By Janet Tassel, contributing editor at Harvard Magazine and a disillusioned Reform Jew
Just in time for the festivities of Purim, the Union of Reform Judaism, also known as the Union of Deformed Judaism, and elsewhere referred to as the Democratic Party with candles, came through with its holiday offering. The Union seldom misses an opportunity to cover itself with absurdity, and sure enough, through Purim and virtually until the Ides of March, it spent much of its recent convention debating, and then overwhelmingly passing, a resolution to bring shame to every patriotic American Jew.
The resolution, called â€œResolution on the War in Iraq 2007,â€ is basically a stale leftover from the Unionâ€™s Biennial of 2005, wherein it voted â€œto 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.â€ Not hearing from the Bush administration, not even taken seriously by many Reform Jews, the assembled commanders-in-chief harrumphed and trundled it up again this year.
Those who keep track of such things might remember that the Biennial of 2005, led, as now, by defeatist-in-chief Rabbi Eric Yoffie, busied itself with affairs other than running away from Iraq; issues of great concern to our endangered Jewish people, such as the vast and scary â€œReligious Rightâ€ (to whom Yoffie predictably compared the Orthodox â€œextremistsâ€ in Israel). And it got solidly behind such Judeocentric measures as voting rights for the District of Columbia, collective bargaining (a fresh idea for 2005), â€œlegal protection for gay couples,â€ and the promising potential of Abu Mazen.
But President Bush, who was and is treated by the Union with the condescension characteristic of the left, somehow neglected to obey the marching orders of Commander-in-chief Yoffie. To the contrary, huffs the executive committee, obviously offended at the slight, â€œon January 10, 2007, President Bush announced the deployment of over 20,000 additional troops to Iraq,â€ without, as he had been clearly ordered to do by the URJ, providing â€œan exit strategyâ€¦.â€
Quoting the military experts at the New York Times, the resolution continues by asserting that inasmuch as (pace Petraeus and all the generals in the field) there cannot be a military solution to the conflict, the United States should â€œseek a more vigorous diplomatic processâ€¦convening reconciliation talksâ€ that include not only the United Nations, but Syria and Iran. This utterly mindboggling proposal stems from–yes, you dreaded this–the recommendations of the Baker/Hamilton Report.
Now the idea that a convention of Jews would base its recommendations on anything said by James â€œF—the Jewsâ€ Baker simply defies belief. But even if Baker were not an anti-Semite, a handsomely paid mouthpiece of the Saudis, and the man principally responsible for the disastrous outcome of the first Gulf war; even if he were simply a bumbling old loser, the idea that Jewish policy-makers would even pay attention to his ramblings shows how Reform Judaism has again lost its way, forfeiting all respect.
There is so much to be said about the arrogant posturings of the Baker/Hamilton Iraq Study Group, with its 79 â€œfruit-saladâ€ recommendations, but one example will suffice. Daniel Pipes, having alluded to the ISGâ€™s preposterous idea that â€œthe Iraqi civil war would be ended by pleasing the Palestinian Arabsâ€ and to its recommendation that the United States confer with Syria and Iran, continues, â€œOther brilliant recommendations call for the UN Security Council to handle the Iranian nuclear problemâ€¦and for the support group to persuade Tehran to â€˜take specific steps to improve the situation in Iraqâ€¦â€™ Right. The Iranian regime, whose president envisions a â€˜world without America,â€™ will save Washingtonâ€™s bacon. Such counsel smacks at best of what the Jerusalem Post calls â€˜staggering naiveteâ€™ and at worst of ghastly foolishness.â€
Let us not forget that Iranâ€™s Ahmadinejad envisions a world without Israel even sooner than a world without America, and that heâ€™s noisily trumpeting his intention to bring about this second holocaust. (The first one doesnâ€™t count, youâ€™ll recall.) In the stark face of this terrible threat, one can only stand in dumb disbelief at the proposition of the URJ to sit down and chat with him, and to hurry out of Iraq, leaving him and every other mortal enemy of Israel secure in the knowledge that we Americans run from our commitments.
Speaking of Ahmadinejad brings us back to the irony of this resolutionâ€™s coming along at Purim. Purim, for all its merrymaking and ahistoricity, teaches how vulnerable was the condition of Jews in Persia under the tyrant Haman. It seems an awkward time of the year for Jews to start debating a resolution featuring at its center the proposal to jaw-jaw (as Churchill used to say) with the Haman of today.
But the resolution–pushed, it must be said, by the URJ Executive Committee, which, according to dissidents within the Reform movement, may well be exceeding the powers granted it by the Unionâ€™s by-lawsâ€”takes great pains to hit a lot of Jewish buttons, so you shouldnâ€™t think that the ideas come from the plain old secular left. Under a section called â€œJewish Values Regarding Rules for War,â€ the commentaries tumble forth, quotations from BT Sanhedrin 74A, Baba Kama 28A, Shulchan Aruch Hoshen Mishpat 425:l, and other occult sources, the rabbinical mumblings about obligatory wars, wars of permission, just wars, the authority to wage war, etc.
Why is the Union rendering unto itself that which it has no business rendering at all? Because, you see, â€œthe prophetic tradition, so central to Judaism, calls on us to address the great moral issues of our day.â€ Prophetic? Virtually every member of the left is calling for an ignominious retreat from Iraq, just as they did from Vietnamâ€”and just as the URJ did then. How is this prophetic? Prophetic means standing alone, bearing witness to the uncongenial and unfashionable Truth, not echoing the howlings of the mob. Reform activist and dissident Adam Cohn, in his terrific blog (http://reformjudaism.blogspot.com), writes:
At this point, it would be good to remember that Jeremiah had an advantage over the URJ leadership. He was in direct communication with and speaking on behalf of God. The Israelite king would have been wise to listen to him. Unfortunately, we do not have the luxury of direct divine guidance. So, in lieu of Godâ€™s word, the URJ has substituted public opinion polls as a basis for their activism.
â€œPropheticâ€ is Samuel shouting at the hapless Saul, â€œThe Lord sent you on a mission to make war on the Amalekites and kill every one of them. And that includes King Agag, you idiot!â€ Indeed, had Saul done as Samuel had ordered, it is said there would have been no Haman the Amalekite, and, who knows? perhaps no Ahmadinijad. And â€œpropheticâ€ is Senator Joe Lieberman, the Last of the Just, who recently said, â€œThere is something profoundly wrong when, in the face of attacks by radical Islam, we think we can find safety and stability by pulling back, by talking to and accommodating our enemies, and abandoning our friends and allies.â€
The URJ manifesto is replete, not with the prophetic tradition, but with unchecked and anecdotal â€œfacts,â€ and the clichÃ©s and mantras of the left. For example, they complain about â€œthe rising price tag for the war.â€ As if we can fight the forces that threaten civilization on a dime. The fact is, as Jerry Bowyer writes on NROnline, â€œListening to [critics of the war], youâ€™d never know that the war is one of the least expensive in American history.â€ In any event, liberals think itâ€™s a sin to spend money on defense, even if that includes the defense of Israel. They are unhappy that, as the resolution states, the cost of the war diverts funds away from â€œdomestic concernsâ€ (read â€œspecial interestsâ€). And so, to that end, the Democrats in Congress have packed the war-funding bill with $4 billion in outrageous pork in order to â€œslow-bleedâ€ the war supplemental.
So now, with every indication of a possible success in Iraq (whatever that may mean), including a new and brilliant general, who wrote the book on counterinsurgency; a slowing of American deaths, an optimistic appraisal of Iraqi self-sufficiency, including a new oil-sharing law, the URJ passes its head-in-the-sand resolution. Nobody with a sense of history seriously expects United States troops to vacate Iraq totally (nobody except the loony left); historians like Niall Ferguson expect there to be an American presence for decades.
â€œCentral to Jewish just means doctrine is the need to protect innocent civilians,â€ drones the URJ resolution, as if American troops donâ€™t do that every day. What might the civilian population have to face if we did pull out, as the left forced us to do from Vietnam and Cambodia? As Michael Rubin writes on NROnline, â€œIn his history of the 1970s, my colleague David Frum relates the story of Sirik Matak, whom the US embassy in Phnom Penh offered to evacuate as the Khmer Rouge closed in on the city. It should be a must read to the â€œabandon Iraqâ€ crowd:
Dear Excellency and Friend,
I thank you very sincerely for your letter and for your offer to transport me towards freedom. I cannot, alas, leave in such a cowardly fashion. As for you, and in particular for your great country, I never believed for a moment that you would have this sentiment of abandoning a people which has chosen liberty. You have refused us your protection, and we can do nothing about it. You leave, and my wish is that you and your country will find happiness under this sky. But, mark it well, that if I shall die here on this spot and in my country that I love, it is no matter, because we all are born and must die. I have only committed the mistake of believing you.
The Khmer Rouge shot Matak in the stomach. He took three days to die.
The Union of Reform Judaism should include this story in their â€œjust causeâ€ deliberations, as they discuss Lev. 19:16: â€œDo not stand idly by the blood of your neighbor.â€ They might also take to heart the famous admonition of John Stuart Mill, â€œWar is an ugly thing, but not the ugliest of things.â€
Now that is in the great prophetic tradition.