of what each nation can be, and what the most robust partnership between them can advance.

We hope that they will gather the fortitude to speak clearly and confidently on this issue, and not stand idly by while two troubled democracies continue down the same disturbing path. We believe that a clear-eyed, values-based alliance between America and Israel demands the following:

— A recognition that Trump-era policies have damaged prospects for peace and that any new American president will need to repair.

— An end to Israel’s 52-year occupation of the West Bank and a recommitment to the rights of all citizens who deserve justice, dignity and equality.

— Strong US leadership towards a two-state solution and opposition to any unilateral steps by Israel that would annex parts of the West Bank and thereby formalize two separate and unequal legal systems.

— Reinforcement of our countries’ common democratic institutions - a strong judiciary, a strong civil society, and free and fair elections - such that both countries are empowered to resist the erosion of these institutions by xenophobic and populist movements and leaders.

American democracy today is in uncharted waters. And American Jews know, in our bones, that when the government conditions civil rights for some, the civil rights of all are at risk. We know what is at stake. This is the governing principle that keeps us all safe: strong protections for minority and individual rights.

Rabbi Jill Jacobs is the Executive Director of T’ruah: The Rabbinic Call for Human Rights. Rabbi Deborah Waxman Ph.D. is the President of Reconstructing Judaism. Libby Lenkinski is the Vice President for Public Engagement at the New Israel Fund.

New Progressive Israel Network Launched By Ten Leading Jewish Organizations

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Today, ten leading organizations representing Americans who are committed to pursuing democracy, equality and peace in Israel announced the launch of the Progressive Israel Network. The new coalition will provide a strong, unified voice in support of its members’ common goals: democracy and equal rights, religious freedom and pluralism, and a two-state solution that would secure a peaceful future for Israel and end the 52-year-long occupation.

The Network will weigh in on the significant challenges that face Israel and the US-Israel relationship. It will coordinate campaigns designed to mobilize the majority of American Jews who share its progressive values and goals, support the work of Israeli progressives, and urge the US government to adopt policies that further Israeli-Palestinian peace. The Network will fight against US and Israeli policies that promote annexation, entrench occupation and undermine liberal democracy in Israel.

With Israel heading into another round of contentious elections and the Trump administration advancing a dangerous so-called peace initiative in the region, the Network will cooperate closely to defend the core principles of democracy and diplomacy. The Network will also run a joint list for the upcoming elections to the 38th World Zionist Congress, because the time has come for our institutions to reflect our values.

The network’s founding members are Ameinu, Americans for Peace Now, Hashomer Hatzair, The Jewish Labor Committee, J Street, The New Israel Fund, Partners for Progressive Israel, Reconstructing Judaism, and T’ruah. The organizations have chosen this moment to launch — as Israelis go once again to the ballot box — because of the extreme peril that far-right leaders and parties pose to the fundamental values on which the State of Israel was founded and that American Jews hold most dear.

In its Statement of Principles, the Network writes, “Our values and commitments make us proudly progressive and proudly pro-Israel and speak for the majority of Jews around the world.” These values are deeply rooted in the spirit of the Israeli Declaration of Independence, which enshrines the Israeli government’s sacred duty to provide “complete equality of social and political rights to all its inhabitants.”

The full Statement of Principles is below.

This group of organizations has worked together for a number of years on an ad hoc basis. Some of its joint work includes a post-election message to President Donald Trump demanding that he reject anti-Semitism and all forms of discrimination; a letter denouncing Israel’s Nation State Law sent to twelve members of the Israeli opposition; a pledge for American Jews to ask Knesset members who voted for this discriminatory and undemocratic law why they voted for it; and a letter to the American Jewish community affirming that the racist Kahanist party does not belong in Knesset and asking other Jewish community leaders to do the same.

Founding members of the Progressive Israel Network released the following statements:

Kenneth Bob, President of Ameinu: “Ameinu is proud and excited to be a founding member of the Progressive Israel Network. As the current policies of both the Israeli and the US administrations diminish the possibility of Israel and the Palestinians reaching a mutually agreeable and durable solution to the conflict, it is vital for progressive, pro-Israel organizations to band together to amplify our voices in support of peace and co-existence. As our organizations represent the viewpoint of the majority of American Jews, it is time for our voices to be heard.”

Aviva Meyer, Acting CEO of Americans for Peace Now: “A unified American Jewish voice that stands for a progressive, democratic, peace-seeking Israel, is crucial, both for our US activists and for the Israeli supporters of our sister-organization, the Israeli peace movement Peace Now.”

Oren Zukierkorn, Secretary General of Hashomer Hatzair World Movement: “Hashomer Hatzair is proud to be adding its voice to this network of progressive communities. We are excited to work with this incredible group of partners to build a strong and courageous movement for a just peace and a bright future for Israel and all those who care for it.”

Eitan Goldstein, Director of Habonim Dror North America: “In accordance with Habonim Dror’s longstanding commitment to upbuilding the State of Israel as a Jewish and democratic society at peace with its neighbors, we see the Progressive Israel Network as a significant development in making it more possible to achieve these aims. We look forward to working alongside our partners in the Network, to amplify our efforts and those of our Israeli partners, and to call upon the American Jewish public, young and old, to join us in our ongoing work to pave a better path for Israel and all of its citizens.”

Jeremy Ben-Ami, President of J Street: “At a time when the far-right agenda of Prime Minister Netanyahu, President Trump and their backers is imperiling Israel’s future and undermining its democracy, it’s absolutely vital that pro-Israel progressives stand together in defense of our shared vision and values. I’m deeply excited for this new network to help coordinate and amplify the work of organizations that are promoting peace, fighting occupation and supporting our progressive Israeli partners.”

Arieh Lebowitz, Executive Director of the Jewish Labor Committee: “When progressive, liberal, open and democratic forces within the State of Israel are under attack, it’s crucial for those of us who are struggling to defend a progressive, decent and caring society in the U.S. to support our sisters and brothers who live and work within Israel. Today, the JLC joins with our colleagues in the Progressive Israel Network in affirming that we’re all in this together. To our counterparts within the State of Israel – and there are many – we say‘you’re in there for us, and we’re out here for you.’  Isn’t that the essence of solidarity, especially in the troubled days?”

Daniel Sokatch, CEO of the New Israel Fund: “Progressive values – that everyone should have an equal say in a democracy, that all people deserve equality – are mainstream, majority values among those of us who care about Israel. Yet policies in the U.S. and in Israel are now being driven by narrow-minded politicians and supremacist ideologues who are fundamentally opposed to a shared and peaceful future for all Israeli and Palestinian people. I am honored to help launch the Progressive Israel Network, which will build connections between progressive supporters of Israel in a political environment that so often serves to divide us from each other and from our progressive Israeli colleagues who share our vision of a future free of occupation and with democracy and equality for all.”

Paul Scham, President of Partners for Progressive Israel: “Partners for Progressive Israel is very pleased that progressive American Jewish groups are now aligning themselves in the Progressive Israel Network so as to pool our efforts for the common purposes towards which we have struggled for so long: a peaceful end to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict based on a Palestinian state next to Israel as well as equality, civil rights, and religious pluralism for all Israel’s citizens. We look forward to working with our partners in the Network towards these goals.”

Rabbi Deborah Waxman, President of Reconstructing Judaism: “Beginning with Mordecai Kaplan’s writings and teachings, Reconstructionists have long dedicated themselves to a Zionism of ethical nationhood and to a vision of Israel where multiple expressions of religious, cultural and civic life flourish. The increasing dominance of extremist religious and nationalist ideologies in Israeli society threaten the dream of a Jewish and democratic Israel like never before. We look forward to adding our voices to those of the other worthy organizations in this coalition.” 

Rabbi Jill Jacobs, Executive Director of T’ruah: “At this critical juncture it’s essential that our organizations come together to bring a more powerful moral voice and the strength of our collective networks to standing up for the human rights of both Israelis and Palestinians, and to recommitting to the long path toward peace, one that ensures the self-determination of both people. We are unified in our refusal to concede to those in our communities who are pushing a far-right agenda that entrenches occupation and threatens Israeli democracy, and that runs counter to the vision and values of the vast majority of American Jews.”  

 

Principles of the Progressive Israel Network

Grounded in our Jewish and democratic values, the Progressive Israel Network calls to action all those who are committed to Israel’s future as the national homeland of the Jewish people and as a democracy that lives in peace and security with its neighbors.

We are inspired by Israel’s Declaration of Independence – establishing a state “based on freedom, justice, and peace,” that ensures “complete equality of social and political rights to all its inhabitants, irrespective of religion, race, or sex.”

We are alarmed by the threats to that vision from the increasingly extreme actions, policies, and ideology of the Israeli far-right with cover provided by its supporters in the Diaspora.

Our commitment is to peace for Israel and its neighbors – through a two-state solution to the long and destructive conflict with the Palestinians and an end to the occupation and the expansion of settlements.

Our commitment is to Israel’s security – understanding the many and real security threats Israel faces and that Israel does not bear sole responsibility for its conflict with the Palestinians or other regional powers.

Our commitment is to democracy and the rule of law – believing that all citizens of Israel must be treated equally, and their civil and human rights protected.

Our commitment is to religious pluralism – and the belief that all forms of Jewish practice deserve equal protection and recognition in the state of the Jewish people.

Our values and our commitments make us proudly progressive and proudly pro-Israel and speak for the majority of Jews around the world.

We call on Jews who share our values to join us as we work to shape opinion, policy and discourse.

Together, let’s ensure that the Israel we leave to future generations best reflects the values and traditions we have inherited from those who’ve come before.

 

Endorsement of House Resolution in Support of Two-State Solution

Endorsement

 

Reconstructing Judaism joins nine other Jewish organizations in endorsing House Resolution 326, which reaffirms longstanding bipartisan support for a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and opposes any US actions that would encourage or endorse unilateral Israeli annexations in the West Bank. 

Invitation to Support Israelis Opposing Kahanists in Knesset

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The Israeli grassroots social action organization, Zazim – Community Action, is mobilizing Israelis to call on the Central Elections Committee of Knesset to protect the Knesset from Kahanists. Over 13,000 Israelis have already signed onto Zazim’s petition expressing their conviction that Kahanists have no place in the Knesset and represent a fundamental threat to Israel’s core democratic values.

Zazim and the New Israel Fund have now launched a parallel petition for Jews living outside of Israel to sign as a show of solidarity and support for their efforts. We invite members of Reconstructionist communities to read it and consider signing on to it if you agree. To do so, click here. While Reconstructing Judaism and the Reconstructionist Rabbinical Association do not advocate for or against any candidate or party in any election, we do stand in solidarity with Israelis who believe that Kahanists have no place in the Knesset, and who are working hard to protect Israel’s democracy. (See our recent February 21, 2019 statement, “Kahanists are a danger to Israelis and Israeli society.”)

We invite you to consider adding your name to this statement of solidarity, which will be accepting signatures until March 28, the deadline for Israeli organizations to approach the Central Elections Committee of the Knesset. Clicking this link will take you to a New Israel Fund (NIF) sign-on web page. NIF is coordinating this effort, whose co-sponsors currently include Reconstructing Judaism and the Reconstructionist Rabbinical Association, as well as Ameinu, Americans for Peace Now, J Street, the Jewish Labor Committee, the National Council of Jewish Women, Partners for Progressive Israel, T’ruah: The Rabbinic Call for Human Rights, and the Union for Reform Judaism. 

Thank you for considering this call to action.

Public Statements, Israel

Kahanists are a Danger to Israelis and Israeli Democracy

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Addendum, March 4, 2019: We invite you to consider adding your name to this statement of solidarity, which will be accepting signatures until March 28, the deadline for Israeli organizations to approach the Central Elections Committee of the Knesset. Clicking this link will take you to a New Israel Fund (NIF) sign-on web page. NIF is coordinating this effort, whose co-sponsors currently include Reconstructing Judaism and the Reconstructionist Rabbinical Association, as well as Ameinu, Americans for Peace Now, J Street, the Jewish Labor Committee, the National Council of Jewish Women, Partners for Progressive Israel, T’ruah: The Rabbinic Call for Human Rights, and the Union for Reform Judaism. 

Following the Otzma Yehudit agreement, eight organizations call on the American Jewish Community to affirm: Kahanists have no place in the Knesset.

This week, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, keen to shore up his electoral position, orchestrated the unification of the extreme right-wing party Otzma Yehudit (“Jewish Power”) with the National Union so that it could enter the Knesset in a consolidated right-wing bloc. This is dangerous and deeply concerning. Otzma Yehudit is the latest iteration of a political party based on teachings of racist demagogue Meir Kahane.

For decades, the consensus in Israel was that these racist extremist organizations should have no place in the Knesset. We are outraged that right-wing political parties and their leadership have reversed course and opened the door for Kahanists to enter into the Israeli political mainstream.

Our organizations do not advocate for or against any candidate or party in any election. We stand together for the principles enshrined in Israel’s Declaration of Independence. Kahanism, empowered in government, represents a clear and present danger to those values.

Kahane’s party, Kach, was banned from the Knesset in 1988, was outlawed as a terrorist organization in Israel in 1994, and still appears on the US State Department list of Foreign Terrorist Organizations.

Modern day Kahanists are working to divide Israeli society by stoking racial fears. They seek to strip all non-Jewish Israelis of basic rights; many encourage violence toward Arabs and LGBTQ Israelis. These Jewish supremacist organizations often use incitement to violence to promote their racist agenda. That’s why the US State Department, the EU and the Canadian government all list Kahanist organizations as terrorist groups.

Today’s Kahanists have been convicted numerous times for support for terror organizations and incitement to racism. Michael Ben-Ari, a leader of Otzma Yehudit and candidate for Knesset, was denied a visa to enter the US due to the State Department’s “prerogative to ban terrorists from entering the country.” 

As Americans, we have seen the devastating effects of elected officials embracing white nationalist groups. In America, deadly right-wing extremism poses a clear and present danger to our democratic society. In Israel, it is Kahanists — and the political mainstream that embraces them — that pose the most direct threat to Israel’s democratic fiber.

We call on our colleagues in the American Jewish community and Jewish organizations to stand for democracy and equality and join us in affirming that Kahanists have no place in the Knesset.

Signed,

New Israel Fund

T’ruah: The Rabbinic Call for Human Rights

Partners for Progressive Israel

Americans for Peace Now

J Street

National Council of Jewish Women

Reconstructing Judaism

Ameinu

Public Statements, Israel

Statement on Recent Events in Israel

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Reconstructing Judaism and the Reconstructionist Rabbinical Association condemn and are saddened by the recent terror attacks by Palestinian extremists against Israeli soldiers, police and civilians in the West Bank and Jerusalem. In the past week, two attacks near the settlement of Ofra have claimed the lives of two Israeli soldiers and a prematurely delivered infant, and have wounded nine Israelis. We mourn those who have been killed and we pray for speedy and thorough healing for all those wounded. Terrorism is never justified, and attacks like these increase the potential for escalating violence as Israeli forces respond with intensified measures in the West Bank. We urge the leaders of all parties to prioritize the sanctity of human life, to deescalate the current flaring of violence, and to seek pathways back to good faith efforts to negotiate a just and lasting future of dignity and peace.  

 

Statement on October 7th Terrorist Attack

News

Reconstructing Judaism and the Reconstructionist Rabbinical Association condemn the terrorist attack that killed two Israeli civilians, Kim Levengrond Yehezkel, 29, and Ziv Hajbi, 35. May their memories be a blessing.  The attack took place in a factory at an industrial complex in the West Bank, and was carried out by a Palestinian young man. Our condolences are with the family and friends of the victims, and we hope for a full recovery for the wounded. Terrorism is never justified and will not help end the Occupation of the West Bank, nor will it pave the way to a lasting, fair peace agreement. May those who work for peace, justice, and reconciliation throughout the region be strengthened in their work and their ideals.  

 

Response to Murder of Ari Fuld

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Reconstructing Judaism and the Reconstructionist Rabbinical Association condemn the stabbing attack carried out by a Palestinian youth that killed Ari Fuld, an American-Israeli father of four, at the Etzion junction in the West Bank. Our condolences are with Mr. Fuld’s family and friends. We appreciate press reports of Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas’s condemnation of the attack.  At this moment, when Jews around the world are focused so intently on the question of how we can live our lives so that our most sacred hopes and aspirations can be realized in the year ahead, we join in President Abbas’s recognition that  “Everyone loses from violence.”  May Israelis and Palestinians alike have the strength and courage to fulfill our dreams of peace, mutual respect and shared prosperity in Israel and Palestine, and the wisdom to recognize that escalating violence will never be the means through which those dreams can be fulfilled.

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