Wanted: A pro-Israel leader

The nomination of Rabbi Richard Jacobs as president of Reform Movement will hurt those Reform congregants who care most about the Jewish state.

Rabbi richard jacobs 521 (photo credit: Ben Fink Shpiro)
Rabbi richard jacobs 521
(photo credit: Ben Fink Shpiro)
This month, the Reform Movement is poised to throw away decades as part of mainstream Zionism by its short-sighted appointment of Rabbi Richard Jacobs as president. Jacobs has promised to improve Reform fundraising and congregation building. The board has ignored his activism on Israel – activism which focuses on Israel as a human rights abuser and occupier.
News of the Jacobs appointment spread through the internet – a Facebook revolution in the grey-haired set of Reform congregants. I put my name on an ad asking our leaders to choose a more mainstream candidate. The ad read: “We are Reform Jews Who Want the Reform Movement to Stand with Israel. The Union for Reform Judaism’s nominee for president, Rabbi Richard Jacobs, does not represent the pro-Israel policies cherished by Reform and American Jews. He does not represent us.”
Our message is simple. The presidency of Rabbi Jacobs will hurt those Reform congregants who care most about Israel.
Rabbi David Ellenson, president of Reform’s rabbinic college (HUC-JIR), recently told the Jerusalem Report: “The ad was... the most despicable thing I’ve ever encountered in my life in the Jewish community. This brings great shame to the Jewish community... they fail to reflect on the humanity and integrity of people who have different views.”
Jacobs is openly to the left of mainstream Reform. He says so himself; he is an Israel activist of the sort that makes other Jews’ heads explode. No declarations of how much he loves Israel will change that.
What is mainstream for Reform? In my congregation, we are members of AIPAC and Hadassah and believe Israel is a decent, indeed, an admirable country. We want a Reform leader who understands Israel’s outstanding moral record, as past president Rabbi Eric Yoffie did.
We respect Rabbi Yoffie’s words of leadership, said during an address to the J Street Convention in 2009: “Reject the trap of false moral equivalence, and to never, ever, express contempt for the state and its people. And... avoid like the plague the self-haters in the Jewish community who defend the rights of every group except their own.”
IN MY congregation, “mainstream” is being worried over Iran, and feeling sickened by the anti-Semitism prevalent in the Palestinian Authority. Unlike J Street, we are grateful that Congress respects and supports Israel.
We support the written guidelines of the Reform movement: “Oppose efforts to demonize and delegitimize Israel and its leaders in domestic and international forums; commend the governments of the United States and Canada for their continued and unconditional support of Israel; Help end the Iranian nuclear threat.”
Rabbi Jacobs shares none of these emotions. He defended the New Israel Fund’s promotion of the Goldstone Report, which falsely accused Israel of war crimes during Operation Cast Lead. He serves on the rabbinic board of J Street which, several months ago, called on Obama to allow a UN resolution condeming settlements to go through by not using the veto. Jacobs also intimates support for boycotts of Israeli products from over the Green Line. By contrast, Yoffie condemned those boycotts as a threat to Israel’s survival.
Rabbi Yoffie also called J Street’s Gaza policy, “morally deficient, profoundly out of touch with Jewish sentiment, and appallingly naïve.”
With Rabbi Jacobs as president, we will probably never hear such words defending Israel.
We read the sermon Jacobs gave his congregation this Yom Kippur. It is a call to change. He feels the “true pro-Israel community is frighteningly narrow.”
He mentions the threat Iran poses in half a sentence. He disses Eli Wiesel for promoting a united Jerusalem. He mentions a statement by former MK Effi Eitam who in 2006 talked of “expel[ling] the overwhelming majority of West Bank Arabs from here and remov[ing] Israeli Arabs from [the] political system” and declared that if that’s what it means to be pro-Israel, he wants Jewish college students to “run the other way.”
He had not one word of sympathy for Israel’s plight, or for his congregation’s anger about Arab anti-Semitism.
WORST OF all in my eyes, Rabbi Jacobs personally demonstrated with the Sheikh Jarrah Solidarity Movement last year, an organization that holds weekly protests in the east Jerusalem neighborhood against Jewish families in the City of David. He has given interviews and sermons supporting his actions. The organization wants east Jerusalem to be free of Jews.
Jacobs says he disagrees with 99 percent of what the group espouses, but he seems to agree with their idea that Jews in east Jerusalem are settlers, ruining prospects for peace.
Mainstream Jews have some bedrock principles. Rabbi Jacobs has a different moral compass.
My congregation is typical, according to a May 2011 poll by CAMERA. Seventy-four percent of the poll respondents voted for Barack Obama; 70% were Reform or secular.
The polls showed only 12% of American Jews think settlers are the obstacle to peace. Seventy-seven percent supported the Israeli incursion into Gaza to stop the missile attacks.
Seventy-seven percent think the Arab-Israeli conflict is caused, not by Israel, but by the Palestinian “culture of hate.”
That is why my congregation at a recent meeting about Israel mentioned only three groups – AIPAC, CAMERA and the David Project. The only concerns voiced were on Israel’s behalf – Israel’s safety, and the unfairness of our press and college campuses.
We don’t want Rabbi Jacobs as president of Reform because he has expressed support for groups which attack and vilify Israel. Jacobs calls this vilification “critical work shaping Israel... building a more just and inclusive Jewish state.”
I don’t want to be told by Rabbi Jacobs that it’s okay to lobby Congress against Israel. It’s not okay. It’s not okay to selectively boycott Israel. None of that is the least bit okay with me and with thousands of other Reform Zionists.
Rabbi Jacobs, the New Israel Fund and J Street represent maybe 5% of American Jews.
Rabbi Jacobs does not represent me.
The writer is part of Congregation Beth Israel in Carmel, California