United On Ending U.S. Reliance On Foreign Oil


The American Jewish community is a large, complex group, likened to a family with many and sometimes divergent interests. We strive in our own ways to build a strong foundation for our community’s future, work to build a better America, advocate for Israel, and focus on tikkun olam, repairing the world. It is easy to see our concerns as self-contained, each occupying its own space in the communal and national discourse. We have multiple perspectives regarding the world around us and pursue different solutions.

But, every now and then, an issue arises where consensus forms quickly and powerfully. Such is the case with America’s dependence on foreign oil.

The United States is the world’s single largest consumer of oil and, despite numerous pledges from elected leaders beginning in the 1970s to reduce foreign oil imports, none of the polices enacted have been successful. In fact, our sales have grown.

Our dependence on foreign oil has a number of consequences, including emissions of greenhouse gases that cause climate change, and the transfer of huge sums of money to nations that support terrorism. Only some organizations in the Jewish community are concerned about climate change, but all agree that buying oil from hostile nations must end.

If we continue to do nothing, our demand for foreign oil will undoubtedly increase and continue to push the price of a single barrel of crude higher and higher. With each additional increase, the national coffers of hostile nations, like Iran and Venezuela, swell. The U.S. has both the opportunity and obligation to slow this transfer of wealth by decreasing global demand for oil. As oil revenues dry up, tyrants like Iranian President Ahmadinejad will be unable to fund their nuclear ambitions or underwrite terrorist campaigns against Israel.

A number of American Jewish institutions recently came together to highlight this particular concern about purchasing foreign oil and called for an end of America’s dependence on it as a way to rein in Iran. We are calling this campaign the Don’t Fund Terror campaign. These groups, which represent the governing bodies of the four largest streams of Judaism as well as organizations from all corners of the ideological spectrum, understand that when many different forces come together, they can exert power and find solutions that are often greater than what they have when they’re divided. 

We need not agree on all issues in order to put our best thinking behind this one. But all the conversation in the world will amount to nothing if we don’t act now. 

Some of the organizations that joined this effort believe that lessening our use of foreign oil and developing our capacity to create and use alternative energy sources such as wind power, solar power, and other non-carbon fuel sources is an essential part of lessening our dependence. Others do not have specific policies related to reducing our carbon footprint or climate policies. However, every Jewish organization involved in our coalition recognizes that if there is going to be a decision or legislation regarding comprehensive energy and climate policy, ending America’s use and dependence on foreign oil must be an important component of that legislation. As we see energy bills being debated, we want to make sure that this issue is at the forefront of the debate.

Comprehensive legislation of any kind requires a melding of interests. If there is going to be such comprehensive legislation regarding energy policy and climate change we want to make absolutely certain that Congress and the administration recognize that energy independence is our bottom line. Congress and the President are considering such comprehensive legislation and the purpose of our initiative is to convey the Jewish community’s broad belief that America becoming energy independent is a matter of vital national interest. Most American Jews must agree that ending our nation’s dependence on foreign oil would be a net good for all: the Jewish community, Israel, the United States and, indeed, the whole world. 

With a united front, frank dialogue and bold action, we can play a decisive role in weaning the United States off of foreign oil. When unified we are strong enough to make a substantial difference. 

And on this issue, we are together. 

Rabbi Steve Gutow is the president and CEO of the Jewish Council for Public Affairs.