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March 22, 2007

I am ashamed of the URJ’s Iraq resolution

http://www.jewishjournal.com/opinion/article/i_am_ashamed_of_the_urjs_iraq_resolution_20070323

Rabbi Steven Z. Leder

Rabbi Steven Z. Leder

I don't embarrass easily. But the Union for Reform Judaism's (URJ) recent resolution calling for an "expeditious withdrawal of United States troops from Iraq" did the trick.

Personally, I would have preferred the URJ to stay out of the Iraq debate, beyond urging each and every Jew to become well educated about the war and to use his or her vote wisely. Anything more is a crapshoot.

The situation in Iraq is so complex that the margin for error in implementing the URJ resolution is huge. The URJ Executive Committee is made up of business people, lawyers, housewives, rabbis and bureaucrats. Why not leave U.S. Foreign policy to people who actually know something about it?

According to the leading Israeli paper Haaretz, "Last Thursday Israeli Prime Minister Olmert urged a visiting delegation of leaders of the Reform Movement to reconsider their resolution. He reiterated his argument that a hasty withdrawal could endanger Israel's security as well as efforts to halt Iran's nuclear program."

Olmert further argued, "Given the present state of affairs in Iraq, if America were to leave now, it would lose its authority throughout the Middle East."

A few days before, Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni said, "In a region where impressions are important, countries must be careful not to demonstrate weakness and surrender to extremists ... it is [also] true for Iraq."

Defense Minister Amir Peretz, who met in Washington this past week with U.S. Secretary of Defense Robert Gates "expressed a similar view." Guess what? "The Reform leaders refused Olmert's request to reconsider the resolution, saying they believe a rapid withdrawal would serve Israeli and Western interests better."

Why am I ashamed? Because the leadership of the URJ believes it knows what is in Israel's best interest and that Israel's defense minister, foreign minister and prime minister don't.

Let's assume I am wrong and the URJ ought to speak out against the war. I have it on good authority that this very point was made by an old-time political activist at the URJ Executive Committee meeting where the resolution was passed.

He reminisced about the good old days, longing for the courage of civil rights movement and Vietnam-era liberal politics, and urged the Executive Committee not to fear alienating the movement's membership by, as he was later quoted in the press, "Stepping up to the plate on the tough issues."

Maybe he's right. But if you're going to step up to the plate you ought to be sure you're batting for the right team.

In 2002, the URJ Executive Committee determined the effort to remove Saddam Hussein by force met "just cause" criteria. Saddam was brutal. Saddam gassed his people. Saddam paid people to murder Jews. Saddam had to go.

There is no doubt that the United States has made many mistakes prosecuting the war. But the fact is that the URJ agreed with going in; now we are there, we are in deep and we ought to be responsible for correcting as many of those mistakes as possible. Even a 5-year-old knows that when you make a mess the right thing to do is clean it up. You don't just get to walk out of the room and pretend it didn't happen.

If we walk away from the mess we helped create in Iraq the likely result of that "expeditious" withdrawal will be the massacre of the Sunni minority by the Shiite majority. Despite their public protestations, Arab leaders in the region are privately begging the president to reject the Baker/Hamilton Report and to keep our troops in Iraq in order to prevent this bloodbath. If the URJ resolution influences U.S. policy, if we withdraw and tens or hundreds of thousands of Sunni Arabs are massacred, what moral high ground will our movement have claimed?

In 2004, the URJ passed a resolution calling for troops to be sent to Darfur to stop a massacre. Last week they passed a resolution calling for the removal of troops from Iraq, which will cause a massacre.

Why am I ashamed? Because apparently, to the leadership of the URJ, Sunni Arab lives are less precious than those in Darfur. God chastised Jonah for not caring about the pending destruction of the non-Jewish residents of Nineveh. The URJ Executive Board needs to hear the same chastisements now.

In the background material provided with its resolution on Iraq the URJ points to one poll indicating 77 percent of American Jews believe sending troops into Iraq was a mistake.

The material also claims the recent elections were a clear sign that Americans want U.S. troops out now. I am in the minority. Most American Reform Jews probably do want out now.

But what if leaving now means even greater bloodshed for the innocent people of Iraq?

Is the URJ willing to risk alienating the many in our movement in order to step up to the plate and do what's right?

I am ashamed to say the answer is no.

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