26 Rabbis Call on U.S. State Department to Defend Human Rights in Guatemala

Rabbis ask Secretary Mike Pompeo to denounce Guatemalan bill offering impunity to war crimes and other atrocities

Twenty-six rabbis from 19 states, who lobbied this month in Washington,D.C. with American Jewish World Service (AJWS)  for human rights, sent a letter to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo in an effort to defend the rule of law in Guatemala. This is the text: 

To the Honorable Michael R. Pompeo

Dear Mr. Secretary,Soon, the Guatemalan Congress is scheduled to vote on a bill (Initiative 5377) that would free former Guatemalan army officers, soldiers, and civil defense patrolmen guilty of war crimes and other atrocities and halt investigations into thousands of ongoing cases. We call on you and the Department of State to denounce forcefully and in no uncertain terms this legislation or any other legislative attempts to promote impunity, to urge Guatemalan leaders to renounce these efforts and to make clear that there will be consequences for these egregious violations of the rule of law and democracy in Guatemala.

We are a fellowship of nearly thirty rabbis, hailing from across the United States and from many Jewish denominational backgrounds. Collectively, we serve tens of thousands of American Jews and represent the sentiments of millions more. Fifteen of us recently returned from a mission to Guatemala, where we bore witness to the very crimes this bill would forgive, and where we met with the courageous defenders of human rights who will be most imperiled by this act. We met women who bravely testified in trials against their rapists, people who testified against those who massacred their families, and leaders of indigenous communities who testified against those who stole their land. These brave people put their lives on the line for truth and justice by testifying in the Guatemalan court system about the human rights violations they suffered. And we, in turn, promised them that we would not forget or abandon them, and that we would lift up their voices in the corridors of American power.

If Initiative 5377 becomes law, some of the very people we befriended in Guatemala will be immediately at risk for retribution and violence. Only recently, and only after decades of unthinkable struggle, did these victims and their advocates finally secure justice for the crimes perpetrated against them, their family members and communities. If this bill passes, those gains will be lost, democracy and the rule of law in Guatemala will be eroded, and countless lives will be threatened.

As rabbis, we call this out for what it is: a moral emergency. Our sacred tradition calls us to build societies rooted in the rule of law, demand equal accountability for the powerful and powerless alike, reject corruption, and pursue justice. These religious precepts are grounded in Scripture’s assertion that all human beings are created equally in God’s image, and that all people are equally and infinitely worthy of life, dignity, and freedom.

The bedrock values of our faith are also enshrined in America’s founding documents, which insist that all people are endowed by their Creator with the rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, and that the establishment of justice is necessary to secure these fundamental human rights. It is for these reasons that the United States has long been a beacon of hope to oppressed peoples around the world, and why the world has historically looked to America as a moral example. The world needs American leadership now more than ever. Tragically, some have abdicated this role, remaining silent in the face of injustice. We know all too well from Jewish history that silence always benefits the oppressor and standing idly by gives license to evil.

We therefore urge you, our Secretary of State, to condemn this bill and to advance the cause of justice in Guatemala and around the world. As our rabbis teach us, “If not now, when?”


Cantor Jill Abramson
Westchester Reform Temple
White Plains, New York

Rabbi Adam Baldachin
Shaarei Tikvah
Scarsdale, New York

Rabbi Eliot Baskin
Temple Emanuel Denver
Greenwood Village, Colorado

Rabbi Paula Mack Drill
Orangetown Jewish Center
Orangeburg, New York

Rabbi Aderet Drucker
New Community DC
Bethesda, Maryland

Rabbi Daniel Fink
Congregation Ahavath Beth Israel
Boise, Idaho

Rabbi Lizz Goldstein
Congregation Ner Shalom
Vienna, Virginia

Rabbi Felipe Goodman
Temple Beth Shalom
Las Vegas, Nevada

Rabbi Jessica Zimmerman Graf
Sherith Israel
San Francisco, California

Rabbi Sharyn Henry
Rodef Shalom
Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania

Rabbi Rachel Kahn-Troster
T’ruah: The Rabbinic Call for Human Rights
Teaneck, New Jersey

Rabbi David Kaiman
Congregation B’nai Israel
Gainesville, Florida

Rabbi Michael Knopf
Temple Beth-El
Richmond, Virginia

Rabbi Jay Kornsgold
Beth El Synagogue
East Windsor, New Jersey

Rabbi Barbara Penzner
Temple Hillel B’nai Torah
West Roxbury, Massachusetts

Rabbi Jill Perlman
Temple Isaiah
Waltham, Massachusetts

Rabbi Eve Posen
Neveh Shalom
Portland, Oregon

Rabbi Philip “Flip” Rice
Congregation Micah
Franklin, Tennessee

Rabbi Michael Rothbaum
Congregation Beth Elohim
Maynard, Massachusetts

Rabbi Dean Shapiro
Temple Emanuel of Tempe
Tempe, Arizona

Rabbi Eric Solomon
Beth Meyer
Raleigh, North Carolina

Rabbi Jonathan Spira-Savett
Temple Beth Abraham
Nashua, New Hampshire

Rabbi Zari Sussman
Temple Sholom of Ontario
Ontario, California

Rabbi Susan Talve
Central Reform Congregation
St. Louis, Missouri

Rabbi Victor Urecki
Congregation B’nai Jacob
Charleston, West Virginia

Rabbi David Wirtschafter
Temple Adath Israel
Lexington, Kentucky




About American Jewish World Service (AJWS)

American Jewish World Service (AJWS) is the leading Jewish organization working to pursue justice and fight poverty in the developing world. By supporting hundreds of social change organizations in 19 countries, we respond to the most pressing issues of our time—from disasters, genocide and hunger to the persecution of women and minorities worldwide. With Jewish values and a global reach, AJWS is making a difference in millions of lives and bringing a more just and equitable world closer for all. Learn more at www.ajws.org.


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