The URJ’s sharp left turn onto J Street

JTA has published yet another list of eminent Reform personalities who support the selection of Rabbi Richard Jacobs as President of the Union for Reform Judaism (URJ).

Like all the other responses to the objection raised by some Reform Jews that an activist member of J Street and the New Israel Fund (NIF) is not an appropriate choice to lead the largest Jewish denomination in America, it offers no arguments, just character witness:

Rabbi Jacobs has made the welfare, security and democratic character of Israel a prime focus of his rabbinate. He is an ohev Yisrael, a lover of Israel, of the first order.

What we need today are Jewish leaders in Israel and North America who will not hesitate to struggle with the difficult questions of peacemaking and human rights while being firmly committed to the security of Israel. Rick Jacobs is such a leader. Rabbi Jacobs speaks his mind independently and with unswerving integrity.

In other words, “He’s cool. Trust us.” It isn’t enough.

It does not respond to the point of our criticism, which was that one cannot be a member of J Street’s Rabbinic Cabinet and a board member of the NIF and still be a Zionist in any meaningful sense.

There have always been Jewish anti-Zionists, those who oppose a sovereign state for the Jewish people for various reasons. Some think that only God can create such a state; others, that it will cause conflict or increase antisemitism in the Diaspora, etc. Even the Reform movement was quite anti-Zionist in the beginning, and only slowly moved toward Zionism over the years.

But there is a new twist to the anti-Zionism of J Street and the NIF: they act against the Jewish state while insisting that they are acting out of love for it. They attack and weaken the state while claiming that they are only trying to make it better, more democratic, more peaceful, more tolerant. They are remarkably arrogant, because they believe that they know better than the great majority of Israeli Jews who more or less approve of the policies of their elected government (and who are directly, physically, impacted by them).

In addition, they damage the image of Israel in the US — which is absolutely critical to Israel’s survival — by arguing that Israel is becoming undemocratic, theocratic and intolerant, and imply that it is not worthy of support by enlightened liberals.

The supporters of Rabbi Jacobs suggest that they are only trying to change the location of the center, to move it leftward to meet what they perceive as the new consensus among young Jews. As Rabbis Ellenson, Kelman and Marmur wrote in response to the original criticism:

A significant number of North American Jews of a liberal disposition under the age of 40 are less and less likely to make Israel a central part of their lives. Yet, a small and highly influential committed core is swimming against the tide, and developing meaningful models for engagement for this cohort with Israel at this dramatic and uncertain time is a necessity for all of us who love and support the Jewish State. In Rabbi Jacobs’ example of encounter with Israel, in his willingness to confront complexity and face up to unpalatable realities, in his infectious enthusiasm and immense charm, he is a model for such younger Jews. To vilify him is to alienate them still further.

J Street and the NIF do not represent a new, slightly more ‘liberal’ approach to Zionism. J Street espouses and the NIF funds anti-Zionist causes. In the case of J Street, there’s good reason to believe that it’s fundamentally fraudulent, financially supported by people and institutions that are aligned with Israel’s enemies.

The URJ’s move is a major realignment, not a minor ideological shift. We probably owe it to the way anti-Zionism has become fashionable in US colleges and universities, part of the conventional wisdom for progressives.

But fashionable or not, we don’t have to accept it.  There are a great many Reform Jews — we think they are a majority — that believe that the Jewish people has a right to self-determination in its own land and that without a state the Jewish people will return to the unstable existence as luftmenschen that characterized Jewish life for centuries.

Such Zionists understand that it is antithetical to their beliefs to apply the same double standards, to join in the delegitimizing and even demonizing tactics that are employed by Israel’s — and Jewry’s — most vicious enemies.

I am not exaggerating when I say that the most dangerous foe that Israel faces in this dangerous time consists of Jews — Jews who are obsessively self-critical, delusively optimistic about the intentions of their enemies, and convinced that the only moral path is that of appeasement. Nothing validates the anti-Israel forces more than to be able to point to a Jew that agrees with them. Imagine if that Jew happens to be the President of the URJ!

Am I being fair to Rabbi Jacobs? Perhaps not — but as long as he continues to support and take an active role in J Street and the NIF, which do their best to promote the principles of Jewish anti-Zionism, then one can only assume that they are his principles too.

I know that the URJ leadership feels that the movement is facing many serious problems, and they wish this one would go away (one rabbi wrote that the issue was ‘irrelevant’). But I hope they realize that we are not going away. There will be more advertisements and we will continue talking about this issue.

And I hope that they understand that it is not we who are the divisive force. They are the ones that decided to take a sharp left turn away from Israel and onto J Street.

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