Dismay as progressive rabbis back ‘apartheid’ letter

Criticism from within Progressive community for use of 'A-word'


A group of Progressive rabbis from the UK have signed a provocative international petition which describes Palestinians as living under an “apartheid regime”.

Gabriel Kanter-Webber, the rabbi of Brighton and Hove Progressive Synagogue, said in a blog explaining his decision to sign the letter that as far as he knew, “this is the first time that mainstream British Jewish figures have publicly used ‘the A-word’ in relation to Israel”.

Other British rabbis who are listed in support of the document include Rabbi Kanter-Webber’s predecessor, Rabbi Elli Tikvah Sarah: Leo Baeck College lecturer Rabbi Colin Eimer; Rabbi Rebecca Birk of Finchley Progressive Synagogue; and Rabbi Lev Taylor of South-West Essex Reform Synagogue.

The move sparked sadness and controversy in the Progressive community. Rabbi Steven Katz, the former rabbi of Edgware and Hendon Reform Synagogue, said: “It is popular to bash Israel and I feel, sadly, some Jews are jumping on that bandwagon.”

He added: “It is a total misunderstanding and misrepresentation of the evil that apartheid constituted in South Africa.”

Rabbi Katz said that “what distresses me is that in their criticism of Israel there is never any mention of the good Israel has done”. The letter, he added, “wasn’t done in a spirit of kindship and that’s what hurts me.”

He said he would like to see a “greater sense of engagement with Israel” within the Reform movement through congregational visits in order to make sure there is greater knowledge of the country.

However, Rabbi Katz, called Israel’s current right-wing government an “embarrassment” and said that the Israelis protesting against it across the country every week were “a source of pride.”

More than 2,000 people, predominantly American Jewish academics, endorsed the document, which calls on North American Jewry to support the Israeli protest movements, embrace equality for Jews and Palestinians in Israel and the Occupied Territories, and overhaul educational curricula for Jewish youth to “provide a more honest appraisal of Israel’s past and present”.

Criticising Israel’s “illegal occupation” of millions of Palestinians, it says “there cannot be a democracy for Jews in Israel as long as Palestinians live under a regime of apartheid, as Israeli legal experts have described it.”

It claims that the ultimate purpose of the Israeli government’s planned judicial reforms is to “tighten restrictions on Gaza, deprive Palestinians of equal rights both beyond the Green Line and within it, annex more land, and ethnically cleanse all territories under Israeli rule of their Palestinian population.”

It says the current Israeli government has a “messianic, homophobic, and misogynistic agenda” which alienates young American Jews, adding:

“Meanwhile, American Jewish billionaire funders help support the Israeli far right.”

Signatories include the Israeli historian Professor Benny Morris and David N Myers, professor of Jewish history at UCLA in California.

Professor David Feldman, director of the Birkbeck Institute for the Study of Antisemitism in London, is also listed.

In his blogpost, Rabbi Kanter-Webber acknowledged that the stand was controversial, so much so that “one of our rabbinic colleagues kindly labelled the signatories as ‘pathetic’ and ‘disgusting’”.

In a joint statement, the Movement for Reform Judaism and Liberal Judaism said: “One of the many beauties of Progressive Judaism is the richness and diversity of our rabbinate and our communities. Our clergy hold a variety of different views and rightly express them.

“The position of both movements is that we support a two-state solution and a just and democratic Israel based on Jewish values.”

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