Rebuking Netanyahu, Reform Jewry reaffirms support for two-state solution

In a statement signed by many of its international institutions, the denomination calls the war against Hamas ‘just,’ rejects Israeli ministers’ calls to resettle Gaza

The Reform movement, the largest American Jewish denomination, reaffirmed its commitment to the two-state solution on Tuesday, releasing a statement from the denomination’s main bodies voicing support for Israel’s “just” war against Hamas but unequivocal opposition to calls from parts of the Israeli government to resettle the Gaza Strip.

The statement comes as the Israeli government and the Biden administration plan for — and often disagree on — what the day after will look like for the coastal enclave and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict more generally. 

The Reform movement leaders said they were “deeply dismayed” by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s recent comments rejecting the notion of a sovereign Palestinian state and expressed support for the eventual implementation of a two-state solution to the conflict, which the White House has been increasingly calling for.

“The peaceful future we dream of includes an end to the West Bank occupation,” the Reform institutions wrote.

“As our respective organizations have affirmed in resolutions, formal statements, and policy analyses going back decades, ongoing West Bank occupation without a willingness to seek its end through a peaceful resolution of the conflict will condemn future generations to endless strife. Reestablishing settlements in Gaza will have a similarly detrimental impact,” they said.

Rabbi Rick Jacobs, URJ president, told eJewishPhilanthropy that the timing of the policy release comes during “an inflection moment.”

“Not just in the [Israel-Hamas] war, but this crisis for the Jewish people and Israel,” he continued. 

“This was a moment we wanted to pull together the core commitments that we as the Reform movement have and have had for decades and to put them together into one clear statement and to say particularly to the North American community we actually have stakes in the ground,” he said. “We wanted to aggregate together some of the long-standing commitments that we as the Reform movement have. We wanted to reiterate that we believe the U.S.-Israel relationship is critical and has been for 75 years. We wanted to reiterate that there needs to be a long-term future… for a Palestinian state.” 

While the Reform movement as an organization is officially and explicitly a Zionist movement, many of its members do not necessarily identify with Israel and the Zionist cause to the same extent. Since Oct. 7, the sense of solidarity with Israel among American Reform Jews has wavered, from 72% saying they felt close to Israel immediately following the terrorist attacks down to 59% by the third week of the war, according to a joint survey by the Jewish People Policy Institute and the World Zionist Organization. 

The statement reiterated the Reform movement’s support for Israel’s stated goals for the war: dismantling Hamas and retrieving the Israelis being held hostage in Gaza.

“Israel’s leaders have no greater responsibility than protecting the Israeli people. Hamas’s October 7th attacks were utterly heinous. Israel’s goal of eradicating Hamas’s military capabilities is just given Hamas’s ongoing commitment to Israel’s destruction,” the statement reads. “In keeping with the mitzvah of Pidyon Shvu’im (Redemption of Captives), Israel’s government must do all it can to ensure the hostages’ swift and safe deliverance from Hamas’s nefarious hands. We also encourage and applaud the Biden administration’s efforts in this regard.”

The statement also outlines 13 “non-military steps Israel can and must take” for its future security, including: accepting the need for a “peaceful Palestinian state”; preventing the collapse of the Palestinian Authority; stopping incitement by Israeli government ministers against Palestinians; rejecting forced relocation of Gazans; limiting Palestinian civilian casualties in Gaza as much as possible; and working toward normalized relations with Saudi Arabia.

“We understand we are still in a war and Israel’s first responsibility is to protect its citizens,” Jacobs said. “We also feel very strongly that humanitarian aid is essential to international law and [oppose] the incitement we are seeing of Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza.”

The statement applauds the Biden administration, specifically for its efforts on behalf of the hostages in Gaza.

“President Biden has been extraordinary,” Jacobs continued. “What a leader he has been for the State of Israel. The things he has been articulating are things we deeply believe… President Biden needs to be feeling the support from the Jewish community.” 

At the same time, Jacobs said the movement’s stances on these Israel-related issues have remained consistent “through Republican and Democratic administrations.” 

The statement was initially signed by the professional and lay leaders of the Union for Reform Judaism, the Central Conference of American Rabbis and the American Conference of Cantors. They were later joined by: the World Union for Progressive Judaism, the Reform Jewish Community of Canada, the Reform Rabbis of Canada,the Association of Reform Zionists of America, ARZA Canada, Men of Reform Judaism? Women of Reform Judaism and the Reform Jewish Youth Movement NFTY. (More Reform groups may still sign.)