Rabbi Steven Wernick Reflects on Meeting with President Obama
Rabbi Steven C. Wernick, who has just become executive vice president and CEO of the United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism, was among the 16 national Jewish leaders invited to the White House on July 13 for a candid conversation with President Barack Obama about the issues most important to the President and the American Jewish community.
Subjects included the economy, the environment, healthcare, and poverty, but the focus was on foreign policy, particularly in the Middle East. President Obama stressed that his commitment to Israel is deep and true; his posture with Israel is no tougher than with the Palestinians and both will benefit equally from peace in the region. "President Obama asked us to understand that although we might eventually have some disagreements about tactics and strategy – and of course tactics and strategy are very important – he wanted to reassure us that his administration has not and is not and will not jeopardize Israel's security," Rabbi Wernick said. "Whatever approaches they take to these issues are done with the very best of good faith for what they believe is in the best interest of Israel, of the region, and of the United States.
"I was honored to have been included in the meeting," Rabbi Wernick said. "I think the fact that the president of the United States invites these conversations, and really listens to us, is extraordinary, and a testament to our democracy. I believe that President Obama enjoys broad support in the Jewish community, both politically and personally. And I am heartened to know that President Obama sees the Conservative movement as one of the anchors of the Jewish community."
At the meeting, Rabbi Wernick gave one of President Obama's aides a document describing United Synagogue's positions on foreign and domestic issues. As the document, which you can find below, shows, the White House and United Synagogue are in close agreement on a number of issues.
Rabbi Wernick was quoted in an article in the L. A. Times http://www.latimes.com/news/nationworld/world/la-fg-obama-jews14-2009jul14,0,1886892.story ; one sent by Reuters http://www.reuters.com/article/politicsNews/idUSTRE56D0BD20090714, one sent by AP http://www.google.com/hostednews/ap/article/ALeqM5jrdSaQ2vd-WGTD_86aHvyHVysjpAD99DS0N00 , and one by the Washington Post/Newsweek http://newsweek.washingtonpost.com/onfaith/godingovernment/2009/07/obama_meets_with_jewish_leaders.html#more
THE UNITED SYNAGOGUE OF CONSERVATIVE JUDAISM
PUBLIC POLICY AND SOCIAL ACTION COMMITTEE
White House Meeting- July 13, 2009
ISRAEL AND FOREIGN POLICY
Israel's security – We respect the President's desire for progress on the peace process between Israel and the Palestinians and appreciate his support for Israel's security needs. To date, Israel has withdrawn from territories in Lebanon and in Gaza with very mixed results, including ongoing conflict in both of these regions. We need the President's leadership to explain to the American people and the world community that Israel can not take risks for peace that will endanger her survival as a Jewish homeland. A safe Israel remains at the center of concern for our congregations.
The threat of a nuclear Iran – We support the President's program of preserving open communication with all nations, friend and foe, as the best way to make progress towards security and peace world-wide. We are alarmed, however, by recent developments in Iran which indicate that the radical anti-Semitic, anti-Israel and anti-American positions taken by Iran's President do represent the thinking of the top level of Iran's leadership. A nuclear Iran represents a fundamental threat to the existence of the State of Israel and will spur regional nuclear proliferation threatening all the nations in the region and many in the west. Every effort must be made to prevent Iran from gaining nuclear weapons capabilities.
Gilad Shalit – The kidnapping of Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit represents an escalation in the campaign of terror directed against Israel and its families by adding hostage-taking as a weapon in the arsenal of the enemies of peace. June 25th marked 3 years that Gilad has been held captive. Shalit has been denied the right to a Red Cross (ICRC) visitation, which is a violation of international law. The return of prisoners has always been a major value informing Jewish communal life, whether the numbers were large as in the movement to free Soviet Jewry, or small, as in the case of an individual soldier. We ask the American diplomats to keep the return of Gilad Shalit and the renunciation of kidnapping on the agenda of conversations with the parties involved in Gaza and Egypt.
Darfur – The situation in Darfur, Sudan has touched a raw nerve in our congregations where so many remember the world's silence during the Shoah. We welcome steps the American government might take to enhance the safety of the people of Darfur and strengthen the African Union and UN forces in the area.
Hekhsher Tzedek – A recent initiative of our Conservative movement called Hekhsher Tzedek (ethical food certification) is designed to ensure that kosher food is produced in ways that ensure the rights of workers and the humane treatment of animals. We have developed metrics to facilitate the granting of a seal of ethical certification for food products that meet the standards of Jewish ritual traditions and ethical traditions. Our hope is that this certification will become an important part of the recent move throughout American society towards a deeper awareness of how and what we consume and how sustainability can be integrated into more aspects of our society. Recent government decisions to bring cigarettes under the jurisdiction of the FDA and your family's decision to model healthy eating and support local agriculture are to be applauded in this regard.
Environmental Protection, Climate Policy and Energy Security- Energy independence and the nurturance of alternative fuel sources has implications for the long term health of our planet and our ongoing desire for a foreign policy that should not be unduly influenced by our need for foreign oil. We support programs that will facilitate new forms of energy development in the United States. We note that Israel continues to do cutting edge work in this field and we hope more joint projects can be developed. Conservation also plays a major role and our institutions will continue to model and encourage "green" building and home based conservation and recycling projects.
Affordable Health Care – We support plans to find a solution during the current term of Congress to our nation's need for quality, affordable health care for all. We recognize that this will involve a number of compromises and we want to know how we can be helpful in developing and selling the emerging program to our communities.
Immigration Reform – Our nation is a nation of immigrants and the Jewish community is particularly aware of the marginal position of immigrants and foreign workers. Scripture reminds us over again that we were strangers and that we should understand the plight of the stranger. We support moves towards comprehensive immigration reform and we are prepared to speak out on the subject when it next returns to the national agenda.