Will members of the Reform movement hold up protest signs or walk out when Donald Trump addresses the AIPAC conference in a week?
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An unusual and rather cryptic joint statement released by leaders of the Union for Reform Judaism and their rabbinical organization, the Central Conference of American Rabbis, does not make that clear, but hints at some form of action, saying that “the Reform Movement and our leaders will engage with Mr. Trump at the AIPAC Policy Conference in a way that affirms our nation's democracy and our most cherished Jewish values. We will find an appropriate and powerful way to make our voices heard.”
The press release was issued as a “response” to the announcement made over the weekend that leading GOP presidential hopeful Trump had accepted his invitation to the Policy Conference scheduled from March 20-22. Democratic front runner Hillary Clinton has also confirmed that she will address the gathering.
The statement said that while the Reform movement has always worked closely with AIPAC and “understands” and “respects” its decision to invite all of the viable presidential hopefuls to its major gathering including Trump, they “cannot ignore” the troubling turn of Trump’s presidential bid has taken. It was signed by URJ President Rabbi Rick Jacobs and board chair Daryl Messinger, as well as the CCAR President Denise L. Eger and CEO Rabbi Steven A. Fox.
Trump’s campaign, the statement said, “has been replete with naked appeals to bigotry, especially against Hispanics and Muslims. Previous comments he has made – and not disavowed – have been offensive to women, people of color, and other groups. In recent days, increasingly, he appears to have gone out of his way to encourage violence at his campaign events. At every turn, Mr. Trump has chosen to take the low road, sowing seeds of hatred and division in our body politic. Mr. Trump's extreme anti-immigrant rhetoric reminds us that our own ancestors' access to American shores of freedom and promise were once blocked, with deadly consequences.”
It further noted that AIPAC has “a singular focus: the U.S./Israel relationship. AIPAC's intent – and its responsibility – is to better understand the candidates' views on issues that impact the U.S./Israel relationship.” Since “Mr. Trump is the unarguable front runner for the Republican nomination, and he has not yet spoken clearly about his views on U.S./Israel issues,” the reasoning behind the invitation was clear – to give Trump an opportunity to do so.
“At the same time,” it added, “we cannot ignore the many issues on which Mr. Trump has spoken clearly. When he speaks hatefully of Mexicans or Muslims, for example, we recall a time when anti-Semitism put Jews at deathly danger, even in the United States.”
The core values of Reform Jews, “justice, mercy, compassion, peace,” the movement leaders noted, “are altogether absent from Mr. Trump's statements” and because Jews identify with minorities such as those Trump has “demonized” – Muslims, Hispanics, and African-Americans, the movement must speak up against “hate speech.”
Although the Reform movement typically does not endorse or reject candidates, they said, “Mr. Trump is not simply another candidate. In his words and actions, he makes clear that he is engaging in a new form of political discourse, and so the response to his candidacy demands a new approach, as well.”
What that approach will be, however, the statement did not say.