Jewish Groups Pull Out Of Call With Trump: ‘So Lacking In Moral Leadership’

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Four prominent Jewish groups announced Wednesday that they would not take part in what has become a yearly call between the President and hundreds of rabbis across the country ahead of the Jewish High Holidays of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur in September.

The groups specifically cited President Donald Trump’s statements following a white nationalist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia on Aug. 12, saying in a statement that his remarks were “so lacking in moral leadership and empathy for the victims of racial and religious hatred that we cannot organize such a call this year.”

The statement’s four signatories — the Central Conference of American Rabbis, the Rabbinical Assembly, the Reconstructionist Rabbinical Association and the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism — collectively represent three major movements within American Jewish life: Reform, Conservative and Reconstructionist. All except the latter group played central roles in organizing the call during the Obama administration.

“The President’s words have given succor to those who advocate anti-Semitism, racism, and xenophobia,” their statement continued. “Responsibility for the violence that occurred in Charlottesville, including the death of Heather Heyer, does not lie with many sides but with one side: the Nazis, alt-right and white supremacists who brought their hate to a peaceful community. They must be roundly condemned at all levels.”

After a white nationalist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia on Aug. 12, Trump blamed “many sides” for the weekend’s violence and later said there were “many fine people” on both sides of the rally. One counter-protester, Heather Heyer, was killed when a man who had earlier been photographed with a white nationalist group allegedly rammed his car into a crowd.

An Orthodox Jewish group that has also helped organize the call in the past, the Rabbinical Council of America, did not sign on to the statement, and did not immediately respond to TPM’s request for comment.

The RCA’s executive vice president, Rabbi Mark Dratch, told the Jewish Telegraphic Agency Wednesday: “We respect the office of the presidency and believe it is more effective to address questions and concerns directly with the White House.”

Read the groups’ full statement below:

The High Holy Days are an opportunity for reflection and introspection. As the leaders of major denominations in American Jewish life, we have been deeply engaged in both, considering the events of the Jewish year that is ending and preparing spiritually for the year to come.

In so doing, we have thoughtfully and prayerfully considered whether to continue the practice in recent years of playing key roles in organizing a conference call for the President of the United States to bring High Holiday greetings to American rabbis. We have concluded that President Trump’s statements during and after the tragic events in Charlottesville are so lacking in moral leadership and empathy for the victims of racial and religious hatred that we cannot organize such a call this year.

The President’s words have given succor to those who advocate anti-Semitism, racism, and xenophobia. Responsibility for the violence that occurred in Charlottesville, including the death of Heather Heyer, does not lie with many sides but with one side: the Nazi, alt-right and white supremacists who brought their hate to a peaceful community. They must be roundly condemned at all levels.

The High Holy Days are a season of t’shuva for us all, an opportunity for each of us to examine our own words and deeds through the lens of America’s ongoing struggle with racism. Our tradition teaches us that humanity is fallible yet also capable of change. We pray that President Trump will recognize and remedy the grave error he has made in abetting the voices of hatred. We pray that those who traffic in anti-Semitism, racism, and xenophobia will see that there is no place for such pernicious philosophies in a civilized society. And we pray that 5778 will be a year of peace for all.

Central Conference of American Rabbis
The Rabbinical Assembly
Reconstructionist Rabbinical Association
Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Matt Shuham is a news writer for TPM. He was previously assistant editor of The National Memo and managing editor of the Harvard Political Review. He is available by email at mshuham@talkingpointsmemo.com and on Twitter @mattshuham.
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