Our Rabbis Have
Brit Tzedek is very pleased to share with you an op-ed by Rabbi John Friedman, chair of
Brit Tzedek's 1500-member rabbinic network. It recently appeared
on the Jewish Telegraphic Agency (JTA), the global Jewish news
service, and will appear in Jewish papers across the country
We're pleased also to take the opportunity to announce that
Rabbi Friedman has been awarded Harvard University's Daniel
Jeremy Silver Fellowship for the 2009-2010 academic year.
Congratulations to Rabbi Friedman!
Chicago-area Brit Tzedek rabbis had the chance to meet with
Rabbi Friedman in June to discuss our on-going advocacy with
President Obama--with whom several of our Chicago area members
already have solid relationships--as well as participation in
home district advocacy meetings, getting the Brit Tzedek message
into the local press, and working with rabbinical associations.
Rabbi Julie Saxe-Taller, Rabbinic
Cabinet co-chair, led a six-member Brit Tzedek rabbinic
delegation that met with the Israeli Consul General in San
Francisco on July 13. The Consul has already requested a
second meeting, expanded on "both sides." Earlier in the summer,
Rabbi Saxe-Taller initiated and convened a meeting with area
rabbis, the directors of the Jewish Community Relations Council
and Jewish Federation, where they discussed widening the
public discussion within the Jewish community surrounding Israel
and the American-Jewish relationship with Israel.
The Rabbinic Cabinet has a busy schedule in the coming weeks,
as well. During the August Congressional recess, several
rabbinic delegations will meet with members of Congress in their
home districts; the Cabinet will be convening a workshop at the
upcoming J Street conference [October 25-28], and the next in
our series of conference calls for the rabbinic network will
feature Mitchell Plitnick, director of U.S. office of B'Tselem,
The Israeli Information Center for Human Rights in the Occupied
Territories, who will lead a dialogue on the current
humanitarian situation in the Gaza Strip.
Op-Ed: Israel backers must
support a settlement freeze
By John Friedman · July 9, 2009
DURHAM, N.C. (JTA) -- The Jewish community in America has
always supported Israel. We have raised funds, walked in
solidarity, visited whenever possible and prayed for the safety
of the Jewish state since its very inception. "Wherever we
stand, we stand with Israel" is a comment made sincerely by
But surely, if we stand with Israel, if we want what's best
for the Jewish state, we must be honest -- we must tell the
leadership of our spiritual home the truth. And the truth is,
President Obama is right when he says that settlement building
There are many reasons to argue for a settlement freeze. The
economic drain of the settlements on the Israeli economy is
enormous. The government has spent more than half a billion
dollars on the settlements annually, with each settler getting
thousands of dollars more in benefits than other Israelis.
Furthermore, the Israeli government has already signed an
international agreement committing itself to a freeze -- the
2003 "road map."
Also, the establishment of a viable Palestinian state depends
on territorial contiguity, and more construction makes the
achievement of a state that much more difficult. Finally, as a
rabbi, I might be expected to concern myself with the moral
implications of the settlement project.
But the American Jewish community really needs to focus on
only one thing in this battle over settlements: Freezing
construction will lead to an improvement in Israel's security.
This result will not be direct, nor will it be immediate. But
calling a halt to Israeli construction on the West Bank will
serve as the first, vital step in a process that, simply put,
will make Israel a safer place to live.
One need only look at a map to see what Palestinians see
every day: Israeli settlements -- and the attendant bypass
roads, roadblocks and security fence -- have served to carve the
West Bank into ever shrinking pieces. Palestinians look at the
cranes and bulldozers and know what we are often loath to admit:
Each new stone laid in an Israeli settlement is further reason
to distrust the Israeli government's statements that it wants
A settlement freeze is a requirement if the sides want to
start a true negotiation process. Not only will it will allow
the Palestinian leadership to sit at the table in good faith, it
also will free the rest of the Arab world to begin to act on the
promise of normalization made in the Arab League Peace
Initiative. It will serve as the single clearest statement
Israel can make that it is serious in its intention to see the
establishment of a durable Palestinian state alongside Israel.
And a sincere negotiating process, difficult and painful as it
may yet prove, is the one thing that can lead Israel to real
peace and true security.
In fighting the freeze, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is
risking not only this process but also the alienation of
Israel's strongest, staunchest ally. President Obama and
Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton have made it
abundantly clear that unlike the Bush administration, they mean
what they say and they say what they mean. They expect the
Israeli government to stand by its commitment to freeze all
construction in the settlements. Can Israel afford to push the
Furthermore, the settlements have proven themselves a burden
on Israel's military for years. Every soldier sent to protect
settlements or escort settlers on the roads is a soldier
unavailable to guard Israel's borders. Each soldier trained to
check Palestinian IDs at one of the hundreds of West Bank
roadblocks is a soldier unavailable for training in modern
warfare. Every dollar spent on patrols around West Bank cities
is a dollar unavailable for upgraded equipment. The state of
Israel's military preparedness was revealed in the summer of
2006 during the Second Lebanon War, and the Israeli public and
Jewish Diaspora grieved together to see the high cost of going
to war unprepared.
A settlement freeze would not immediately halt attacks on
Israel. It would not immediately free up financial or military
resources with which to build a stronger country, nor would it
guarantee that Israel and the United States will see eye-to-eye
in the future.
But it would be an incalculably important first step,
demonstrating clearly to the American administration, the
Palestinian people and the world at large that Israel is serious
in its peaceful intentions. And this, in turn, will allow peace
talks to move forward.
If we are to truly stand with and for Israel, we must stand
for peace. If we stand for peace, we as a community must stand
for the settlement freeze.
Rabbi John Friedman of Judea Reform Congregation in
Durham, N.C., is the chair of Brit Tzedek v'Shalom's Rabbinic Cabinet.
Brit Tzedek v'Shalom, The Jewish
Alliance for Justice and Peace
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