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An Open Letter to Matt Brooks: Questions About Your Ad in Today's New York Times
Rabbi David Saperstein, Director of the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism, sent the following letter today to Matt Brooks, Executive Director, Republican Jewish Coalition concerning their ad in the New York Times regarding the Union for Reform Judaism recently passed resolution on the War in Iraq.

December 13, 2005 

To : Matt Brooks, Executive Director, Republican Jewish Coalition
From : Rabbi David Saperstein, Director, Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism
Cc : Interested Friends, Colleagues, Journalists

Your provocative full-page ad in today’s New York Times has been sitting on my desk for a few hours now. One of our goals in passing a resolution at our Biennial was to stimulate a debate on the war within the American Jewish community. We are pleased to see that debate beginning. It’s unfortunate the RJC’s contribution to that debate is misleading and ignores the crucial issues facing our nation today which are raised in our resolution.

More than anything else, Matt, I’m confused by the ad. So I thought it would be helpful to pose a few of my questions directly to you:

1. Why did you not refer to, quote from, or discuss a single concern about U.S. Iraq policy addressed by the resolution?

Although it would not be clear to readers from your ad, you actually never even refer to what the resolution actually says; you refer instead only to one line from a press statement. Does that advance the public discourse on the vital issues our nation faces? We are proud of the thoughtful positions taken by our Movement. In contrast to the ad, our resolution goes into great depth in discussing these issues, with the background section fairly giving arguments from both supporters and critics of the President’s policies.

2. From where, in our resolution or statements, do you get the idea that the Union for Reform Judaism does not believe that “Freedom is Worth Fighting For?”

Does the RJC believe that all those who have expressed doubts about the execution of the war and urged the Administration to come forward with a clear exit strategy – including Senator John Warner (R-VA), Representative John Murtha (D-PA), and former National Security Advisor Brent Scowcroft, among many others – do not believe that “Freedom is worth fighting for?”

Many of the leaders of our Movement who voted for this resolution fought and bled in American wars to preserve our freedoms. What right do you have to besmirch their commitment, or our Movement’s, to America or the values for which it stands?

3. How do you justify the suggestion in your ad that, in contrast to you, we do not “stand behind our troops and their mission of creating a safe, democratic Iraq?”

Our resolution is quite clear on our support for the service men and women of this battle. The resolution reads, in part, that we:

“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 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…;”

4. Your ad suggests that you think most American Jews would agree with your view (and disagree with ours). What evidence do you have for that?

Polls clearly show there is widespread dissatisfaction with the Administration’s conduct of this war. There are two such polls we know of which sampled American Jewish opinion on the war. An American Jewish Committee Survey in September 2004, found that 66% of American Jews “disapprove of how the president is handling the war,” and 30 percent approve. A poll done for Yeshiva University by Marttila Communications in March 2005 found that 62% of American Jews, and 70% of Reform Jews, feel that “the United States is less secure as a result of the war in Iraq.” Since that time, general public opinion polls have found increasing disapproval of the war, and there is no reason to think the Jewish community numbers – which already were overwhelmingly critical of the war in September 2004 -- would not show similar significant increases.

5. How representative are those who signed your ad in contrast to those who voted on our resolution?

The Union’s Resolution was voted on by over 2,000 voting delegates (from among the over 4,000 participants) at our Biennial General Assembly. It was distributed to all congregations and delegates in advance, and was the subject of debate both in advance of the Biennial and at the Biennial itself. The convention itself was coincidentally in Texas, drawing a higher percentage of our delegates from more conservative areas of the country. Nonetheless, the resolution, to our surprise, passed by a nearly 90% vote. We acknowledge, of course, that not every Reform Jew agrees with this policy (or about anything else!) but the General Assembly is among the largest grassroots bodies in the American Jewish world today.

6. Your ad leaves the impression (although in fairness, it does not say so explicitly) that the signatories are members of Union-affiliated congregations. To what extent is that true?

While some are members of our synagogues, there certainly appear to be a number of signatories who have no connection at all with the Reform Jewish Movement.

The Administration has launched a major campaign to resell the American people on the war, but we still see no evidence of a thoughtful plan for moving forward from here. If our resolution and the response to it help foster healthy discussion on how to do so, we would be delighted, and we urge the RJC to contribute to that discourse more seriously and substantively than your $150K plus ad campaign will do.

That RJC office holders and loyalists will defend the policies espoused by their party’s leader (but not by a growing number of Republican members of Congress who have been questioning U.S. policy) is not surprising. What IS surprising is that after a full, fair and democratic (with a small d) process, an overwhelming consensus emerged in our Movement on one of the most painful and controversial issues of our day. You cannot diminish the power of that reality with misleading ads.

I look forward to your response.

###

The Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism is the Washington office of the Union for Reform Judaism , whose more than 900 congregations across North America encompass 1.5 million Reform Jews , and the Central Conference of American Rabbis , whose membership includes more than 1800 Reform rabbis.



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