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Letter to President Obama re Cairo Speech

Stephen L. Naman
June 24, 2009

The Honorable Barack Obama  
President of the United States  
The White House  
Washington, DC 20500  
Dear Mr. President,  
As President of The American Council for Judaism, I listened with deep appreciation to your eloquent speech at Cairo University calling for a new beginning between the United States and Muslims around the world. We share your goals of improving relations between people of all faiths and promoting peace, women’s rights, justice, and democracy in the Middle East. Your decision to confront difficult issues in a firm, positive, and equitable manner is courageous, and in our judgment resonated with your audience. The United States is in a unique position to influence events and help break the cycle of violence and it is advantageous that you have constructively engaged Muslims at such an early phase of your administration.  
Of particular interest to us as Americans of the Jewish faith is your approach to the Palestinian -- Israeli peace process. Decades of wars, military occupation and conflict have diminished the quality of life, limited economic opportunity and brought needless suffering and death to far too many in a land which is holy to the three great monotheistic religions, Judaism, Christianity and Islam. We fully support your position regarding the need for a two state solution, opposition to the settlements in the occupied territories, and even-handed treatment of Muslims, Christians and Jews alike. We also recognize the necessity to press all sides to take the difficult steps necessary to achieve peace.  
More than a few religious and political leaders in the Middle East are trying to impose harsh and intolerant theocracy or autocratic rule on everyone. Even in Israel, some extremist Jewish voices have called for their country to turn away from democracy in order to maintain control and impose their religious beliefs and way of life on others by force. They are fundamentally wrong. That is contrary to everything we stand for. The American Council for Judaism rejects abridging the civil rights of any portion of the population anywhere in the world on account of religion, sex, race or natural origin. Freedom and democracy are not the cause of the world’s ills, they are the cure.  
Along with Rabbi Eric Yoffie, President of the Union for Reform Judaism (America’s largest Jewish denomination), we oppose Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s demand that Palestinian recognition of Israel as a “Jewish State” should be a precondition for talks aimed at a peace settlement. We believe, as did Jefferson, Franklin and Madison, that the proper role of democratic government is to stand separate and apart from religion, protecting its free exercise, but not interfering with it, so that both can flourish as they do in America.  
The threat that Iran’s nuclear program will trigger a nuclear arms race between Shia and Sunni states would, as you warned, “lead the region down a hugely dangerous path.” There is even greater urgency in an age when weapons are being made smaller and more portable and when there are both rogue states and fanatical non-state actors against which the efficacy of our traditional policy of deterrence is doubtful.  
The American Council for Judaism also commends you for standing up for our American values. Like you, we  
“have an unyielding belief that all people yearn for certain things: the ability to speak your mind and have a say in how you are governed, confidence in the rule of law and the equal administration of justice, government that is transparent and doesn't steal from the people, the freedom to live as you choose. These are not just American ideas. They are human rights. And that is why we will support them everywhere.”  
Finally, Mr. President, I cannot express how valuable your comments in Egypt, at Normandy, and in Germany were on the Holocaust and World War II. Heroes like your great uncle Charlie who helped liberate Buchenwald and free Europe from the Nazi scourge will not be with us forever to bear witness to the inhumanity they found and to the necessity of stopping senseless bigotry and aggression before they become strong enough to wreak havoc. The genocides in Cambodia, Rwanda and Darfur demonstrate that the forces of good can never let down their guard, can never let their resolution slacken.  
We stand with you in your bold efforts to increase understanding and tolerance, to promote democracy, and to achieve an Israeli –- Palestinian peace.  
Stephen L. Naman, President  
American Council for Judaism, Inc.  
CC: Mrs. Hillary Rodman Clinton  
Mr. George Mitchell  
Mr. David Axelrod  
Mr. Rahm Emanuel  
(This letter was crafted by Frank H. Hytken, ACJ VP, with input from the Board)

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© 2010 The American Council For Judaism.