Reform Judaism Must Remain Steadfast in Its Commitment to Zionism

This summer, as Hamas rained thousands of missiles on Israel, a group of American rabbinical students at non-Orthodox institutions wrote an open letter condemning the Jewish state for a variety of supposed sins. The letter formed the basis for a long report in the New York Times Magazine on the suppose “unraveling of American Zionism.” But support for Israel among American Jewry remains high. Moreover, writes Ammiel Hirsch—the rabbi of a prominent Reform synagogue in New York City—the Reform movement is committed to Zionism, for unambiguous moral and theological reasons:

For the record, the Reform movement is a Zionist movement. Every single branch of our movement—the synagogue arm (Union for Reform Judaism), the rabbinic union (Central Conference of American Rabbis), and our seminary (HUC-JIR)—each organization separately, and all together, are Zionist and committed ideologically and theologically to Israel.

We are theologically committed to the centrality of the Jewish people and the Jewish state. We have said so repeatedly. We have obligations to fellow Jews. We are commanded to be ohavey Yisrael, to love fellow Jews—and to support them, especially in times of war, hardship, and struggle. We have a right, and an obligation, to teach future leaders our values and commitments. . . . The student letter calls for a rethinking of American Jewish education about Israel. Fair enough; but our movement has a right to encourage some American Jewish seminary students to rethink their approach to ahavat Yisrael, [love of the Jewish people].

Jewish leaders have an obligation to speak about Jewish peoplehood and our struggle to survive. . . . What higher responsibility does a Jewish leader have than to love and protect fellow Jews? Are we so emotionally distanced from our own people that we cannot even bring ourselves to condemn war crimes against Jews in the middle of a war?

Where you sit often determines where you stand on an issue. If you are sitting in a lecture hall on an American campus or seminary, you might come to view the Israel-Palestinian dispute differently than parents of three children who are spending the night in shelters five miles from Gaza. If you are sitting in an American seminary or university, you might come to view the conflict as a racial one, or one of oppression, patriarchy, or colonialism, as so many students nowadays view every social problem.

Read more at Times of Israel

More about: American Judaism, Reform Judaism


The ICJ’s Vice-President Explains What’s Wrong with Its Recent Ruling against Israel

It should be obvious to anyone with even rudimentary knowledge of the Gaza war that Israel is not committing genocide there, or anything even remotely akin to it. In response to such spurious accusations, it’s often best to focus on the mockery they make of international law itself, or on how Israel can most effectively combat them. Still, it is also worth stopping to consider the legal case on its own terms. No one has done this quite so effectively, to my knowledge, as the Ugandan jurist Julia Sebutinde, who is the vice-president of the ICJ and the only one of its judges to rule unequivocally in Israel’s favor both in this case and in the previous one where it found accusations of genocide “plausible.”

Sebutinde begins by questioning the appropriateness of the court ruling on this issue at all:

Once again, South Africa has invited the Court to micromanage the conduct of hostilities between Israel and Hamas. Such hostilities are exclusively governed by the laws of war (international humanitarian law) and international human-rights law, areas where the Court lacks jurisdiction in this case.

The Court should also avoid trying to enforce its own orders. . . . Is the Court going to reaffirm its earlier provisional measures every time a party runs to it with allegations of a breach of its provisional measures? I should think not.

Sebutinde also emphasizes the absurdity of hearing this case after Israel has taken “multiple concrete actions” to alleviate the suffering of Gazan civilians since the ICJ’s last ruling. In fact, she points out, “the evidence actually shows a gradual improvement in the humanitarian situation in Gaza since the Court’s order.” She brings much evidence in support of these points.

She concludes her dissent by highlighting the procedural irregularities of the case, including a complete failure to respect the basic rights of the accused:

I find it necessary to note my serious concerns regarding the manner in which South Africa’s request and incidental oral hearings were managed by the Court, resulting in Israel not having sufficient time to file its written observations on the request. In my view, the Court should have consented to Israel’s request to postpone the oral hearings to the following week to allow for Israel to have sufficient time to fully respond to South Africa’s request and engage counsel. Regrettably, as a result of the exceptionally abbreviated timeframe for the hearings, Israel could not be represented by its chosen counsel, who were unavailable on the dates scheduled by the Court.

It is also regrettable that Israel was required to respond to a question posed by a member of the Court over the Jewish Sabbath. The Court’s decisions in this respect bear upon the procedural equality between the parties and the good administration of justice by the Court.

Read more at International Court of Justice

More about: Gaza War 2023, ICC, International Law