'Obama's rabbi': Support for Israel doesn't mean blanket approval
'If I see my brother or sister doing something I believe is truly harmful to them - I'm going to say something.'
After Rabbi David Saperstein was appointed by U.S. President Barack Obama to a White House volunteer advisory council of religious and secular leaders and scholars, some called him "Obama's rabbi."
Saperstein, however, is more cautious with definitions. Named America's top rabbi by Newsweek, Rabbi David Saperstein is quick to supply a disclaimer: "They have my mother on the committee."
Saperstein has served for more than 30 years as a leader of the Union for Reform Judaism's Religious Action Center and is the leader of the Washington D.C.-based lobbying arm of the North American Reform movement.
This week, he sat down to speak with Haaretz on Israel, the peace process, Iran, gay marriage and spirituality.
While he stressed the importance of the connection between U.S. Jews and Israel, the rabbi said he didn't feel support for the country necessarily meant blanket approval of its actions.
"If I see my brother or sister doing something that I believe is truly harmful to them - I'm going to say something even if they are adults that make their own decisions," he said.
"You don't really show your love to someone by remaining silent when they're doing something counterproductive or might harm someone else - if you will say that in order to be supporter of Israel you must agree with all its policies - you're going to alienate millions of people who think of themselves as active Israel supporters."
Saperstein added that he feels "it's far more effective when people who disagree with settlement policies, disagree with government positions on the right of the reform and conservative Jews, join together to support AIPAC for Israel."
In response to a question on American's Jewry's view of the new Israeli government, Saperstein said, "there is a government policy of Israel and there is Israel. They overlap, but they are not the same.
"The Jewish community's love and support for Israel is unbending, as well as their commitment to Israel's security is not affected by any particular government policies."
Saperstein was quick to highlight the role of the reform community in speaking out against Israeli government policy they feel doesn't square with the values of the Jewish community.
"The reform movement has not hesitated to speak out where those policies represented values or policy prescriptions that we think are harmful to Jewish values or the security and well-being of Israel."
He didn't sound fearful when asked if he expected Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's government to clash with the Obama administration.
"If there is an opportunity and one party backs [away] from it - then there will be a tension," he said. "But I think everyone is committed, even if there are tensions, to keep this special relationship with Israel."
The Reform Movement leader also expressed the movement's concerns about Iran's nuclear program.
"We see Iran not only as a threat to Israel directly," he said, "but as an indirect threat to the U.S. and the Western world in terms of what it symbolizes in the context of proliferation of the nuclear weapons worldwide - the chances of nuclear weapons developed by Iran falling into hands of terrorists ? it's a serious threat."
Saperstein also expressed the movement's emphasis on social justice, citing it as the main reason the movement is growing, saying "the polls show that more Jews organize their religious commitment through Tikkun Olam [repairing the world] and their engagement through social justice activities than any other form of expression of Jewish life."
The movement's emphasis on social justice affects its role in some of the more divisive social issues of the day, including gay marriage, which the movement supports, according to Saperstein.
"It looks like a generation from now we'll look with a kind of puzzlement about the intensity of these debates in America, like towards the discriminatory policies towards women and minorities," the rabbi said.
"The direction seems quite clear not just in Jewish leadership with more and more rabbis officiating it, but the Jewish community supporting overwhelmingly the full equality for gays and lesbians."
Saperstein added a warning about global warming, which he said "threatens to destabilize the whole world, and there is no Noah's Arc to protect the Jewish community if global warming erodes the earth's environmental infrastructure - it's up to us to do something about it now."