US Reform rabbis urge settlement freeze

"One can give advice to family without it being considered dictating," visiting rabbi tells 'Post'.

maaleh adumim construction 248.88 (photo credit: AP [file])
maaleh adumim construction 248.88
(photo credit: AP [file])
The Obama administration's call to freeze settlement activity in the "occupied territories" is in the best interests of the US and Israel, a group of American Reform rabbis said Sunday. Leaders of the Central Conference of American Rabbis (CCAR), representing nearly 2,000 Reform rabbis, said in an official statement, "We believe the president's position and outspokenness on this issue to be in the best interest of the United States, of the State of Israel and of peace." The CCAR also called settlements an "obstacle to peace." "Repeatedly, we have called for freezing settlement activity. Establishing new settlements or outposts, or continuing to expand existing settlements, even by natural growth, does not serve the cause of Israel or of peace," Rabbi Ellen Weinberg Dreyfus and Rabbi Steven Fox, the heads of the CCAR, declared in the statement. Dreyfus, who was in Israel for the wedding of a relative, told The Jerusalem Post Sunday that the CCAR statement was a reaction to US President Barack Obama's Cairo address at the beginning of the month, in which he said the US did not accept the legitimacy of continued Israeli settlements and added, "It is time for these settlements to stop." "We thought it was a good opportunity to reiterate our position on settlements," said Dreyfus. In response to a Post question, Dreyfus denied that the CCAR was "dictating" policy to Israel. "We are just a loving family living abroad, stating our opinion. One can give advice to family without it being considered dictating," she said. Dreyfus added that while the CCAR statement had not been preceded by a vote among members, she felt it represented mainstream opinion among Reform Jews in America. "Of a dozen or so e-mails, only one was critical because our message was not strong enough," said Dreyfus. The CCAR statement came ahead of a pivotal diplomatic speech by Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu that was expected to clarify Israel's position on the fate of settlements and a Palestinian state. The Netanyahu administration has so far refrained from supporting the establishment of a Palestinian state, one of the conditions of the road map. Dreyfus and Fox added that not only Israel was to be blamed for political instability in the Middle East. "Let us be clear: Israeli settlements in the West Bank are not the greatest threat to Middle East peace," continued the statement. "The Iranian regime's ongoing nuclear threats against Israel and its support for Hizbullah, Hamas and other terrorist groups pose the single greatest threat to peace, to the United States, to the Middle East and to Israel today. Moreover, Israel cannot be expected to make significant concessions when it remains under terrorist attack." Rabbi Gilad Kariv, executive director of the Reform Movement in Israel, said that unlike his American counterparts, Israeli Reform leaders had refrained from taking a political stand on settlements. "Although we respect the American Reform Movement's position, we in Israel want to continue to serve a wide range of communities with diverse political opinions," he said. Kariv added that he saw the American Reform Movement's outspokenness on Israeli politics as an expression of their aspirations for a model Israeli society. It also sent a clear message to Israelis that US Jewry had diverse, if not decidedly left-wing, opinions. "Israelis might have gotten the wrong impression during the Bush administration that US Jewry is right-wing. I think statements like these make it clear that this is not the case," he said. According to the National Jewish Population Survey of 2001, 35% of the US's 5.2 million Jews are Reform, making it the single largest Jewish denomination, followed by Conservative (26%) and Orthodox (10%).