Jewish groups urge passage of gun control legislation

This post was originally published on

Major Jewish organizations are lining up behind President Barack Obama’s call on Congress to pass effective gun control legislation in wake of the horrific shooting and the killing of at least nine students at Umpqua Community College in Roseburg, Oregon, on Thursday.

The Rabbinical Assembly, representing Conservative/Masorti congregations across the U.S., reiterated its call for sensible gun control in the United States in a statement released Friday.

“It is time for our leaders to enact sensible gun control, to support required background checks on all public and private gun sales, bans on military style assault weapons and high-capacity magazines and legislation making gun trafficking a federal crime with severe penalties,” Rabbis William Gershon and Julie Schonfeld, president and executive vice president, said in a statement. “We cannot sit idly by while we have the means to prevent future tragedy.”

“Jewish tradition teaches that ‘for every stumbling block that threatens lives, one must remove it, protect oneself from it, and be exceedingly careful in its regard; as it says: ‘You shall guard and protect your lives,’ (Deuteronomy 4:9). Gun violence has reached a point in our country where it affects communities of all size, race and creed, rendering even our safest spaces – schools, houses of worship – as targets,” they explained.

President Obama expressed anger and frustration as he responded to the shooting on Thursday. “Somehow this has become routine. The reporting is routine. My response here at this podium ends up being routine, the conversation in the aftermath of it … We have become numb to this,” the president complained. “This is something we should politicize. It is relevant to our common life together, to the body politic.”

The Anti-Defamation League (ADL) also urged the passage of “tough, effective gun control legislation.”

“Our country should not have to wake up to another mass shooting such as those we have repeatedly witnessed in the past few years – in Aurora, Colorado, in Chattanooga, Tennessee and elsewhere. We join with President Obama to echo the call for strong, effective and sensible gun control legislation,” said Hilary Bernstein, ADL Pacific Northwest Regional Director.

“We firmly believe that one way to limit the power of extremists and others who pose a violent threat to society is to enact tough, effective gun control legislation,” Bernstein added.

Since 1967, ADL has favored expanded federal and state regulation of the sale and transfer of firearms and other dangerous weapons, according to the news release.

CBS2 in Los Angeles aired on Thursday comments made by a local mom whose son is a survivor of a similar incident 16 years ago. “You think your kids are going to school, and they’re going to come home, and they don’t,” Loren Lieb, whose son Josh was shot during a mass shooting at the North Valley Jewish Community Center in 1999 when he was 6, told the local CBS affiliate. “We need to focus our attention on how did he do it, not why did he do it. If he didn’t get his hands on a gun, he couldn’t have done it.”

Lieb hosts monthly meetings at her home as part of the Brady Campaign to prevent gun violence.

Canadian senators warn church against boycott

In a rare move, nine Canadian senators have warned the United Church of Canada that its proposed boycott of goods from Israeli settlements would harm already tense relations with the Jewish community.

The nine senators, all United Church members and representing the Conservative and Liberal parties, wrote in a June 27 letter to UCC Moderator Mardi Tindal that the denomination risks setting back Christian-Jewish relations if it approves a boycott of products from West Bank settlements.

Earlier this year, a working group established by the church issued a report urging a boycott of all goods from Jewish settlements, arguing that the communities are illegal and stand in the way of peace. The move angered many Canadian Jews.

The report, however, rejected a boycott of all Israeli goods.

“Such a distinction will be lost upon Israelis and upon the Jewish community in Canada,” the senators wrote. “What will be made clear to them is that the United Church has chosen sides, declaring Israel guilty and the Palestinians the only injured party.

“To put it bluntly, the Church cannot maintain credibility in criticizing Israeli policies (such as settlements and the security barrier) while relieving the Palestinian leadership of its own duty to advance peace.”

The senators urged the moderator to “speak out against these proposals.”

In a reply on July 3, Tindal said she joined the Church’s Working Group on Israel Palestine Policy but “intentionally withdrew from the process recognizing the need to remain neutral and unattached to its recommendations,” given that she will preside over the voting process.

The church’s highest body, the General Council, will decide in a vote expected Aug. 14 whether to endorse the boycott.

“It would, therefore, be inappropriate for me to comment on the report,” Tindal said.

In his response to the senators, Bruce Gregersen, who staffs the Church’s Working Group on Israel Palestine Policy, wrote that the report “does reflect with great care the complexities of the issue. But it also makes a choice that remaining neutral in respect to the difficult realities of the region is not acceptable after 45 years of continued occupation.”

One of the signatories, Conservative Sen. Nancy Ruth, said she fears that Canadian Jews will feel singled out by anti-Israel sentiment.

“I’d say it’s a matter of diplomacy,” she told the Globe and Mail newspaper. “I don’t think it will be helpful for Jewish-Christian relations.”

Canadian senators are unelected and are appointed to the upper chamber of Canada’s Parliament by the prime minister. They rarely speak out on such sensitive issues.

The United Church of Canada is the country’s largest Protestant denomination. It counts 650,000 members, but more than 2.5 million people identify themselves as followers of the church.

Shimon Fogel, head of the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs, said boycotting settlements alone is no different than a larger boycott aimed at delegitimizing Israel. In the church’s proposal, “there’s an effort to disguise what the real intent is,” he told the Globe.