US Jews, Israel, and Iran: Dilemmas of Ethnic and/or Ethical Solidarity

Rabbis Call for Continuing Steps toward Shalom with Iran

How to address the possibility of Iran’s coming to posses nuclear weapons has stirred great interest in the American Jewish community. Up till now, the loudest voice of the American Jewish community, motivated chiefly by fear and concern for the safety of the State of Israel and especially by deference (sometimes even servility) toward its government,  has urged Congress to pass laws threatening even more draconian sanctions against Iran. That approach has been vehemently opposed by the White House and State Department, which are even quoted in a front-page article in the NY Times as labelling it “a march to war.”

http://www.nytimes.com/2014/01/14/world/middleeast/obama-fights-a-push-to-add-iran-sanctions.html?hp

The same article reported that AIPAC, a powerful lobby devoted to pressing politicians to support policies approved by the Israeli government, has been the main pressure-center for the sanctions bill. (The Israeli government has poured scorn and hostility on the negotiations with Iran.)

Until now, most of those in the organized Jewish community who were unwilling to support this approach have been silent.

But another voice is now coming into its own. It is the voice of Jewish clergy -– now 120 strong and supported by hundreds of non-clergy active Jewish community leaders –- who also have deep concern for the people of Israel, and are also concerned for the lives and well-being of Iranians and Americans. Above all, they are convinced that the point and purpose of Jewish peoplehood is a spiritually and religiously rooted ethics that cares about all peoples and is skeptical about governmental policies (of any State) that lean strongly toward the use of threats,  domination, and violence.

That voice, led by Rabbis, calls for continuing steps toward Shalom with Iran, rather than imposing harsher sanctions in the midst of effective negotiations. It is speaking out just as Congress takes up bills that would threaten to impose still more draconian sanctions against Iran.

Twelve minyanim’s worth  of Rabbis Cantors, Kohanot, and other clergy  have signed  the Rabbinic Statement  “Step by Step toward Shalom with Iran.”
 
The statement sets forth a balanced path of shalom that protects the peace and security of Israel, the US, and Iran —  and is concerned with both immediate practical steps and the deepest of spiritual hopes.

It is especially important in that it draws on Jewish spiritual and religious sources, and presents a different face of the American Jewish community from that presented by the Jewish organizations that are urging Congress to legislate threats of more draconian sanctions against Iran.

 Luminaries of the Reform, Reconstructionist, Renewal, Conservative, Modern Orthodox, and Humanist streams of Judaism have signed. Among them are Rabbis Leonard Beerman, Aryeh Cohen, Amy Eilberg, Sue Levi Elwell, Everett Gendler, Dan Goldblatt, Marc Gopin, David Gordis, Sharon Kleinbaum, Nancy Fuchs Kreimer, Mordechai Liebling, Michael Lerner, Ellen Lippmann, Andrea London, Gerry Serotta, David Shneyer, Zalman Schachter-Shalomi, Jonathan Slater, Susan Talve, Arthur Waskow, and Sheila Weinberg, Cantor Steven Puzarne, and Rabbi/Kohenet Jill Hammer.

 The full list of signers up to now is available at

https://theshalomcenter.org/120-plus-sign-rabbinic-call-step-step-toward...

 The statement was initiated by The Shalom Center, working with eleven Rabbis from  a spectrum arching across varied religious streams, ages, and genders.

The statement sets forth a balanced path of shalom that protects the peace and security of Israel, the US, and Iran —  and is concerned with both immediate practical steps and the deepest of spiritual hopes.

 It is especially important in that it draws on Jewish spiritual and religious sources, and presents a different face of the American Jewish community from that presented by some major Jewish organizations that are urging Congress to legislate threats of more draconian sanctions against Iran.

And it took the first steps toward bringing this spiritually rooted outlook into the political arena when Congresswoman Jan Schakowsly of Illinois, responding to personal connections with The Shalom Center and with Rabbi Andrea London of her own synagogue in Evanston Illinois, who had signed the Rabbinic Statement, placed the statement and the full list of signers in the Congressional Record (January 19, page E43): < http://www.gpo.gov/fdsys/pkg/CREC-2014-01-10/pdf/CREC-2014-01-10-pt1-PgE43-2.pdf#page=1>

Congresswoman Schakowsky also wrote The Shalom Center with an admonition for the rabbinic signers to take political action: “Dear Rabbi Wasko [sic], I remember very well the meeting in your home.  It was and is so appreciated.  The statement has been placed in the Congressional Record. I’ll make sure you see it.  I would recommend that the signers also make calls to their Senators and Reps.  The legislation and possible House resolution are very dangerous.  Thank you for your statement and efforts in support of peaceful diplomacy.  Sincerely, Jan.
Jan Schakowsky

So we are at the beginning of an exploration whether a spiritually rooted action by Rabbis swimming upstream against the most powerful Jewish organizations can begin to shift the direction of the Jewish community and even of American society. Only the beginning of the beginning.

The text of the Rabbinic Statement follows:

 Step by Step toward Shalom with Iran

 As Rabbis, Cantors, and other Clergy serving the American Jewish community, we are deeply committed, as Jewish tradition teaches –

§  to the shalom –-  peace, social justice, functioning democratic process, and ecological sanity –of the country where we live  – all of which would be damaged by still another unnecessary war;

§  to the shalom, peace and security, of the State of Israel, to its democratic character, and to its special relationship with the Jewish people;

§  to unequivocal action by all the Arab-majority and Muslim-majority states to make peace with Israel, and to Israel’s unequivocal action to make peace with all its neighbors, including an emergent Palestine;

§  to our respect and our prayers for salaam, peace and justice, among our cousins in the Abrahamic tradition, Arab and Muslim civilizations;

§  to the peace and prosperity of all the “70 nations” of the world;

§  and to the healing of our wounded planet.

For all these reasons, we welcome warmly the greatly increased possibility of a peaceful resolution of the conflicts among the US, Iran, Israel, and other nations.
  
 We especially welcome the new attitudes toward the Jewish people and toward the nuclear issue set forth by the new President of Iran, and his assertion that Iran will never hold nuclear weapons. We also recall the fatwa and repeated assertions by Grand Ayatollah Khamenei that for Iran to possess nuclear weapons would violate Islam.
  
 We urge the US and Iran to move swiftly to agree on a step-by-step process of reducing and ultimately ending sanctions against Iran in accord with steps by Iran to make its nuclear research transparent and to allow verification that its research is directed wholly toward civilian uses of nuclear energy. We believe that such a step-by-step process is the best way to guarantee that both parties are fulfilling their commitments.
  
 We urge Iran to make clear its full acceptance of Israel as a legitimate state in the fabric of international relations, protected like all other states from aggression and attack.
  
 We urge the Government of Israel to welcome steps by Iran to make clear and verifiable its commitment to use nuclear energy and research for peaceful purposes only, not for pursuit of nuclear weaponry, and while this process is under way, we urge Israel to end hostile acts and statements toward Iran.  
  
 We urge the peoples of the United States, Iran, and Israel to reject and oppose all statements and actions from whatever source that undermine the swift and thorough achievement of agreements to ensure the civilian nature of Iran’s nuclear program and to end sanctions against Iran.  
  
 We urge the American people to recognize and do tshuvah (“turning” or “repentance”) for the ethical errors of our own government toward Iran – particularly, the US Government’s intervention in 1953 to overthrow the democratically elected reform government of Iran; US actions to support the tyrannical regime of the Shah until the Iranian people overthrew it in 1979; and US support for Iraq’s wars of aggression against Iran in the 1980s, including US support for Saddam Hussein’s use of chemical weapons to kill 100,000 Iranians.
  
 We urge the Iranian people to do tshuvah for their government’s demonization of the United States and Israel, for its holding US diplomats hostage for more than a year in 1979-1980, and for the support it seems to have covertly given for attacks on Israeli citizens.
  
 We believe that this combination of governmental acts and public rethinking and re-feeling can move American society, the entire Middle East, and the world toward the shalom that Judaism yearns for.

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