A Message from Gerry Skolnik

Posted on: Monday September 9, 2013

Gerry SkolnikDear Colleagues,

We are well into the maelstrom of the High Holidays, and I hope you will forgive me for intruding on your preparations.  In addition to the unique sobriety of these days born of their existential import, there is also an unwelcome overlay of anxiety regarding what is currently transpiring in Syria, how America is responding to it, and of course how all of this will impact Israel. It is to address this that I write this brief note.

Many of you participated in the rabbinic conference call with President Obama a few days before Rosh Hashanah, a call we shared with our colleagues in the other denominations of American Judaism. Following the President’s presentation, two questions were allowed. I was privileged to have the opportunity to ask the first question. I asked the President to clarify American policy regarding the violation of “red lines,” not only in Syria, but also with Iran. Iran is the only other country concerning which America has articulated a “red line,” indicating a point beyond which an American response will be indicated. In Syria it was about chemical weapons. In Iran, it is about reaching a certain threshold in the production of nuclear materials.

In essence, the thrust of my question was to share my concern (and that of many others) that a failure to respond assertively to Syria’s having crossed its red line could only embolden Iran to do the same. I am hardly the only person to be pointing this out, which is clear from both the American and Israeli press. If America is the leader of the free world and it draws a red line saying “you dare not cross this,” it had better be prepared to follow through.

As I write, the Administration is seeking to obtain the necessary votes from Congress to grant formal approval to President Obama’s decision I am encouraged that the President has recognized the need to respond to Syria in a manner that is clear and unambiguous. Given that England’s Prime Minister brought the issue of a military response to Syria to the English Parliament for approval, where it was rejected, President Obama was left little choice but to do the same unless he chose to act unilaterally. For better of for worse, it seems clear that, post-Iraq, there is little appetite for unilateral military involvement in foreign countries, even when the provocation is as severe as the use of chemical weapons against innocent civilians. The unilateral option remains on the table, but hopefully it will not be necessary.

I am hopeful that the President’s decision to consult with Congress and seek its approval for a limited military attack against Syria will result in a principled and appropriate debate, and a speedy resolution. These are anxious times for all who care not only about Israel, but about humanity as a whole. There is much that is at stake here on a global scale.

As we pray for peace on these High Holidays soon to begin, let us pray as well for our government and its leaders. May they fulfill their rightful role, the role that we have entrusted to them, and transcend politics to serve the greater good. Regardless of where you might stand on this issue, I’m sure you will join me in praying that the wisest and most appropriate decisions be made on these critical issues. And may our world be a better and safer place because of that.

Gerry Skolnik

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