Rabbis row over settlements

Rabbi Steven Katz

Rabbi Steven Katz

A row has broken out after a senior Reform rabbi publicly attacked two high-profile Progressive colleagues over comments made about Israel.

Rabbi Steven Katz, senior minister at Hendon Reform Synagogue, spoke out after the JC published the opinions of prominent British Jews on the visit of Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu to Britain later this month.

Rabbi Danny Rich, chief executive of Liberal Judaism, pleaded with Mr Netanyahu to end settlement building, while Stephen Moss, chairman of the Movement for Reform Judaism, accused the prime minister of being “against a more positive response”.

Last weekend, Rabbi Katz devoted his Shabbat sermon to criticising both colleagues and told his congregation that their comments did not represent the opinions of the Progressive movement or his own.

Rabbi Danny Rich

Rabbi Danny Rich

He said: “I am opposed to appointing the settlements as the principal obstacle of peace.

“It ignores the efforts of successive Israeli governments to dismantle settlements in exchange for recognition and peace. The real ‘principal obstacle’ is the persistent refusal of Palestinians to recognise the existence of a sovereign, Jewish, independent, state of Israel.”

Responding to the comments, Mr Moss said: “We were asked by the JC to come up with a question to put to the prime minister, and only one. I felt that the question I asked was one I wanted to know the answer to.

“I understand what Rabbi Katz says about previous offers having been rebuffed, but it seems to me that that is the major obstacle to the sort of recognition he is looking for.”

Rabbi Rich observed: “I’m sure that, once again, Steven Katz gave a sermon which inspired his community to be more committed to Judaism.

“I’m confident that I represent a large section of opinion in my own community which desires to love and support the state of Israel but finds it sometimes necessary to be critical of it.

“The constant demand for recognition of Israel is irrelevant in the current situation where police, defence forces and diplomats from both peoples work together and meet frequently.

“I’m not sure when my dear friend Rabbi Katz last travelled to the West Bank, and met the Palestinians who are wholly innocent of any anti-Israel activity but whose lives are made constantly difficult by the security situation — for which both parties have a responsibility.”

Rabbi Katz responded: “I have been to the West Bank — perhaps not as recently as him [Rabbi Rich] — but simply travelling there doesn’t make you an expert.

“There are dimensions of history and politics involved.”

But he denied that the spat would lead to a split in the movement. He said: “We are strong and mature enough to understand there are some issues where we differ but we are all committed to Israel.”

Last updated: 4:30pm, August 20 2009