Movement opposes Iraq war and court nominee Alito

houston | The Reform movement in the United States has voted overwhelmingly to oppose both the war in Iraq and the nomination of Judge Samuel Alito for the U.S. Supreme Court.

The resolutions passed over the weekend put the Union for Reform Judaism, the umbrella body of Reform congregations, front and center in the political debates roiling Washington.

The stances also place the movement at odds with much of the organized Jewish community, which has avoided controversial stances on key political issues in recent years.

A White House official called the movement’s Iraq resolution “deeply disappointing and short-sighted.” The official, speaking on the condition of anonymity, suggested the Bush administration went into Iraq to fight political and religious persecution. He compared Iraq to the genocide in Darfur, where the Reform movement has sought White House intervention.

“You can’t say you want us to get out of this conflict, if you want the president to get involved in Darfur, which are the same issues,” the official said.

But participants at the movement’s biennial convention here last week said the positions are in tune with what many American Jews are saying at home, or at least where they likely will be heading.

“I honestly think we’re ahead of the curve,” said Rabbi Jack Paskoff, 44, of Congregation Shaarai Shomayim in Lancaster, Pa. But, he added, he didn’t think the movement was as outspoken as it should be.

Throughout the halls of the vast George R. Brown Convention Center, participants seemed determined to mitigate the stronghold they say Christian conservatives have on American politics. On both resolutions, participants said, they were angry and fearful of the impact decisions made today would have on future generations.

The disdain for those in power in Washington was palpable throughout the convention, which brought together some 4,000 Jews from congregations across the United States.

Ironically, the votes against the Bush administration policies occurred in the George Bush Ballroom of the convention center, named for the current president’s father, who once represented Texas in Congress.

The disdain extended to the union’s president, Rabbi Eric Yoffie, who used his address to chastise the religious right.

He called the religious right’s opposition to gay rights reminiscent of the Nazis.

“We cannot forget that when Hitler came to power in 1933, one of the first things that he did was ban gay organizations,” Yoffie said.

The Iraq war resolution called for some troops to be withdrawn beginning next month, and sought more transparency on the war and a clear exit strategy for the conflict. The resolution also calls for an examination of prewar intelligence.

The debate on Alito was more extensive, but focused largely on the merits of speaking out against the nomination before his confirmation hearings conclude in January.

“No man should be presumed guilty before getting a proper hearing,” said Rob Weisgrav of Cardiff By The Sea, Calif. “Before this process has gone through, I don’t think we can take a stand.”

Despite a spirited presentation from Jeff Wasserstein, a self-proclaimed liberal Jew who clerked for Alito and said the judge had a strong respect for precedents, few seemed convinced the judge would further the movement’s core values.

“For us to sit this out, knowing 10 years from now we will have wished he wasn’t there, is wrong,” said Jane Wishner of Albuquerque, who chairs the union’s Commission on Social Action.

Many at the biennial said they were looking for the Reform movement to speak out more on controversial issues, to mirror the intense feelings of local Jewish communities.

“I get the sense back home that there is a real level of frustration about the war in Iraq,” said Rabbi Harley Karz-Wagman of Temple Beth Or in Everett, Wash. “The dislike and the betrayal is a lot stronger than what our resolution says.”

That is not the case everywhere, however. Some participants from smaller and more conservative Jewish communities said the Reform movement’s positions went beyond where their peers are.

“By and large, our Jewish community would support social action goals, but not to the extent that they do,” said Marzy Bauer, a hospital administrator from South Bend, Ind. “I think most of the community looks at the national organizations for leadership. They need to take a position so people can see how it fits with their community.”