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A Demand for Some Honesty, and a Strategy for an Exit

December 15, 2005 By:
Robert M. Heller and Rabbi Eric Yoffie
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The discussion and debate that preceded the introduction of the resolution on the Iraq war at the recent convention of the Union for Reform Judaism were intense, befitting the magnitude of the subject.

In the end, the resolution - the first by any major Jewish organization (and among the first by any American religious movement) to explicitly speak to our nation's "failures before and during the war" and to call for "a clear exit strategy with specific goals for troop withdrawal" - was overwhelmingly approved by the over 2,000 voting delegates.

Some have publicly criticized our movement, first for speaking out on this issue at all, and second for supposedly suggesting that we speak for each and every member of our congregations. We cannot fulfill the responsibility of our prophetic tradition without addressing the great moral issues of our day - every major faith group and denomination does so. And none speaks for all their members, or pretends to do so. They speak for the decision-making bodies of their faith groups.

Our delegates were painfully aware that they were being asked to deal with a major tragedy. Whatever the rationale for going to war, whatever the intelligence and planning failures, the cruel facts that have since unfolded and now obtain - specifically, the continuing costs of the war in blood and treasure, its discrediting of America in the international community, and its contribution to the growth of terrorism - have brought us to the very brink of disaster. A rapidly growing number of Americans share that fear; none can celebrate it.

What, then, to do?

In answering that question, we are today a nation divided. Little wonder: We worry about the safety of our troops, and we worry about the prospect of civil war in Iraq, and we worry about the prospect of Iraq becoming what some mistakenly said it was before our invasion, a center for international terrorism, and we worry about America's credibility in the world, and we worry about the evident lapses of our own institutions and agencies in adhering to international humanitarian norms in prosecuting the war - and none of these worries are given to easy solutions.

Yet our delegates achieved remarkable consensus on certain key points. And while no one would claim that Reform Jews across the country are of one view regarding the war (or, frankly, anything else), we are confident (and public-opinion polls bolster that confidence) that a substantial majority not only of Reform Jews but of American Jewry in general, broadly support the spirit and quite likely the letter of our statement.

What does our statement call for?

First, we want our leaders to tell us the truth, the whole of it, which means that we call on the Bush administration to adopt a policy of transparency. With regard to troop withdrawal, we call not only for a clear exit strategy but also for specific goals for troop withdrawal, to commence after the completion of parliamentary elections scheduled for later this month and to then be continued in a way that maintains stability in the nation and empowers Iraqi forces to provide for their national security.

We also call on Congress to provide more effective oversight of the war, and to ensure that the financial burden of the war falls not just on the poor and on future generations, but is shared equitably.

We came to these views based on Jewish teachings on war and our best judgments as citizens of the United States.

In addition - but by no means as afterthoughts - our resolution commends our service women and men (and their families) and supports generous benefits for them, both in Iraq and at home; we call for the establishment of a bipartisan independent commission to determine the lessons learned from our strategic, intelligence, planning and implementation failures before and during the war; we 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; and we condemn those who would use opposition to the war in Iraq as justification for anti-Israel efforts.

And perhaps most importantly, we call on our congregations across the nation to: provide a venue to address these issues, to advocate consistently on behalf of the principles set forth in the resolution, and to adopt respectful and meaningful methods of honoring the contribution of our military.

All this we say with sorrow, in outrage, and with pride.

Robert M. Heller is chairman of the board of the Union for Reform Judaism; Rabbi Eric Yoffie is its president.

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