Signatories on a petition at Change.org included some 50 high profile American rabbis and other Jewish leaders who are asking Congress to authorize President Barack Obama to use military force in Syria in response to the use of chemical weapons there on August 21. It was addressed on eve of Rosh Hashanah - the Jewish New Year - that began on September 4, the petition asks that force be used to "save thousands of lives" and deter future atrocities in "Syria and elsewhere".
The petition says, "As a people who themselves once faced the horrors of genocide and survived, we had hoped that we would never again open our newspapers to images of mass graves filled with suffocated young children. Now that we have seen such images coming from Syria, we call upon you to act."
It also says the chemical weapons attack on the suburbs of Damascus is a "serious crime against humanity" that killed upwards of 1,400 people, including innocent women and children.
Among those signing the petition are Rabbi David Wolpe of Sinai Temple, Los Angeles, who has been described by the Jerusalem Post as one of the 50 most influential Jews in the world; Rabbi Eric Yoffie, president emeritus of the Union for Reform Judaism; Rabbi Yosef Blau of Yeshiva University; history professor Jonathan Sarna; Rabbi Joseph Telushkin, author; and Rabbi Mark Dratch, executive vice-president of the Rabbinical Council of America.
The petition highlights intelligence assessments from the US, UK, France, Israel, Turkey, the Arab League and others as proof that the Assad government is responsible for the attacks. Secretary of State John Kerry reiterated this point in London on September 9, saying that the Assad brothers and one other official are solely responsible for the atrocity.
"We fear that if this attack passes without a decisive response, we might open our newspapers to more images of mass graves from Syria – and elsewhere – in the near future. We have learned from our own history that inaction and silence are the greatest enablers of human atrocity" it says. It added, "For this reason, we call upon you with great urgency to authorize the president to use force in Syria 'in connection with the use of chemical weapons or other weapons of mass destruction,' as outlined in his August 31st draft legislation. Through this act, Congress has the capacity to save thousands of lives."
Support among most Americans, and Congress, has been marginal. However, support for limited military attacks on Syria has grown among Jewish leaders and organizations. A September 2 statement by the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations said there was a "moral imperative" for the U.S. to act,while agreeing with Obama's claim that "vital national security" interests are at stake.
For its part, the Republican Jewish Coalition sent an action alert on the same day urging its 45,000 members to ask Congress to authorize force in Syria. The RJC's opposite number, the National Jewish Democratic Council, has also called for military intervention as has the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations..Obama has said a military response is needed to uphold an international ban on the use of chemicals weapons and to deter Syria from using them again on his people or on neighbors such as Israel or Jordan.
Spero News editor Martin Barillas is a former US diplomat, who also worked as a democracy advocate and election observer in Latin America. He is also a freelance translator.