The nomination of Rabbi Richard Jacobs to head the Union for Reform Judaism (URJ) is the latest coup for J Street. Less than three years after its founding, a member of J Street’s Rabbinic Cabinet is being appointed to head the largest branch of American Judaism. With the nominee to head the Reform movement proudly declaring, “I support the goals and visions of J Street,” it will be impossible for mainstream American Jewry to continue to marginalize J Street and its profoundly anti-Israel positions. The appointment of Rabbi Jacobs threatens to drive the remaining Zionist Jews out of the Reform movement and to create an unbridgeable schism with the rest of American Jewry.
In choosing Rabbi Jacobs, the URJ was strangely silent about his activities vis-a-vis Israel. It was as if Israel did not matter. The URJ announcement focused on Rabbi Jacob’s creativity, on his skills as a congregational rabbi and on his leadership in calling for changes in the administration of the URJ itself.
Even Rabbi Jacobs omitted from his resume that he is a member of the Rabbinic Cabinet of J Street and that he signed a J Street letter for the 2010 High Holy Days which concluded: ” …we encourage others to join us in backing J Street and its efforts to achieve peace and security for the state of Israel and her neighbors.” J Street’s efforts include opposing stronger sanctions against Iran, supporting Richard Goldstone’s defamatory Gaza report (now repudiated by Goldstone himself), and opposing the U.S. veto of the U.N. Security Council resolution condemning Israel, to name just a few of its efforts to disparage and delegitimize Israel. To show just how far Rabbi Jacobs’ appointment moves Reform Judaism from its traditional support of Israel, Rabbi Eric Yoffie, the current president of the URJ and its president for the past 16 years, called J Street’s position on the Gaza offensive “morally deficient, profoundly out of touch with Jewish sentiment and also appallingly naive.”
Rabbi Jacobs aggressively embraces J Street’s push for a two state solution to the Arab-Israeli conflict. His ideas on this are expressed in his hostility towards the “settlers,” the people who in a different age were called “halutzim.” Rabbi Jacobs took part last summer in one of the weekly Friday demonstrations in Jerusalem orchestrated by the Sheikh Jarrah Solidarity Movement, a group which describes its own actions as victories against the ”cowardly Zionists’ perpetrating an ‘apartheid state’ and ethnic cleansing in Jerusalem.’ ” Rabbi Jacobs, of course, does not subscribe to their hateful venom, so why did he participate in the demonstration? He told The Jewish Week,” I take issue with residents of east Jerusalem [being] taken out of their homes to make room for Jewish settlers.” He said that he disagreed with 99% of what the Sheikh Jarrah movement stood for, but he was willing to stand there with demonstrators screaming at a Jewish family preparing for the Sabbath. Was Rabbi Jacobs aware that the Israeli Supreme Court had issued an eviction notice for these ‘residents of east Jerusalem’ because they refused to pay rent to their Sephardic Jewish landlord who has owned the property since the 1920′s? What was the 1 percent he agreed with that was so important that it over-rode his judgment on the other 99 percent?
Rabbi Jacobs says he does not support the global Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) campaign against Israel, but thinks that selective BDS campaigns against the settlements are different. Here again, his thinking is a profound change from the current Reform movement’s position, articulated by the URJ’s current president, Eric Yoffie, who in criticizing the boycott of Ariel, which is over the Green line, said, “But, please, no boycotts. Israel’s enemies don’t need any help.” ARZA, the Zionist arm of the Reform movement, has started a campaign to educate Reform Jews about the BDS movement’s attempt to delegitimize and brand Israel an apartheid state. Will Rabbi Jacobs be able to support ARZA’s program or will he portray the Jewish state as divided between good Jews and bad Jews, with the latter depicted as obstacles to peace and, therefore, as appropriate targets for castigation and exclusion.
This past Yom Kippur, Rabbi Jacobs gave a sermon called “Standing together for Israel” in which he calls J Street “pro-Israel, pro-peace” and quotes approvingly Peter Beinart’s critique that young people don’t support Israel because it is becoming theocratic and antidemocratic and does not see Arabs as human beings. Should a man who believes these things really be given the responsibility to lead a major branch of American Jewry? Is this just another example of the elite Jewish leadership being profoundly out of touch with the feelings of its mainstream constituency.
The Reform movement has always leaned toward the political Left, but Rabbi Jacobs’ appointment has the potential to drive Zionist Jews out of the Reform movement and to create a schism with mainstream Jewry, much as J Street has set itself in opposition to AIPAC, the Jewish organization long recognized by all religious branches of the Jewish community as representing their pro-Israel views to the Congress. Has Reform Judaism reverted to the anti-Zionist stance it held in the first half of the twentieth century, or have the extremists at J Street staged a coup? In either case, where are the rank and file members who understand Israel’s fight for survival and its extraordinary efforts to achieve peace to speak out against such a disastrous course?
Carol Greenwald, PhD, is chairman of Jews Against Divisive Leadership in Chevy Chase, Md.