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Joint Statement on Israel Conversion Bill

Endorsement

 

RRC/Jewish Reconstructionist Communities joined a statement strongly opposing a bill proposed by Israel’s Ministry of the Interior, which would nullify Israel’s recognition of Reform and Conservative conversions performed in Israel, as well as overturn Israel’s High Court ruling requiring the Ministry to recognize Orthodox conversions performed by private rabbinic courts.

Statement on the Israeli Knesset’s Passage of the “Entry Bill”

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The Reconstructionist Rabbinical Association (RRA) and RRC/Jewish Reconstructionist Communities (RRC/JRC) are strongly opposed to and deeply disappointed by the Israeli Knesset’s passage of the “Entry Bill.” This law denies entry to foreign visitors who have publicly supported any form of boycott of the State of Israel or boycotts limited to the Israeli settlements in the West Bank.

The Entry Bill broadly curtails legitimate civil discourse and liberties, moving the country further away from some of its bedrock principles – robust democracy, open debate, and vigorous pluralism. A democratic state has to be willing to tolerate non-violent political dissent even when its government profoundly opposes the dissenters’ ideas, and one of Israel’s longstanding points of pride has been its commitment to being a state that is both a Jewish homeland and a democracy. This legislation damages Israel’s democratic principles and its international standing as a democracy.

The law also potentially shuts the door on the opportunity for many future visitors to go to Israel and “see for themselves” – an experience that is crucial to the formation of complex, personal, and nuanced understandings of Israeli society.  

Finally, coming on the heels of the recently passed law allowing West Bank outposts built by settlers in violation of Israeli law to be legalized retroactively, the Entry Bill is another example of a new law dangerously conflating Israel proper with West Bank settlements. For example, the Entry Bill threatens to turn away at Ben Gurion Airport any foreign visitor who may oppose boycotts against the State of Israel, but who may have supported targeted boycotts of products made in the settlements. Tour groups that have policies of not going over the Green Line as part of their itineraries could be refused entry, as could participants in organizations that have policies of only investing inside of the Green Line. As the New Israel Fund has stated, “By conflating boycotts of settlements with boycotts of the State of Israel itself, the legislation makes common cause with Israel’s adversaries who see no distinction between the legitimacy of the vibrant democracy that exists within Israel’s pre-1967 borders and the profoundly undemocratic reality that exists in the occupied territories.” We agree.

Israel

Statement on Knesset Law that Retroactively Authorizes Settlement Outposts

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RRC/Jewish Reconstructionist Communities and the Reconstructionist Rabbinical Association strongly oppose the Knesset's passage earlier this week of a law known as the “Regularization Bill.” The law, which passed by a vote of 60-52, retroactively legalizes 4,000 settler housing units that were built without the Israeli government's authorization on property the government acknowledges was privately owned by Palestinians. Israel's attorney general urged the bill's rejection and warned that it violates international law.

The law's passage represents a new kind of threat to the possibility of a viable Israeli - Palestinian peace agreement. Muddying long-standing Israeli legal distinctions between legal and illegal actions involving land seizure in the West Bank, it is being celebrated by many Israeli right wing leaders as the beginning of what they hope will be a new Israeli policy of unilateral annexation of many parts of the West Bank. Israeli centrist and left wing leaders, meanwhile, have condemned the law as a repudiation of Israel's core democratic and legal principles.

Isaac Herzog, who leads the Labor Party and who opposed the law, warned, “This government is passing a bill that is an acute danger to the State of Israel,” and he referred to it as “de facto annexation.” Yair Lapid, leader of the Yesh Atid party, said the law “damages the state of Israel, the security of Israel, governance in Israel and our ability to fight back against those who hate Israel.” Many Israeli and Jewish-American organizations, including the Anti-Defamation League and the American Jewish Committee, have expressed similar concerns.

There are many obstacles to achieving a just and negotiated peace agreement between Israelis and Palestinians, and some of those obstacles come from Palestinian leadership and extremist groups. Palestinian incitement, terrorism, and ideological extremism all deserve our unequivocal rejection and condemnation. At the same time, the almost 50-year-old Israeli military occupation of the West Bank, the expanding settlement movement, and the enormous impacts these policies have on Palestinian daily life also create obstacles to peace. The “Regularization Bill” adds a new obstacle to the prospects for peace, and it endangers the future of Israel as a Jewish and democratic state. For this reason especially, we feel we must speak out. The law will be challenged and Israel's Supreme Court will hopefully strike it down as contrary to the democratic institutions and ideals of the state of Israel.

Public Statements, Israel

Statement on Proposed David Friedman Ambassadorship

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RRC/Jewish Reconstructionist Communities and the Reconstructionist Rabbinical Association have profound concerns about President-Elect Trump’s proposal to appoint David Friedman as the next U.S. Ambassador to Israel. Mr. Friedman has, as recently as June 2016, publicly accused President Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry of anti-Semitism, and he has described Jewish supporters of J Street as “worse than kapos – Jews who turned in their fellow Jews in the Nazi death camps.” (6/5/16 – Arutz Sheva). He has also recently called for the total abandonment of the goal of a two-state resolution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, which places him at odds with decades of American foreign policy and with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s stated policy. 
 
America’s Ambassador to Israel needs to be someone with outstanding diplomatic skills. We find Mr. Friedman’s “kapos” remarks to be offensive and dangerous, and we worry that his undiplomatic rhetoric is likely to be highly divisive and alienating to large parts of the American-Jewish community and the progressive Israeli-Jewish community.
 
We hope that the next U.S. Administration will appoint an Ambassador to Israel who is an expert in the art of diplomacy and bridge-building, someone who can strengthen the relationship between a politically diverse American-Jewish community and an equally politically diverse Israeli society.
Public Statements, Israel

Statement Condemning UNESCO's Temple Mount Resolution

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RRC/Jewish Reconstructionist Communities condemns today’s United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) Jerusalem resolution that functionally erases the historical presence of Judaism on the Temple Mount. The resolution ignores the existence of ancient Israel’s connection to the Temple Mount, and Israeli leaders on the left and right have objected to it strongly. We appreciate the U.S.’s vote against the resolution, which a White House spokesperson called “one-sided,” “unhelpful,” and “highly politicized.”

Several veteran advocates for peace and reconciliation between Israelis and Palestinians have also condemned the UNESCO resolution, pointing out that blatant historical dishonesty only serves to worsen the conflict. Israel’s President, Reuven Rivlin, has pointed out that UNESCO, an international organization committed to the preservation of world heritage sites and education about them, only serves to undermine itself and its mission with this statement. Tzipi Livni (Member of Knesset – Zionist Union party) wrote UNESCO Director-General Irina Bokova the following: “We can argue and critique policies, but when it comes to the historical facts connecting the Jewish People to these holy sites, there can be no politics.”

We ask world leaders to condemn this action and urge UNESCO to rescind it.

Public Statements, Israel

Mourning a Statesman, Peacemaker, and Legend

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Shimon Peres
The Reconstructionist Rabbinical College, Jewish Reconstructionist Communities and the Reconstructionist Rabbinical Association mourn the loss of Shimon Peres, z’l, who passed away near Tel Aviv on Tuesday after recently suffering a stroke. Shimon Peres was one of the most important and influential founders and shapers of the State of Israel. An early military leader and defense strategist in the young state, in later years Peres built a political career that advocated strongly for peace between Israel and all of its neighbors. After playing a crucial role in the peace agreements Israel made with the PLO and with Jordan in the 1990s, Peres devoted boundless energy towards a dream of a new Middle East, based on foundations of peace, political and territorial compromise, cultural and technological cooperation, and regional strategies for improving education, health, and infrastructure. The Peres Center for Peace, which he founded in 1996, will carry on his deep commitment to the pursuit of peace through diplomatic, social, economic, and cultural ties with Palestinians and with the other peoples of the Middle East.

Peres arrived with his family in British Mandate Palestine in 1934, at age 11. In his youth he helped found Kibbutz Alumot. At age 20, he became Secretary of the Labor-Zionist Youth Movement. At 24, in 1947, David Ben-Gurion tapped him to be responsible for military personnel and arms for the Haganah. Soon after he served as head of Israel’s Navy, and then as Director General of the Defense Ministry, all before turning 30.

In 1959 he won election to the Knesset and held a seat there until 2007. He is the only person to have served as both Israel’s Prime Minister and as its President. During the second Rabin administration, Peres initiated and conducted the negotiations that led to the 1993 Olso Agreement between Israel and the PLO. He received the Nobel Peace Prize, along with Yitzhak Rabin and Yasser Arafat, in 1994. After leading a unity government in the 1980s, he served a second term as Prime Minister after Yitzhak Rabin was assassinated in 1995. In 2007 he was elected Israel’s 9th president by the Knesset, and in 2012 President Barack Obama awarded Peres with the Presidential Medal of Freedom – the highest American civilian honor offered to people for their work for world peace.  

Beyond his remarkable achievements, Shimon Peres was an important part of Israel’s identity, and a spokesman for its best aspirations, for as long as anyone with ties to Israel can remember. His loss will be felt powerfully throughout Israel, the Middle East, and the world. His dream of a more peaceful, just, interconnected, and cooperative Middle East will continue to inspire the Jewish people and seekers of peace throughout the world. We add our condolences to everyone mourning his loss in Israel and everywhere, and we offer prayers for comfort to his family. May his memory be a blessing, and may his vision inspire us to continue the work for co-existence, humanity, and peace.

Image:
By Copyright World Economic Forum, swiss-image.ch /Photo by Remy Steinegger - originally posted to Flickr as Shimon Peres, Yasser Arafat - World Economic Forum Annual Meeting Davos 2001, CC BY-SA 2.0,https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=4486615

Public Statements, Israel

Statement on Historic Western Wall Compromise

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The Reconstructionist movement is overjoyed that on Jan 31, 2016, the Israeli cabinet voted to dramatically expand the space for egalitarian prayer at the Kotel. This is a blessed and welcome decision. The Western Wall in Jerusalem’s Old City is a central and highly symbolic Jewish space. For many Jews, this is an historic moment, because an egalitarian community of men and women is essential to their religious obligations, needs and desires. We are proud that for nearly three decades, Reconstructionist rabbis, congregants and students have been part of the on-the-ground struggle at the Kotel for egalitarian practice and women’s prayer groups.

Now, as they can in many progressive communities around the world, women and men will be able to pray together at this sacred site: mothers with sons, fathers with daughters, spouses, relatives, and friends. Women will be counted for a minyan. They can lead prayer services, and handle and read from the Torah, without the interference and violence they have previously encountered. This is extremely good news for the pluralistic Jewish world, and for those who have pressed this feminist issue for many years.

We congratulate Women of the Wall and the many feminist activists in Israel and from around the world, who, for twenty-seven years, have pushed for recognition of women’s full engagement in prayer and leadership at the Kotel. Their efforts and perseverance are an inspiring chapter in the recent history of Judaism.  We congratulate the leadership of the Reform and Conservative movements, who negotiated this agreement.

That said, the work is not yet done. Religious pluralism means attending to all religious needs along the spectrums of gender and Jewish practice, so that everyone is accommodated. With the new changes, there is still no room for an Orthodox feminist minyan at the Kotel, or for any women’s group that wants to lead prayer and read Torah in the traditional women’s-only space. We want these women, too, to be included in the vision of Jewish religious pluralism.

The Reconstructionist movement hopes that this signals a renewed starting point for the work that remains to be done to bolster women’s religious equality and religious pluralism in Israel. Our movement is committed to improving the state of democracy in Israel in all its forms.

Let us celebrate, appreciate and continue to work for change.

For additional background, check out the links below

http://www.jta.org/2016/01/31/news-opinion/israel-middle-east/why-the-western-wall-compromise-matters-and-doesnt?utm_source=Newsletter+subscribers&utm_campaign=5d83ab0e30-Daily_Briefing_2_1_2016&utm_medium=email&utm_term=0_2dce5bc6f8-5d83ab0e30-2838636

http://www.jta.org/2016/01/31/news-opinion/israel-middle-east/3-maps-that-explain-the-western-wall-compromise

http://www.urj.org/blog/2016/01/30/north-american-reform-movement-applauds-passage-plan-enhance-egalitarian-prayer

Public Statements, Israel, Israel

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