The advertisement placed by Jews Against Divisive Leadership (JADL), a group of Reform Jews who are opposed to the selection of a J Street activist as President of the Union for Reform Judaism, has created a stir. Friday night, someone came up to me after services at our Reform Temple to say that his mother in Los Angeles had seen the ad and was all for the idea that the Reform movement should support Israel. Such a simple idea!
Of course there has also been plenty of criticism. We expected it — but I, for one, was surprised that the criticism was so poorly focused and even vicious.
For example, on the day before the ad in the Los Angeles Jewish Journal appeared in print, the online version included an op-ed by three distinguished Reform rabbis, attacking it. But it did not dispute any of the content of the ad; rather it impugned the motives and politics of the critics. It accused them of saying that “any demurral from the current party line of Israel’s government is disloyal” — something that the ad most assuredly did not even suggest — of ‘vilifying’ the candidate, and of having “assaulted Rabbi Jacobs’ integrity”.
Of course, if you read the ad you will see that we did none of these things.
There was also a response from Abraham Foxman of the ADL. He too did not dispute the content of the ad, but rather chose to attack the signers:
It is shameful that some are seeking to divide us at a time when Israel needs the American Jewish community’s undivided attention and support more than ever.
Indeed, he is correct. The problem is that he is wrong about who is dividing the Jewish community — those who wish to maintain our traditional support for the Jewish state, or those who are doing their best to weaken it. The good news is that it’s doubtful that many liberal Jews take Foxman seriously after his embarrassing inability to make an honest statement recognizing the Armenian genocide.
The above is mostly on the poorly-focused side. Now let’s get to the vicious part. Here’s an email from a shtarker claiming to be Alan Warshaw of Palo Alto California, a member of the Board of Trustees of the URJ:
The kindest thing I can say about your ad is that it has great “chutzpah” – to think that a small group is representing all Reform Jews. In fact, I personally am insulted that you would include me as a Reform Jew in your ad. The title of your group is an oxymoron… it’s your group that is divisive. And I’m surprised that the signatories are so careless to allow so many inaccurate points with the purpose of discrediting Rabbis Yoffie and Jacobs. Why do you choose to go around the Union for Reform Judaism to influence change of policies if you disagree with them? Instead, you pay for an expensive ad to do exactly what you say you are against: divisive leadership.
Dozens of smart and knowledgable [sic] leaders of the Union for Reform Judaism thoroughly evaluated Rabbi Rick Jacobs’ credentials before selecting him as the nominee for the next URJ President. Although I was not part of that process, I can be more convinced of their judgment in selecting Rabbi Jacobs – than a bunch of mavericks trying to represent themselves as speaking for the Reform Movement.
As Jews (and especially rabbis), you should heed the points that Rabbi David Ellenson (& his HUC colleagues) expressed in his response to your ad. If you are truly reform Jews, you know that Reform Judaism is a dynamic enterprise, reflecting a demonstrated evolution of Jewish practice and policies. This evolution, time and again, responds to Reform Judaism by the influences of welcoming inputs from all liberal Jews. You could be part of the solution and yet you choose to be a problem. Publishing this ad is not being part of any constructive solution.
It’s one thing to have a healthy debate on Israel attitudes and policies. It’s another thing to put a blemish on the signatories of this ad with their unfair AND divisive ad.
Your ad and your names won’t be forgotten by myself and others. Like other Lashaon Hara behavior, your words will reflect on your reputation and will be remembered when you write a paper, present a lecture or look for a position on a committee or employment.
Note that the writer yet again does not dispute the content of the ad. And although he claims that inputs are welcomed, I certainly don’t remember my input being solicited when this decision was being contemplated. And yet he is absolutely furious, enough to threaten that signatories on the ad will be blacklisted!
How positively liberal of him.