President Biden, stop vetoing peace!

My and my fellow rabbis’ urgent pleas for a ceasefire stem from our religious convictions as Jewish spiritual leaders.

A photo of rabbis in UN Headquarters call holding prayer books and posters reading Biden, the world says Ceasefire Now
Dozens of rabbis occupied the balcony inside the United Nations Security Council Chambers, calling for a ceasefire, on January 9, 2024 in New York [Courtesy of Gili Getz]

On January 9, 36 rabbis and rabbinical students from Rabbis for Ceasefire took our prayers and outrage at Israel’s ongoing violence in Gaza to the United Nations headquarters in New York City.

This is the moment the UN was created for. In the wake of the horrors of World War II, the nations of the world came together to charter a new institution that promised “to save succeeding generations from the scourge of war” and “to reaffirm faith in fundamental human rights, in the dignity and worth of the human person”.

The UN was born with a bold and urgent mission to ensure the horrors of the Holocaust would never be visited upon the world again. But right now, we find ourselves in the midst of what experts widely believe is a genocide unfolding in Gaza.

Our protest was a prayer service because our calls for a ceasefire are sacred to us. In Jewish tradition, saving a life is a central religious value. We are obligated to break the Sabbath if it means rescuing a single stranger. Prayer is an ancient language Jews have used for thousands of years to funnel our fears, dreams, hopes and despair. These words that soothed and inspired our ancestors for millennia endure as vehicles for our hopes, righteous indignation and conviction today.

The UN’s Universal Declaration of Human Rights begins much the same way the Torah does. The preamble reads: “Recognition of the inherent dignity and of the equal and inalienable rights of all members of the human family is the foundation of freedom, justice and peace in the world.” Likewise, the first chapter of the first book of the Torah affirms the dignity of each person created in the image of the Divine.

This idea of the inherent dignity and worth of all human beings is the root of our call for ceasefire. As we say in our mission statement: “Ceasefire means no more bombing. Ceasefire means no ground war. Ceasefire means all Israeli hostages must be released now. Ceasefire means immediate engagement by the international community toward a just and lasting peace in Israel-Palestine. Ceasefire is the only way to prevent more death and destruction.”

I started Rabbis for Ceasefire because I believe that rabbis have a special responsibility to carry the torch for a Judaism that affirms life. I became a rabbi to caretake Jewish tradition, so that generations of Jewish wisdom can continue as a scaffold for a life of ethical rigour and spiritual depth. All the more so in times of crisis and trauma, rabbis are needed to guarantee a worthy Judaism will be passed to the coming generations.

Our urgent plea for a ceasefire stems from our religious convictions as rabbis. As rabbis we have dedicated our lives to serve the Jewish people and to ensure our traditions endure as a source of inspiration towards pursuing justice, peace and life. This responsibility, to safeguard the ethical core of Judaism, has never felt as urgent as it is today.

Israel and the United States continue to maintain that their actions are in the interest of Jewish people. As rabbis who serve the spiritual and practical needs of Jewish people, we know this couldn’t be more wrong. More than 23,000 Palestinians killed is not in the interest of Jews. Starving Palestinians is not in the interest of Jews. Denying Palestinians basic human rights is not in the interest of Jews. We know that what makes Jews truly safer is solidarity and engagement from the international community.

The banners we unfurled at the UN headquarters read: “Biden: The World Says Ceasefire” and “Biden: Stop Vetoing Peace” – a reminder that the US and Israel stand alone in going headlong into death and destruction instead of diplomacy.

In recent weeks, US President Joe Biden’s administration has sent huge sums of money and arms shipments without consulting the US Congress. Israel has used this funding not for defence, but for slaughter.

The UN knows firsthand the cost of allowing this war to continue. Workers at various UN agencies continue to operate on the ground in Gaza in extremely difficult conditions. The UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees, UNICEF, the World Food Programme and the World Health Organization are doing incredible work despite the challenges they face. To date, more than 140 UN workers have been killed in Gaza, the most UN workers lost in any single conflict in its 78-year history.​​​​​​​

And there is no end in sight – unless the international community refuses US intransigence at the UN. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu declared that the war would continue for “many more months” but the people of Gaza will not survive that. Currently, all of Gaza’s residents are facing starvation with more than 90 percent reporting that they regularly go without food for a whole day.

Jews have ended each meal and each prayer service by calling out for shalom throughout history and around the globe. This ancient commitment to peace continues through times of threat, persecution, isolation and danger. In that tradition, we took our prayers for an immediate permanent ceasefire into the hallowed chambers of the UN because we know peace is the only way for us all to survive. President Biden, we invite you to join us and stop vetoing peace.

The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera’s editorial stance.