The Jewish wall of silence on the Iraq war cracked a little more this week when a major Jewish women’s group shifted gears and endorsed a strong anti-war statement.
The board of the National Council of Jewish Women (NCJW), in a resolution approved with little dissent, said that “continuing or expanding our country’s military presence in Iraq does not promote peace nor does it provide freedom from terrorism.”
The economic and social impact of the war, the group asserted, will “continue to be felt by succeeding generations of American taxpayers and will saddle the federal budget with burdensome interest payments for years to come.”
Phyllis Snyder, the group’s president, said the resolution was passed in response to a “surge” of concern about the war from
NCJW activists around the country.
“There was a real desire by our members for the board of directors to deal with this issue,” she said in an interview.
What tipped the balance in the organization, which had not previously spoken out on the war, was the perception that it has undermined a wide range of the group’s traditional domestic priorities.
“The focus of NCJW has always been the social issues,” Snyder said. “But the war is increasingly a roadblock to that agenda. It has diverted attention from critical issues like SCHIP (the States Children’s Health Insurance Program and recovery programs for New Orleans. We want the nation’s attention to focus on critical human needs at home; the war is diverting attention from that.”
It’s also diverting vast sums of money, she said, making it even harder to maintain critical domestic services.
“In the past, there was a reluctance by NCJW to make statements about the war because it’s not part of our core mission,” said Sammie Moshenberg, the group’s Washington director.
But more and more, she said, NCJW members are concluding that the war is compromising that domestic mission.
NCJW joins the Union for Reform Judaism as the only major Jewish groups to speak out in opposition to the war.
URJ passed a resolution calling for a quick start to troop withdrawals and a clear exit strategy at its last biennial convention in 2005. Its executive committee toughened that statement early this year, opposing President Bush’s troop “surge” and calling for a specific timetable for the phased withdrawal of troops.
But when the group meets again in two weeks in San Diego, there will be no new Iraq resolutions brought before the convention.
“There is real frustration within the movement,” said Rabbi David Saperstein, director of the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism. “People feel deeply frustrated — with Congress for not being able to do anything, with the political candidates, with religious leaders.”
But the lack of new Reform resolutions on the war does not reflect a turn away from antiwar activism, he said.
“We remain very involved legislatively,” Saperstein said, citing RAC lobbing on behalf of legislation attaching timetables for withdrawal to Iraq war spending bills.
Saperstein applauded the statement by NCJW and said he hopes it will encourage other Jewish groups to speak out on the war.
But there are no signs other major Jewish groups plan to speak out on the war. A group of prominent Jewish Republicans is actively urging support for President Bush’s Iraq policies.
At this week’s board meeting NCJW directors also passed a resolution calling an end to “alarming violations of civil liberties, often justified by security concerns,” by U.S. officials.
The group cited a “long” list of civil liberties violations, including “the Administration’s successful bypass of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) in order to conduct secret domestic wiretapping without warrants” and the “use of torture and the degrading treatment of prisoners.”
NCJW also called for a restoration of habeas corpus rights for detainees in the war on terrorism.