Modern Orthodox rabbis’ letter to Trump focuses on Israel


(JTA) – The Rabbinical Council of America called on the incoming president to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and not to impose a solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict through the United Nations.

In a message appearing Wednesday as a full-page advertisement in The New York Times, the centrist Orthodox rabbinical organization congratulated President-elect Donald Trump on his victory in last week’s presidential election and reminded him of a pledge he made to recognize Jerusalem as “the one true capital of Israel.” It also thanked President Barack Obama for defending Israel in the U.N. Security Council.

“As Mr. Trump is about to assume the presidency of the United States of America, we ask him to act on these articulated principles by recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and by standing firmly against the hateful and discriminatory rhetoric that is the underpinning of such anti-Israel resolutions at the United Nations,” the letter said.

The letter urges Trump to help “heal a divided country” and expresses hope for a “prosperous and terror-free future,” but otherwise is confined to Middle East issues.

Since Election Day, Jewish groups have taken various approaches in their statements on and to the novice politician whose campaign against Democrat Hillary Clinton was marked by divisive rhetoric, especially as directed against Mexican immigrants and Muslims.

A handful of Jewish organizations, including the Anti-Defamation League, have condemned Trump’s appointment as top strategist Stephen Bannon, saying that as former chief of Breitbart News he provided a platform for the white nationalism and anti-Semitism of the so-called alt-right. Two conservative groups, the Republican Jewish Coalition and the Zionist Organization of America, have endorsed Bannon based in part on his and Breitbart’s pro-Israel stance.

The Jewish Federations of North America issued a statement saying it “very much look[s] forward to working closely with you and your administration on uniting our country and on the important challenges ahead of us all,” angering some followers who said the statement should have been more forthright in asking Trump to disavow the anti-Semitism and racism heard among some of Trump’s followers during the campaign.

Rabbi Mark Dratch, executive vice president of the RCA, noted in an interview with JTA that the RCA’s announcement of the advertisement included a statement by Rabbi Dr. Kenneth Brander, one of the statement’s organizers. Brander is quoted as saying it is time to “work together with our President-elect. As religious leaders, we wish to make a statement protecting the rights of all and restoring unity and civil discourse in the United States.”

Dratch added that his organization is “extremely concerned” about rising anti-Semitism.

“There are a lot of, a lot of issues, and this was not meant to be a cholent,” Dratch told JTA regarding the letter, referring to the traditional Shabbat stew. Bannon’s appointment, said Dratch, “is also very political, and as a rabbinical organization our inclination was to get involved in issues that were important diplomatically for the Jewish community but that were not political.”

Dratch said the alt-right’s role in rising anti-Semitism and bigotry does worry the RCA.

“We are extremely concerned about the impact that’s had on the rise of anti-Semitism,” he said. “We’re concerned about the rise of anti-black feeling, anti-Muslim feeling, problems that women are facing. There are lots of concerns.”

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