Two Sovereign States for Israelis and Palestinians
The world is sustained by justice, truth and peace: דין אמת ושלום.
As rabbis, cantors, and Jewish community members who love and care deeply about Israel, we believe that a just and secure future for Israelis and Palestinians will best be achieved by a negotiated resolution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict that results in both peoples living peacefully side by side, each within their own sovereign states.
As a human rights organization, we deplore the egregious violations of international human rights and humanitarian law that continue to occur in the occupied Palestinian territories. We advocate for the Israeli government to stop settlement expansion immediately and to work towards ending the occupation for the benefit of Israelis and Palestinians alike. We condemn the use of violence to achieve political ends by any of the parties involved and advocate for all to work for a peaceful solution to the conflict.
T’ruah does not support or participate in the Global BDS movement. We work to create a better future for Israelis and Palestinians through our education programs in Israel for rabbinical students and by assisting congregations with program planning for their trips to Israel.
Many Paths to Truth and Justice: Our Approach to the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict
As a rabbinic human rights organization, our commitment to the Jewish value of tzelem elohim, the conviction that every human being is created in the image of God, shapes our approach to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and our work to end the occupation.
We believe that a just and secure future for Israelis and Palestinians will best be achieved by a negotiated resolution that results in both peoples living within their own sovereign states. As such, we advocate for an end to the military occupation of the West Bank and an end to the continued expansion of the settlements that extend this occupation, that infringe on the human rights of Palestinians, and that compromise the safety and security of Israelis. We also affirm Israel’s right to exist as a homeland for Jews, just as we advocate for a future Palestinian state where Palestinians can thrive and enjoy the right of self-determination.
Because of these commitments, we do not affiliate with the Global Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions (BDS) movement. While we do not reject out of hand the strategic, targeted use of boycott and divestment in justice campaigns, in this case, we are concerned that the lack of distinction within the official BDS movement between Israel proper and the occupied Palestinian territories points to a potential rejection of Israel’s right to exist, a right recognized by the United Nations and other international bodies.
We do support the right to criticize and to challenge the policies of the State of Israel or of any other country, and we are committed to working to end the occupation and to protect the human and civil rights of all of Israel’s citizens and those living under Israeli authority.
We are concerned when critiques of Israeli policy and efforts to end the occupation cross a line into antisemitic tropes, or when solidarity with the struggle of the Palestinian people leads to the demonization of the entirety of Israeli society or to the justification of violence. We believe it is possible to work for a just and lasting resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict without denying the right of the Jewish people to their own self-determination, and we reject the notion that the state of Israel is nothing but a product of European colonialism.
We are also profoundly disturbed by the current discourse within the American Jewish community on issues related to Israel and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. We are concerned about efforts to shut out a growing segment of our community based on their support for the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions movement. Despite our disagreements with this movement, we believe that the Jewish community is strengthened by vigorous debate on issues that are vital to the well-being of Israel and the worldwide Jewish community. We are also disturbed when speech and action from within the BDS movement seeks to delegitimate adversaries within the Jewish community. We reject all actions and language that effectively demonizes those on opposing sides of this debate. The drawing of red lines that shut down conversation and deny the humanity of those with whom we disagree not only violates the value of tzelem elohim; it threatens our coherence as a community. The severity of the situation requires that we form broad coalitions among those committed to taking nonviolent action to protect the human rights and dignity of both Israelis and Palestinians.
In honoring the spark of Godliness within all people, and in pursuit of effective strategies to end the occupation for the sake of both Israelis and Palestinians, we affirm the importance of engagement, especially with those with whom we are least likely to feel compassion. We support those Israelis and Palestinians who are working together to end the occupation. We support our rabbinic chaverim (members and friends) in all of our diversity of opinion. We urge all members of the North American Jewish community to engage in debate and disagreement for the sake of greater truth, justice, and peace.
North American Campaigns
Guiding Principles for Ending Slavery and Forced-Labor
The core Jewish narrative begins in slavery and ends in liberation. Every year, we sit at the Seder table and announce, “We were slaves; now we are free.” This retelling instills in us the obligation to ensure that no others experience the slavery from which we escaped. Jewish labor laws go to great lengths to ensure that no one will end up enslaved to an employer.
Unfortunately, slavery remains all too common in the world at large, and even in the United States. Human trafficking infects every industry, and appears in virtually every supply chain. Forced labor is found in agriculture, among domestic workers and restaurant workers, in hotels, private homes, and state fairs, in construction and among sex workers, and in countless other places of work. Even state-sponsored “guest worker” programs have proven to be ripe for abuse. The erosion of wage and safety protections for low wage or migrant workers leaves them dangerously at risk. Survivors often find themselves locked up in the criminal justice system, unaware of their rights, and isolated from the support they need.
T’ruah takes a survivor-led, human rights based approach to fighting human trafficking that responds to the needs and upholds the leadership of those most affected by this human rights abuse. We begin with an insistence that every individual is created b’tzelem Elohim–in the image of God. Regardless of nationality, immigration status, or other factors, every worker deserves to be treated with dignity, and to be protected from unsafe and exploitative working conditions.
Survivors of human trafficking should not be penalized for decisions that resulted in falling prey to traffickers. This includes protecting survivors of sex trafficking from being arrested or incarcerated on charges of prostitution or for other crimes they committed while being trafficked; protecting undocumented survivors of trafficking from deportation; ensuring legal support to help survivors of trafficking to secure the visas for which they qualify; and providing services for victims of trafficking that must be available to survivors regardless of race, age, immigration status, ability, sexual orientation, gender, or gender identity.
In our efforts to fight forced labor in everyday products, T’ruah focuses on supply chain solutions that eliminate and prevent modern-day slavery. Forced labor takes place within the context of a global marketplace where the demand for cheap goods leads major corporations to drive down the price paid to suppliers, who then cut costs by gutting wages and worker safety. T’ruah supports Worker-driven Social Responsibility as the only proven method for preventing slavery in supply chains. This worker-led model includes clear mechanisms for workers to exercise their rights without fear of retaliation, comprehensive and independent monitoring, binding enforcement mechanisms, workplace-specific codes of conduct developed by the workers themselves, market consequences for human rights violations, and corporate accountability for worker exploitation. T’ruah is a founding member of the Worker-driven Social Responsibility Network, which works to expand, promote, and replicate this model in supply chains around the world.
Guiding Principles for Ending Mass Incarceration
We begin Yom Kippur with the declaration after we recite Kol Nidrei: “VaYomer Adonai, Salakhti kidivarecha,” “And God said, I have forgiven you.” Faced with the choice between justice and mercy, God chooses mercy for us every year, no matter how we have strayed. The laws of teshuva demand that in our interactions with human beings, we similarly seek to forgive and to be forgiven.
The Jewish criminal justice system, as envisioned by halakha, seeks to preserve the dignity and safety both of the victim and of the alleged perpetrator. This system establishes strict rules of evidence in order to prevent the conviction of an innocent person, and seeks to re-integrate the perpetrator back into society after this person has completed the appropriate punishment.
In contrast, the U.S. system emphasizes punishment over teshuvah. Our system of mass incarceration, founded on the twin pillars of institutional racism and the criminalization of poverty, includes little attempt to reintegrate the offender into society, fails to meet the needs of victims to become whole again, and has violence at its core. The impact of this system goes far beyond the incarcerated person, decimating families and communities.
T’ruah seeks to work in coalition with groups that are led by formerly incarcerated people and their families, centering the experience of those most affected by mass incarceration. We support a criminal justice system that keeps all members of society safe, that protects the dignity and humanity of those convicted of crimes, and that prioritizes teshuvah over punishment. This includes focusing on serious crimes, rather than quality of life infractions (“broken windows” policing); finding alternatives to prison wherever possible; treating drug addiction as a public health issue rather than as a crime; removing obstacles to re-entry (including barriers to employment, education, and housing); ensuring human rights protections for those incarcerated; and eliminating the incarceration of people unable to pay high fines or bail. T’ruah’s work has particularly focused on ending long-term solitary confinement, which meets the international definition of torture.
Immigration and Refugees
The Torah teaches the obligation to love and care for the immigrant, just as God does: “The ger (immigrant) who sojourns with you shall be like a citizen unto you, and you shall love this person as yourself, for you were gerim in the land of Egypt. I am Adonai, your God” (Leviticus 19:34). The ger is a person who has come from elsewhere, who does not have roots among the Jewish people, but who lives within our community for the long-term.The ancient rabbis taught that the city of Sodom was considered the epitome of evil because the residents made laws prohibiting kindness to strangers. Welcoming immigrants and strangers remains a core Jewish value, as well as an American one.
Within the American Jewish community, many of our own families are alive today because of the relatively open immigration policies of the late 19th and early 20th centuries. And too many Jews died after being trapped in Europe after the U.S. borders closed in 1924 to Jews and members of other ethnic groups. We know that immigration policy can be a matter of life or death.
T’ruah takes an immigrant-led, human-rights-based, and Jewishly-informed approach to immigration issues. We support comprehensive immigration reform in the United States that will provide a path to citizenship for our country’s 11 million undocumented immigrants, and that will create a just, transparent, and timely system for potential immigrants to gain legal entry into the United States. We also work to ensure due process for immigrants, and oppose the use of the criminal justice system as a means of immigration enforcement.
We also call for the United States to fulfill its responsibilities under Article 14 of the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which guarantees that “everyone has the right to seek and to enjoy in other countries asylum from persecution,” as detailed in the 1951 UN Refugee Convention and the 1967 Refugee Protocol. The U.S. must hear asylum requests according to international law, and must assume its fair share of responsibility to resettle refugees.
In our work, T’ruah prioritizes building relationships with organizations led by immigrants, and encourages our constituents to do the same. Campaign decisions are influenced by the direction of the movement from those most affected by immigration and refugee policies; we strive to ensure that our actions align with and further the goals of immigrant-led organizations. Doing so strengthens the fabric of our interfaith, interracial, interclass society, and close collaboration demonstrates an understanding of immigrant communities as neighbors and friends — not as “others.”
T’ruah works as part of an interfaith network to mobilize synagogues and other communities to protect those facing deportation or other immigration challenges. Through our Mikdash (Sanctuary) Network, communities pledge to take concrete actions, which may include legal support, housing, financial help, and other assistance for immigrants at risk of deportation. We connect congregations to local sanctuary networks, so that our communities can be in relationship with immigrant communities and with other communities of faith, and can provide the most effective support for neighbors facing immigration challenges.