Rabbis urge Congress to continue Mideast peace process

WASHINGTON — A contingent of rabbis from across the spiritual spectrum came to Capitol Hill last week urging continued U.S. involvement in the Middle East peace process — and Palestinian aid.

Four rabbis, one from each of the Jewish movements, presented Congress a letter urging lawmakers to maintain American support for the process and to renew the Middle East Peace Facilitation Act, which allows U.S. aid to continue flowing to the Palestinian Authority.

Congress is scheduled to consider the controversial legislation again next month. It was extended temporarily on the eve of its expiration last month.

The four rabbis represented 600 rabbis, from the Orthodox, Conservative, Reform and Reconstructionist movements from across the country — 27 of them from the Bay Area — who signed on to the letter.

In the missive, the rabbis cited their "strong" support for "active U.S. involvement of the United States in the Middle East peace process."

"We come to encourage ourselves and to encourage [Congress] to ardently seek peace and to pursue it," Rabbi Jonathan Rosenblatt, the Orthodox spiritual leader of the Riverdale Jewish Center in Riverdale, N.Y., said at a Capitol Hill news conference.

Joining him was Rabbi Shalom Lewis of the Conservative Congregation Etz Chaim in Marietta, Ga.; Rabbi Sidney Schwartz of Congregation Adat Shalom Reconstructionist Congregation in Rockville, Md.; and Rabbi Ammiel Hirsch, executive director of the N.Y.-based Association of Reform Zionists of America.

Bay Area rabbis echoed Rosenblatt, saying the rabbinical show of solidarity reflects wide American Jewish support for the peace process.

"Hopefully this will convince those involved in decision making that the greatest majority of Jews are behind the peace process," said Rabbi Melanie Aron of Reform Congregation Shir Hadash in Los Gatos.

"For so many years we were told to `shh and just support' [the democratically elected Israeli government]," she said. "Now those same groups are actively involved in undermining the Israeli government [in the peace process.] They're the minority, though."

Rabbi Richard Block of Reform Congregation Beth Am in Los Altos agreed.

While "there's a fair amount of lobbying by Israeli opponents of the peace process and by Americans who support the Israeli right," Block said, "a substantial percentage of Jewish Americans support the peace process and understand the need for the United States to make investments. Part of that [understanding] is supporting stable institutions among the Palestinians."

The July 13 lobbying trip as well as the letter were noted at a Senate hearing later in the day.

At a Senate Foreign Relations Near East and South Asian Subcommittee hearing on economic development in Gaza and Jericho, Sens. Hank Brown (R-Colo.), the subcommittee chairman, and Dianne Feinstein (D-San Francisco) acknowledged the rabbis' presence.

Feinstein thanked the contingent for its efforts and Brown entered the letter into the hearing's official record.

"I think if peace is going to be successful and economic prosperity be obtained, efforts like this are necessary, and I, for one, appreciate them very much," said Feinstein, who is Jewish.