Statement Opposing Preemptive Military Action Against Iran

Jewish Peace Fellowship
July 4, 2008

The current Iranian government’s lack of transparent compliance with the international community’s nuclear control regime, and its president’s statements, that Israel should be “wiped from the face of the earth,” present serious challenges to world peace.

Preemptive military action, however, is an unacceptable response to these challenges.

The Jewish Peace Fellowship opposes violence in all forms, especially war, and was founded in 1941 to support the right of conscientious objection to military service.

Our objection to war is based on Jewish religious tradition, which commands us to seek peace and to pursue it (Psalms 34:15), and that shalom, the Hebrew word for peace is the Name of God and the Name of the Messiah (Tractate Derekh Eretz, Perek °∞Hashalom°±).

Though Hebrew Scripture contains many accounts of wars fought, Jewish tradition teaches that Scripture is not to be taken literally, but rather is mediated by commentary.

Our reasons for opposing preemptive military action against Iran are based, in part, upon a commentary issued by the Central Conference of American Rabbis in 5762 (2002), in response to a question regarding the legitimacy of °∞preemptive military action when there is suspicion but no prima facie evidence exists, that a perceived enemy will attack.°± We do not follow the CCAR responsum°Øs conclusions in all instances, and we acknowledge that other commentaries on Jewish sources regarding similar constructions exist. We are confident, however, that many of the sources cited in the CCAR responsum provide grounding for our stance.

Jewish tradition, holding peace to be humanity°Øs highest commandment, deems armed conflict to be a final resort in the preservation of peace.

Indeed, our biblical tradition teaches that David, the leader under whose military ventures the kingdom of Israel was created, was denied a role in building the Temple because °∞you have shed much blood and fought great battles; you shall not build a house in My name for you have shed much blood on the earth in my sight°± (I Chronicles 22:8).

Therefore, far from teaching that war is a normal and, therefore, acceptable human activity, Jewish tradition teaches that all efforts must be pursued to preserve peace before resorting to military action.

Thus, before a state resorts to war, Jewish tradition teaches that a foe must first be offered peace. (Rambam, Yad, Melakhim 6:1, commenting on Deut. 20:10). All efforts through diplomacy to maintain the condition of peace must be exhausted before resorting to armed conflict may be considered.

Moreover, if leaders of a state believe armed conflict is necessary to preserve peace, they must appear before the state°Øs governing body and obtain its permission before taking military action.

The current situation in Iran that underlies calls in some U.S. foreign policy circles for preemptive military action against that nation is complex, based on highly technical assumptions about Iran°Øs nuclear capacity, and highly interpretable assumptions about Iran°Øs intentions toward other nations. All of these assumptions are based on fragmentary intelligence that is open to a wide variety of contradictory interpretations.

The implications for preemptive military action by the U.S. against Iran are further complicated by the following facts:

1. The Executive Branch leadership of the current U.S. government, and its foreign policy supporters, have what is now a widely acknowledged record of having previously manipulated intelligence estimates to justify resorting to armed conflict, while subsequent investigation now demonstrates that the °∞facts°± put forward to justify that action were spurious.

2. While Iran°Øs compliance with the international nuclear control regime overseen by the International Atomic Energy Agency has been by no means transparent or forthright, that regime permits Iran to proceed with nuclear development for peaceful purposes. The mere existence of a nuclear capacity on the part of Iran does not constitute a prima facie justification for U.S. military action to eliminate that capacity.

3. Iran does not represent a threat to the American people and any U.S. attack on Iran would be unwarranted and may well have catastrophic consequences throughout the Middle East and possibly elsewhere as well.