169 liberal US Jewish leaders sign letter expressing concern over Israeli government

Backers, who include ex-executives at rabbinical seminaries, Jewish Federations, AIPAC, Conference of Presidents, warn against false antisemitism accusations at coalition critics

Jacob Magid is The Times of Israel's US bureau chief

A group photo of the 37th Government of Israel, led by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, December 29, 2022 (Avi Ohayon/Government Press Office)
A group photo of the 37th Government of Israel, led by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, December 29, 2022 (Avi Ohayon/Government Press Office)

A letter signed by 169 US liberal Jewish leaders and published Wednesday expressed concern over many of the policies proposed by the new hardline Israeli government.

The statement calls for a “critical and necessary debate” about the government’s policies and cautioned against false accusations of antisemitism aimed at Israel’s critics.

“Those who employ accusations of antisemitism as a political weapon poison the debate. They weaken our ability to fight real antisemitism and effectively advocate for a strong US-Israel relationship,” it read.

The list of signatories includes the former executives of rabbinical seminaries, Jewish Federations, AIPAC and the Conference of Presidents. Among the backers were also former policymakers and US administration officials along with the leaders of synagogues, organizations and universities in over 70 cities across the country.

“We don’t take lightly the responsibility of making this statement at a time of escalating violence,” said Alan Solow, a former chair of the Conference of Presidents, who is one of the statement’s organizers. “We are committed to a secure, Jewish and democratic Israel, and we stand in solidarity with our Israeli brothers and sisters in mourning the innocent victims of terror. At the same time, we share the concerns of tens of thousands of Israelis determined to protect their democracy and the prospects of Israeli-Palestinian peace.”

Among the policies highlighted in the letter was the legal overhaul introduced last month by Justice Minister Yariv Levin, which seeks to significantly restrict the power of the High Court of Justice. The signatories also raised alarm over proposals to restrict immigration to Israel by descendants of Jews who are not themselves Jewish.

The statement also raises a clause in one of the coalition agreements to outlaw non-Orthodox prayer at the Western Wall along with “provocative actions” seeking to upend the fragile status quo at Jerusalem’s flashpoint Temple Mount, where only Muslims are allowed to pray. The criticism extended to include pledges by government members to legalize outposts and expand Israeli sovereignty in the West Bank, referring to the territory as occupied.

The statement clarifies that antisemitism should be called out when it is employed during debates regarding the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, including through tropes regarding Jewish power.

“Accusations of antisemitism, however, must not be abused or misused. Indeed, it is profoundly irresponsible to conflate charges of antisemitism with criticism of Israeli policies, especially when antisemitism is on the rise in our country and elsewhere around the world,” states the letter.

Signatories included former AIPAC executive director Tom Dine, former Hebrew Union College president David Ellenson, Union for Reform Judaism president emeritus Eric Yoffie, Jewish Theological Seminary chancellor emeritus Ismar Schorsch, current JTS rabbinical school dean Ayelet Cohen, former Reconstructionist Rabbinical College president David Teutsch, former Hebrew College in Boston dean Arthur Green, former US senator Russ Feingold, former congressman Mel Levine, former US ambassador for international freedom David Saperstein, former US ambassador to Morocco Sam Kaplan, former US ambassador to Spain Alan Solomont, former US antisemitism envoy Hannah Rosenthal, former United Jewish Appeal chair Joel Tauber and former Jewish Federations of North America chair Joe Kanfer.

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