Reform Judaism adopts antiwar resolution

Resolution adopted by Union for Reform Judaism (URJ)

[Dear Friends,

[This resolution -- very cautious though its text is -- is a major step forward by the "official/ mainstream" groupings of the Jewish community. The Shalom Center played a role in its adoption, nurturing seeds of demand from grass-roots Reform Jews that the Union for Reform Judaism (silent for years of war and disaster) speak out.

[The Shalom Center did this first by sparking grass-roots discussion of the Reform movement's silence and then, when opponents of the war who were active in Reform congregations came forward, helping them to get in touch with each other in time for the biennial convention of the Reform movement. As grass-roots concern emerged, the commission on Social Action of URJ also worked weith the concerned congregations.

[More important even than the text of the resolution itself are both the grass-roots energy that brought it about and the strong antiwar spin put on it by the URJ press release -- stronger than the text itself.

[The press release follows, and then the actual text.

[Shalom, Arthur
Rabbi Arthur Waskow]
November 18, 2005

Union for Reform Judaism, Representing 1.5 Million
People, Votes Against War in Iraq;

Resolution Calls for Exit Strategy and Specific Goals
for Troop Withdrawal


Representatives of the 1.5 million Reform Jews in
North America voted almost unanimously to call on the
Bush Administration to immediately provide a clear
exit strategy for the War in Iraq, with some troop
withdrawal to begin after the December 15 elections.

More than 2,000 voting delegates from more than 500
congregations in all 50 states participated in the
session at the Union for Reform Judaism's Biennial
Convention, meeting in Houston Nov. 16-20.

'The sentiment was clear and overwhelming,' said Rabbi
Eric H. Yoffie, President of the Union. 'American Jews,
and all Americans, are profoundly critical of this was
and they want this Administration to tell us how and
when it will bring our troops home.'

The Union, which represents the largest branch of
Judaism in North America, has a long history of
opposition to war and was the first religious
organization to oppose the War in Vietnam. In 1965, the
Union's General Assembly called for a cease-fire in
Vietnam; four years later, the General assembly
demanded an immediate ceasefire and the withdrawal of
all troops no later than December 31, 1970.

While other mainstream religious organizations have
expressed opposition to the war, no other Jewish
organization has taken this step. The Union is the
largest grassroots Jewish body in the United States,
and this decision therefore has special significance.

In addition to the development of an exit strategy, the
resolution calls on the Bush administration to provide
more transparency regarding all aspects of the war and
calls for a bi-partisan, independent commission to
determine the lessons learned from this war's failures.
It also condemns 'in the strongest possible terms,'
violations of the Geneva Conventions, including torture
and abuse of prisoners and detainees in US custody, and
condemns those who would use opposition to the war as a
justification for anti-Israel efforts.

Dr. Michael Rankin, who served in Vietnam and has
treated those wounded in every subsequent war as a Navy
physician, said that 40 years ago he asked himself,
'Why in God's name are we here?'

'There are just wars and unjust wars,' Rankin said.
'This is not a just war."

Union for Reform Judaism

Adopted at 2005 Biennial

Submitted by the Commission on Social Action of Reform Judaism, Congregation Shir Hadash of Los Gatos, California, Congregation Tikkun V’or of Ithaca, New York, Temple Beth Or of Everett, Washington, Temple Emanuel of Worcester, Massachusetts, Temple Sinai of Brookline, Massachusetts, and Temple Sinai of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania
to the 68th Union for Reform Judaism General Assembly


The war in Iraq is clearly one of the most challenging moral issues facing America.

It is true that a brutal dictator has been removed and is now being tried by a national tribunal for mass murder. In removing Saddam Hussein, there has been movement toward democracy and toward freedom of press and speech that was unimaginable just a few years ago. A long-time destabilizing regional force has been eliminated.

However, more than 2,000 U.S. service members have lost their lives, over 14,000 others have been wounded, and scores of thousands of Iraqis have been killed and wounded. Violence in Iraq continues, with new casualties virtually every day. Resentment against the United States is breeding a new generation of insurgents and terrorists. Iraq is in danger of splitting into regional cantons that would provide an additional source of destabilization.

Meanwhile, Pentagon officials have warned that the combined resources devoted to fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan weaken our ability to deal with other conflicts. Recruitment to the U.S. Armed Forces is down, and, to maintain troop levels, the military has instituted a controversial “stop-loss” program (sometimes referred to as the “backdoor draft”) that extends service members’ tours of duty beyond the limits of their contracts. U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs spending has decreased per patient over the last decade, yet the VA continues to face budget cuts.

Three years ago, the leaders of the Union for Reform Judaism addressed the prospects of war in Iraq. In September 2002, the Executive Committee of the Union’s Board of Trustees discussed, at length, the morality and efficacy of the use of force. It examined the insights from Jewish moral rules regarding war and related issues, insights that remain relevant today, including: the obligation to defend innocents derived from the duty to rescue (Lev. 19:16:“Do not stand idly by the blood of your neighbor;” BT Sanhedrin 74a, Baba Kama 28a, Shulchan Aruch Hoshen Mishpat 425:1); the justifications for preemptive wars (BT, Sotah 44b, Eruvin 45a) and how it applies to a situation where non-conventional weapons were widely suspected; the need to pursue vigorously peaceful options before the use of force could be justified (Maimonides, Mishneh Torah, Melachim 6:1); the need to protect civilians (MT Melachim 6:7); and the need, derived from the rules of bal taschit (do not waste), to provide for the protection of environmental and economic infrastructures that would allow civilian life to resume as soon as possible after warfare (Deut. 20:19-20; Ibn Ezra commentary on Deut. 20:19; MT Melachim 6:10). A variety of other insights from the Jewish tradition are also relevant, from the protections of captives (See, e.g. Deut. 21:10-14), to the obligation of the judges and leaders of the community to be forthright people who would neither lie nor mislead (Deuteronomy 16:18-20).

These discussions of Jewish tradition and U.S. policy options led to the adoption of the position on “Unilateral Action by the U.S. Against Iraq” that supported military action by the U.S. – even unilateral action if necessary – only in the context of four propositions:
a) International cooperation is far, far better than unilateral action, and the U.S. must explore all reasonable means of attaining such support;
b) Non-military action is always preferable to military action, and the U.S. must fully explore all options to resolve the situation through such means;
c) If the effort to obtain international cooperation and support through the United Nations fails, the U.S. must work with other nations to obtain cooperation in any military action; and
d) The President should not act without Congressional approval of the use of force, including any unilateral military action taken by the U.S.
In the intervening time period, the Reform Movement has spoken out and taken action on several related issues. Prior to the invasion, the URJ advocated on behalf of a congressional resolution, introduced by Senator Edward Kennedy (D-MA), that would have required the Administration to return to Congress to obtain authorization prior to deploying troops to Iraq. In May 2004, the Union denounced the abuse of prisoners at Abu Ghraib and other prisons. The Union and other groups successfully advocated for a Senate amendment to the Defense appropriations bill prohibiting cruel and inhumane treatment of detainees. In June 2004, the Central Conference of American Rabbis passed a resolution that raised concerns about the false claims on which the war was based, the abuse of prisoners, the need to be visibly and strongly supportive of our military personnel, and the need to set a clearly-defined and measurable exit strategy for the withdrawal of Coalition military personnel from Iraq. Twice since the war began, these concerns about the war were raised directly with the Secretary of Defense by senior Religious Action Center staff.
Today, as we apply the standards outlined by the Union leadership in 2002, we find that many of our expectations have not been met. Now we know, based on a bi-partisan U.S. commission, appointed by President Bush and chaired by former Republican Governor Tom Kean and former Democratic Representative Lee Hamilton, that many of the premises on which the Congress, the American public and the Union’s Executive Committee based their prescriptions were false; that no weapons of mass destruction were stored in Iraq; that there was no attempt on the part of the government of Saddam Hussein to purchase uranium from the nation of Niger; that there were no ties between Saddam Hussein and the events of September 11, 2001; and that there were no ties between Saddam Hussein and al Qaeda. These mistakes – be they misrepresentations or misunderstandings – have significantly undermined American credibility.

Furthermore, lack of adequate planning for the aftermath of the invasion greatly aggravated the chaos and instability. Experts have widely criticized the lack of an adequate supply of flak jackets and Armored Personnel Carriers; the failure to protect American forces by guarding Saddam Hussein’s ammunition dumps whose weapons now maim and kill American soldiers; the failure to keep an Iraqi army selectively intact (as we did in Kosovo); the failure to ensure the delivery of basic services to Iraqi citizens; and the refusal to accept the offers of the United Nations and individual countries that had not fought in the invasion to provide on-the-ground peacekeepers and reconstruction assistance. The result has been to provide fertile ground for the insurgency.

American public opinion, and Jewish opinion in particular, has turned against the war: nearly two-thirds of Americans disapprove of the Administration’s handling of the situation in Iraq and would favor removing some or all troops from Iraq. Moreover, Americans are uneasy about the rising price tag for the war, which has already cost over $200 billion, diverting money and resources that are urgently needed at home. Some have argued that future generations will continue to have to pay this cost, as a result of concurrent tax cuts coupled with spending of borrowed funds. Two-thirds of American Jews now describe the war as a mistake and a majority seeks to bring American troops safely and speedily home.

Nonetheless, with much of Iraq’s infrastructure now undermined, the old leadership removed, and new leadership still in flux, a contentious debate on how and when the U.S. can withdraw divides the nation. Ironically, some who supported the war now think we should withdraw immediately, while some who opposed the war believe we cannot begin to leave until the situation stabilizes. Opponents of immediate withdrawal argue that the U.S. should not establish a timetable for withdrawal because if we withdraw too soon, Iraq will devolve into civil war and become a haven for terrorists. Opponents also note that if we set deadlines and then fail to meet them, we will be perceived as weak by our enemies. Supporters of a more imminent withdrawal argue that Americans and Iraqis continue to die as a result of the insurgency, and that rather than maintaining order in Iraq, the presence of the United States as an occupying power engenders resentment and resistance from the populace and creates sympathy for the insurgents to continue fighting. Both sides are hopeful that Iraq’s newly adopted Constitution and impending elections are steps that will lead to increased stability, making U.S. disengagement more realistic.

There are growing voices in this country that are calling for fundamental changes in U.S. policy in Iraq, changes that will bring our troops home safely and soon, and promote the creation of a sovereign and peaceful Iraq. Sadly, within the organized opposition to the war there are a number of groups espousing radical, anti-Israel rhetoric (including a number of members of ANSWER – Act Now to Stop War and End Racism). In a second major coalition, United for Peace and Justice, there are fewer such voices. But, the absence of mainstream American Jewish organizations from this debate has created a vacuum in which other voices are manipulating messages about Jews and Israel in the context of and in opposition to the Iraq war.
However, another coalition has demonstrated goals and values more consistent with our own. "Win Without War" has attracted the support of many mainstream American organizations, including NAACP, National Council of Churches, Sierra Club, Physicians for Social Responsibility, United Church of Christ and United Methodist Church General Board of Church and Society. Among other things, Win Without War calls on the Bush Administration to announce a plan to end the occupation that includes target dates for troop withdrawal; transform the military occupation into an Iraqi-led, regionally-backed, and internationally supported effort to achieve stability and a representative government; and redirect funds to support Iraq-directed reconstruction and humanitarian needs.
There is a belief among some Iraqis that the United States intends to occupy Iraq on a long term basis, and this perception has fueled the insurgency with escalating violence. The Iraqi people ratified the permanent constitution by a referendum conducted on October 15, 2005, and parliamentary elections under that constitution are now scheduled for December 15, 2005. The ratification of the Iraqi constitution and the scheduled parliamentary elections are critical steps in establishing a functional, stable government in Iraq. These recent events present an opportunity for the United States to establish a plan to withdraw United States Armed Forces from Iraq that would support the legitimacy of the Iraqi Government and the assumption of responsibility by Iraqi forces for security and public safety. Furthermore, we believe that a plan for a phased, tactical withdrawal is the best way to ensure the safe return of our Armed Forces personnel, who will continue to be put in harm’s way if they remain in Iraq indefinitely or are withdrawn prematurely and with inadequate organization.
As the United States enters its third year of an untenable war, with no end in sight, it is incumbent upon the leadership of the Reform Movement to confront these issues and take a position.
THEREFORE, the Union for Reform Judaism resolves to:
1. Reaffirm the principles espoused in its 2002 pre-invasion policy statement to guide us when and if future conflicts arise, and as a touchstone for assessing our current policy in Iraq, and note with grave concern that those principles were not followed when we went to war;
2. Commend our service women and men (and their families) who have answered duty’s call and served our nation honorably, often with valor and
distinction, and who have earned our respect and gratitude and that of the American people, and support generous benefits for them, both in Iraq and at home, thus honoring those who serve our nation and fulfilling our commitments to them; and specifically to:
A. Demand that our service men and women receive appropriate flak jackets, armor and other equipment to afford them maximum protection as they carry out their mission; and
B. Demand that adequate funds be made available to the Department of Defense and Veterans Administration to ensure that United States military personnel wounded in connection with the Iraq war receive the highest quality medical care available and that they and their families are afforded the necessary support (including counseling) to cope with their injuries;
3. Call upon the Bush Administration immediately to provide more transparency regarding all aspects of the war and a clear exit strategy to the American public with specific goals for troop withdrawal; some withdrawal of troops should begin after the completion of the parliamentary elections (currently scheduled for December 15, 2005) with the continuation of withdrawal implemented as soon as possible in a way that maintains stability in the nation and empowers Iraqi forces to provide for their national security;
4. Call upon Congress to:
A. Provide more diligent oversight of the war and the expenditures related to it;
B. Promote efforts to bring about, as soon as feasible, a withdrawal that supports peace and stability; and
C. Ensure that the financial burden of the war fall not just on the poor and on future generations, but be shared equitably;
5. Call for a bipartisan, independent commission to determine the lessons learned from our strategic, intelligence, planning, and implementation failures before and during the war;
6. Call on all nations, especially those in the region, to:
A. Terminate support for the insurgents and terrorists,
B. Actively support the democratically elected Iraqi government,
C. Provide tangible support, in the form of training and equipment, to facilitate the development of a professional Iraqi security force, and
D. Assist in rebuilding the infrastructure of the country;
7. Condemn, in the strongest possible terms, violations of the Geneva Conventions and other applicable laws, including torture and abuse of prisoners and detainees in U.S. custody;
8. Condemn those who would use opposition to the war in Iraq as justification for anti-Israel efforts;
9. Call on congregations to:
A. Provide a venue to address these issues;
B. Advocate consistent with the principles set forth in this resolution; and
C. Adopt respectful and meaningful methods of acknowledging the contribution of our military such as the use of prayers for the welfare of service members, listing names of military personnel lost in the line of duty in Kaddish prayers or in temple bulletins, or other appropriate ways.