T’ruah: A Letter to President Biden

Dear Friends,

I wanted to share with you this letter from T’ruah: Rabbis for Human Rights to President Biden about the current situation in Israel.

I am honored to currently serve as chairman of the T’ruah Board of Directors. For more information on T’ruah, please see truah.org. I look forward to sharing more with you upon my return from sabbatical in April.

Shalom,

Rabbi Daniel G. Zemel


March 2024

President Joe Biden
The White House
1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, N.W.
Washington, DC 20500

“God is close to the brokenhearted; those crushed in spirit God delivers.” (Psalms 34:19)

Dear President Biden,

We are American rabbis, cantors, and student clergy writing to you in anguish after nearly five months of war that have brought unfathomable suffering to Israelis and Palestinians. 

We thank you for your diligent work to negotiate a bilateral ceasefire, and — as the number of casualties rise — we urge you to use the full force of America’s leverage and global leadership to end the war. A ceasefire is the only reliable, proven means for securing the release of the remaining hostages and ensuring the provision of desperately needed humanitarian relief to Gaza. Lives hang in the balance. 

There is no military solution to this conflict. An end to the fighting — though urgently needed — is not enough on its own to ensure the safety of Palestinians and Israelis for the long term. That is why we support your administration in taking clear steps toward establishing a Palestinian state. As this horrifying war continues, it is clearer than ever that the safety of the Jewish people and the Palestinian people are bound up in each other. We long to see a truly democratic Jewish state — one that protects the human rights of every citizen — alongside an independent Palestine. 

As rabbis and cantors, we have wept and held our communities through the trauma of October 7, when Hamas militants murdered more than 1,200, kidnapped more than 240, and raped and sexually assaulted untold numbers. We have been alarmed by increased antisemitism, including violence and violent threats against Jews and Jewish institutions. 

At the same time, we have watched with fear as Prime Minister Netanyahu and his far-right government have taken Israel further and further down the path of religious extremism and never-ending war. 

Our hearts are broken by the deaths of over 30,000 Palestinians in Gaza — the majority of whom are women and children who bear no responsibility for Hamas’s crimes. The IDF’s extensive bombing campaign has destroyed over 60% of Gaza’s buildings, hundreds of thousands of residents of Gaza are at risk of starvation, and disease runs rampant. Without an immediate influx of food, water, medicine, and fuel, and the restored operation of hospital and sanitation facilities, we fear the population could be decimated. 

There is no question that Hamas has repeatedly and deliberately endangered the lives of their own people — including through using civilian structures to house weapons and fighters — but that does not permit Israel, legally or morally, to lay the full responsibility for the unimaginable suffering of a massive population of trapped civilians at the feet of Hamas. We are grateful that you have insisted Israel provide assurance that it is using U.S.-provided weapons in accordance with international law and is not obstructing humanitarian aid, just as other recipients of security aid are required to do. 

We ask you to continue your efforts to ensure that Israel does not invade Rafah, as Prime Minister Netanyahu has threatened to do. An invasion of one of the last refuges in Gaza, where approximately 1.4 million Palestinians have gathered after fleeing fighting in other parts of the Strip, will bring unbearable casualties. Entering Rafah is also unlikely to result in the safe rescue of the remaining hostages; as you know from your diplomatic efforts in achieving the November ceasefire, negotiations have been exponentially more effective than military operations in releasing hostages.

While the world has been watching Gaza, settlers in the West Bank — enabled by Israel’s far-right government — have ramped up attacks on Palestinians, killing dozens of innocent people since October 7 and driving Palestinian residents out of more than a dozen villages in the West Bank. We applaud the U.S. for imposing sanctions and a visa ban on violent settlers, and encourage you to expand this list to include the leaders and organizations who incite violence, which includes extremist members of Knesset. 

With continued fighting along the Lebanon border, threats from Iran, settler violence and terror attacks by Palestinians in the West Bank, efforts by extremists in the Israeli government to change the status quo on Al Aqsa, home demolitions in East Jerusalem, and the approach of Ramadan, we fear a wider war that could destabilize the entire region.  

We look to you for the swift, courageous leadership required to pressure all parties to reach a ceasefire, before more innocent lives are lost.

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