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Saperstein Issues High Holiday Plea for Peace to Olmert

Saperstein: “As our prayers ceaselessly yearn for Israelis and Palestinians to live in peace with one another, both governments must uphold the rule of law, fight terrorism, and work for a permanent resolution of the conflict.”

Contact: Kate Bigam or Jeff Oakley
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WASHINGTON, DC, October 6, 2008 — In response to a series of recent current events in Israel, Rabbi David Saperstein, Director of the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism, today sent the following letter to Prime Minister Ehud Olmert:

As Jews around the world celebrate the High Holidays, we consider the joys and sadnesses of the past year and pray for God’s blessing on the year to come. Among the prayers to be offered will be those on behalf of peace and well being for Israel.

In the last weeks, we have witnessed one Palestinian terrorist burn down a home and stab a young boy near a West Bank settlement, and another drive his car into a Jerusalem crowd, injuring 19 people. We have also seen a vigilante mob of Jewish settlers attack a Palestinian village, and a presumably right-wing Jewish terrorist plant a pipe bomb, injuring Professor Zeev Sternhell, recipient of the Israel Prize, supporter of peace, and critic of the settlements. Fliers in Professor Sternhell’s neighborhood shockingly offered a NIS 1.1 million bounty for the murder of Peace Now members. These attacks are deeply saddening, and we wish the injured a refuah shlemah, a speedy recovery to all. We stand in solidarity with you, our Israeli brothers and sisters, as you are forced to confront new manifestations of the evil of terrorism targeting Israelis.

I write as well to urge that you address just as strongly the increase in ideologically motivated attacks by Israelis.

The year 5769 brings the promise of renewed hope for peace. But hope alone is not enough. We commend you for your recognition of these events and your remarks that “there will be no pogroms against non-Jewish residents in the State of Israel” and that “an evil wind of extremism, of hatred, of malice, of violence, of lawlessness is blowing through certain sections of the Israeli public and threatens Israeli democracy.” However, statements to the cabinet and the Knesset must be followed by decisive actions that implement this vision, to send a strong message to those who seek to take matters into their own hands and terrorize their neighbors. As the right words are not enough, we urge that strong and concrete steps be taken to check this vigilantism and guarantee protection of innocent Palestinians on the West Bank, as well as to bring the perpetrators of the Sternhell attack to justice as soon as possible.

In the context of our long-standing commitment to a negotiated two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, I express our concerns as well at the findings of a recent report from Peace Now indicating that settlement construction has nearly doubled since the Annapolis peace conference, when Israel committed to a settlement freeze. To the extent this report accurately reflects current trends (and the government has not challenged it), it appears that counterproductive settlement construction continues, creating new impediments to success in peace negotiations. Despite the commitment to freeze settlement construction, the government has failed to halt these activities on the ground and, worse, reportedly sanctioned more construction.

As our prayers ceaselessly yearn for Israelis and Palestinians to live in peace with one another, both governments must uphold the rule of law, fight terrorism, and work for a permanent resolution of the conflict. In your remaining days as Prime Minister, we urge you to defy those who use violence to strike against the innocent. We also urge you to strive to achieve new successes in negotiations, to continue to protect innocent lives, and to uphold the rule of law and democracy.

L’shana tova u’mevorechet, may this year be a year of health and sweetness for you and your family, and a year of peace for us all.

Rabbi David Saperstein
Director and Counsel


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 1,800 Reform rabbis.

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