US Jewish organizations issue declaration of unity for Yom Kippur

In effort to bridge gaps from bitter debate over Iran deal.

Malcolm Hoenlein (photo credit: CONFERENCE OF PRESIDENTS)
Malcolm Hoenlein
Responding to widespread reports of widening rifts within the American Jewish community opened by the acrimonious debate over the Obama administration’s Iranian nuclear accord, the leaders of more than 50 Jewish organizations signed a pre-Yom Kippur joint statement of unity on Tuesday.
The organizations, all but two of which are members of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, called on American Jews to “focus on our shared objectives, including finding ways to eliminate existing and anticipated vulnerabilities arising from the implementation” of the Iran deal.
“As we celebrate the High Holy Days, inspired by the spirit and message of our prayers, we rededicate ourselves to our shared commitments to our country, to our community, and to the security and well-being of Israel.”
The signatories, which included both groups such as the Zionist Organization of America, which vocally opposed the deal, and the Reform Movement, which expressed neutrality, indicated that they shared the view that “our community shares serious concerns for the security of the United States and the world posed by Iran’s nuclear program” and that the “safety of Israel and its citizens is of special concern, as Iranian leaders continue to threaten the annihilation of the Jewish State as they do the United States.”
“It is regrettable,” they continued, “that, at times, the debate was marked by irresponsible assertions, including ad hominem attacks and insinuations of dual loyalty, maligning the intentions of the opposing side. Degrading comments and words of violence are dangerous and contrary to the spirit of mutual respect of our country and the values of our Jewish tradition.
“The member organizations of the Conference of Presidents have and will continue to strive to maintain the high standard of civil discourse to which they have all subscribed and aspire to come together to achieve our common goals.”
Polls, including one conducted by sociologist Steven M. Cohen for The Los Angeles Jewish Journal, indicated that “a clear majority of Jews want[ed] Congress to approve the deal,” highlighting a disconnect between them and the organized Jewish establishment.
“Plainly, the idea that American Jews speak as a monolithic bloc needs very early retirement.... So does the notion that unrepresentative ‘leaders’ speak for American Jews generally on the urgent matter of nuclear arms in the Middle East,” Cohen wrote in The Washington Post last month.
“They may speak for their donors, leaders and members, but they certainly do not speak for the American Jewish public at large and, in particular, the large population of American Jewish liberals who overwhelmingly support the deal and want their senators and representatives to approve it next month.”
Speaking to The Jerusalem Post earlier this month, recently retired Anti-Defamation League chief Abraham Foxman said that reports of communal strife were exaggerated, asserting that “considering how serious the differences were, I believe the American Jewish community did relatively well.”
Most US Jewish organizations, with the exception of J Street, either came out against the deal or, like the Reform movement, declined to pick sides, citing the “day after,” the lack of consensus and the need to maintain communal cohesion going forward, Foxman feels.
In its statement in late August explaining why they would not come out either in support or opposition to the deal, the Union for Reform Judaism, the Central Conference of American Rabbis, the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism and the Association of Reform Zionists of America cited the repercussions of an acrimonious debate both upon communal cohesion and American-Israeli relations as a reason to maintain silence.
“When our people gather in a little less than a month for the High Holy Days, members who support the deal will pray alongside those who do not. If the harsh judgments and rhetoric continue between Washington and Jerusalem – and within our American Jewish community – we will be deprived of a deep commonality that binds our people together. Calling those who oppose the deal “warmongers” shuts shown constructive debate; calling those who support the deal “enablers of a second Holocaust” ends thoughtful discourse,” the Reform groups explained.
Commenting on the pre- Yom Kippur unity statement, Stephen Greenberg, chairman, and Malcolm Hoenlein, executive vice chairman and CEO, of the Conference of Presidents said that “what unites us far outweighs any differences. As the statement notes, our community shares serious concerns for the security of the United States, Israel, and the world, posed by Iran’s nuclear program. This noteworthy statement could not be more timely coming during the High Holidays when we rededicate ourselves to our shared commitments, to our community, country, and Israel.”