Bush’s Jewish Allies Demur on Stem Cells

Posted on May 29, 2005 In Press Releases

Bush’s Jewish Allies Demur on Stem Cells

Sunday, May 29, 2005; Page A04
Sunday Politics – The Washington Post

The fight to fund embryonic stem cell research has opened a fissure of biblical proportions.

When President Bush last week branded as unethical the stem-cell legislation making its way through Congress, he found himself in a dogma dispute with Orthodox Jews, one of his most valuable constituencies.

The Union of Orthodox Jewish Congregations of America, the umbrella group for the most conservative branch of Judaism, sided with Christian conservatives on the Terri Schiavo case, public displays of the Ten Commandments, opposition to assisted suicide and same-sex marriage, and more federal support for religious charities.

But after the House passed a bill Tuesday endorsing federal funding of embryonic stem cell research, the Orthodox group applauded. The “potential to save and heal human lives is an integral part of valuing human life,” it said. “Moreover, the traditional Jewish perspective does not accord an embryo outside of the womb the full status of humanhood and its attendant protections.”

That puts the Jews at odds with Bush — who said the bill “would take us across a critical ethical line by creating new incentives for the ongoing destruction of emerging human life” — and with House Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R-Tex.), who condemned “the moral catastrophe of means-justifying-the-ends morality.” It also conflicted with the Family Research Council, a Christian group that called the bill “unconscionable” and “morally abhorrent.”

It was a reminder, as the Jewish group’s public policy director, Nathan Diament, wrote in the Forward last year, that “Orthodox Jews are not merely evangelicals who read the Bible right to left.”

National Review, a conservative publication that fiercely defends Bush, took an unusual tack; it published an article on its Web site explaining “why Judaism is wrong on stem cells.” The article, by Eric Cohen of the Ethics and Public Policy Center, describes the position of the Orthodox rabbis as “morally unconvincing,” “irresponsible,” “seemingly disingenuous” and “misguided.”

“Jews,” Cohen writes, “seem to have forgotten even the minimal liberal wisdom of tolerance — the wisdom of not trampling on the moral opinions of their fellow citizens, like pro-life Christians, who believe embryo destruction is not only evil but the gravest evil.”

The Jewish group did the Christian thing and turned the other cheek. “We have great respect for the president’s view because he bases it on moral principle,” Diament said.