Archive for the ‘Rabbi Richard (‘Rick’) Jacobs’ Category

Banana syndrome at the URJ

Wednesday, February 12th, 2014
Israel's Knesset. The parliament of a banana republic?

Israel’s Knesset. The parliament of a banana republic?

Last week, MK David Rotem created a fuss here with his remarks:

Reform leaders in the U.S. are calling for the removal of MK David Rotem (Yisrael Beytenu) from the leadership of the Knesset Constitution, Law and Justice Committee, after he said that Reform Judaism wasn’t really “Jewish,” but a “different religion.”

Later, he explained that he hadn’t said that Reform Jews weren’t Jews, which wasn’t the point anyway. And finally he issued an apology:

My intention was that I have deep differences with the Reform movement about practical matters related to Judaism. At the same time, considering that we are all Jews and members of the same religion, we need to solve these differences in discussions and conversations around the table. I apologize to anyone who may have been hurt.

I am not going to become involved in the discussion of whether Reform Judaism is “another religion” from traditional Judaism. Obviously there is a point when a ‘denomination’ becomes a different religion. Many people, myself included, think that “Messianic Judaism” is more a form of Christianity than a form of Judaism. It has been argued that Chabad — or some factions thereof — have gone too far in their adulation of their Rebbe. I am really not going to get involved in this.

What I do want to discuss is the increasing pressure on Israel from liberal American Jews in regard to the place of Judaism, in all of its forms, in Israel.

The New Israel Fund, a US-based group (which, by the way, I regard as anti-Zionist and pernicious), has long funded Israeli organizations promoting “religious pluralism,” which means equal treatment of various forms of Judaism, equal roles for women in every aspect of Judaism, the elimination of the Orthodox Rabbinate’s control of family law, etc.

The Union for Reform Judaism (URJ) — massive in the US, small in Israel — has pushed for full recognition of non-Orthodox conversions in matters of marriage and divorce, as well as state funding for non-Orthodox rabbis (a limited victory was recently obtained in Israel’s Supreme Court). The head of the URJ, Rabbi Richard (Rick) Jacobs (more here), was a member of the NIF Board of Directors and chair of its Pluralism committee until taking the reins at the URJ.

Yesterday I received an email from the Jewish Federations of North America (JFNA) — an organization that, needless to say, does not explicitly define itself as engaged in religious politics — mentioning that its “Global Planning Table” (GPT) would develop several initiatives, including this:

Civil Society: a third initiative, still being refined, which will most likely relate to religious diversity and civil marriage in Israel. The task force has hired a consultant in Israel to make recommendations on how the GPT could achieve impact in this area.

What I want to say about all this is not that their goals are necessarily wrong. I can certainly tell you from personal experience that immigrant Jews can have a very difficult time establishing their Jewishness before the Rabbinate in the event that they want to be married in Israel. This is a huge problem for immigrants from the former Soviet Union, where WWII and Soviet anti-Jewish attitudes caused Jewish records to be lost.

What bothers me are two things:

First, most American liberal Jews really don’t have a clue about either Israeli life or the complexities of Israeli politics — in which these issues are deeply entangled. They don’t understand how the changes they are proposing will affect Israeli Jews, nor are they aware of possible unintended political consequences.

Second, it is really none of their business. They are not affected by actions that might be taken in Israel as a result of their pressure. If they move to Israel where it might matter for them, then they can vote for Israeli politicians that reflect their point of view.

This is not different in kind from the pressure that is exerted on Israel, via the European funding of left-wing organizations, to make dangerous concessions to the Palestinians. It is not the Europeans that will become the targets of terrorist rockets from Judea and Samaria after an IDF withdrawal!

Back to Rotem:

Both the Reform Movement in Israel and the URJ [in America] condemned Rotem’s statements and asked Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein to punish him. The leadership of the Conservative movement and Anti-Defamation League also chimed in.

I’m sorry, perhaps this is just the way the particular reporter is describing it, but isn’t there something inappropriate about Americans demanding that a member of Israel’s Knesset be removed from his post to punish him for insulting them? Can you imagine an Israeli organization calling on the US Speaker of the House to take away the committee chairmanship of a member of Congress?

Israel is an independent sovereign state, and it should not be treated as a banana republic — not by President Obama, not by the Europeans, and not by the URJ.

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Islamorealism

Friday, September 28th, 2012
Mona Eltahawy vandalizes subway poster immediately prior to assaulting Pamela Hall and being arrested

Mona Eltahawy vandalizes subway poster immediately prior to assaulting Pamela Hall and being arrested

Satellite communications, the Internet, even cheap air travel have brought our society face to face with the Muslim world in a way that we couldn’t have imagined as recently as 1960. The issue of how we, Westerners, Christians, Jews, ought to deal with our meeting with this almost wholly foreign portion of humanity literally exploded into our consciousness in September 2001. Today, with the worldwide Muslim fury associated with (or taking as a pretext) the Innocence of Muslims video, we see that nothing has been settled.

Attitudes in the US are all over the map, from those who think that the problem is that our right of freedom of expression makes it possible for ‘intolerant‘ people like Nakoula Basseley Nakoula to provoke violence, to those who think that it is the Muslim propensity for violence when insulted (and it’s so easy to insult them) that is important.

The official response from our government has of course been to condemn violence. This is usually joined with a statement that while we find ‘denigration of any religion’ distasteful or worse, we can’t interfere with it (although we should note that Nakoula has been jailed for violating a — ridiculous — condition of parole forbidding him from using the Internet).

By a fortuitous combination of circumstances, the video controversy was quickly followed by yet another. In response to anti-Israel transit ads like this one,

– which, by the way, is much more professional and effective than anything our side does, managing to project an image of love and friendship while opposing Israel’s self-defense — blogger Pamela Geller managed to purchase space and install images like this one, below (it required a court order to persuade New York’s MTA to allow them):

These ads immediately provoked (are you surprised?) Muslim and ‘progressive’ outrage, and were immediately defaced. After all, vandalism (and assault) are considered by this crowd to be legitimate responses to expressions of ‘racism’, by which they seem to mean anything that offends Muslims.

The use of the word ‘savage’ (it’s a quotation from Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged) seems to be the focus of those who object to the ad, who say that it claims that all Muslims are savages. Geller defended herself:

[The word 'savage'] is entirely apt. They claim that the ad refers to all Muslims, or all opponents of Israel. It doesn’t. It refers to those who rejoice in the murders of innocent civilians. The war on Israel is a war on innocent civilians. The targeting of civilians is savage. The murder of Ambassador Chris Stevens was savage. The relentless 60-year campaign of terror against the Jewish people is savage. The torture of hostage Gilad Shalit was savage. The bloody hacking to death of the Fogel family was savage. The Munich Olympic massacre was savage. The unspeakable torture of Ehud Goldwasser was savage. The tens of thousands of rockets fired from Gaza into southern Israel (into schools, homes, etc.) are savage. The vicious Jew-hatred behind this genocide is savage. The endless demonization of the Jewish people in the Palestinian and Arab media is savage. The refusal to recognize the state of Israel as a Jewish state is savage. The list is endless.

Unfortunately, ‘respectable’ voices in our society, even — especially — among Jews, are unable to understand what the deliberately outrageous, over-the-top Geller sees clearly. For example, here is what the head of the Union for Reform Judaism, Rabbi Richard ‘Rick’ Jacobs wrote in a recent NY Times op-ed:

By using the term “jihad” in the context of a war against savages, the ad paints Islam as inherently violent, evil and bent on overthrowing the Western democracies and their key ally in the Middle East, Israel — even though, for the vast majority of Muslims, “jihad” refers to a spiritual quest, not the more politicized idea of holy war.

Yes, these ads are lawful. But they are wrong and repugnant.

What other purpose can they have but to incite hatred against Muslims?

Jacobs is wrong about ‘jihad’. Daniel Pipes, unlike Jacobs a bona fide expert on Islam, explains that the primary meaning of the word is, as a matter of fact,

the legal, compulsory, communal effort to expand the territories ruled by Muslims at the expense of territories ruled by non-Muslims.

Pipes does recognize variant, more benign meanings. But to say that the “vast majority” of Muslims perceive it as a spiritual quest is silly. Even if the vast majority does not participate in violent jihad, hundreds of millions support it and all understand it.

The Obama administration removed the word ‘jihad‘ and others relating to Islam from the National Security Strategy document in 2010 for the same reason that Jacobs wants these ads gone: Muslims don’t like it when it is suggested that more and more Muslims today are becoming radicalized, supporting the attempt to expand the territory under Shari’a.

There is a debate over whether violent radicalism is inherent in Islam. This is stupid: Islam doesn’t have to be anything other than what Muslims think it is, and the fact is — as should be evident from the daily news broadcasts — that more and more Muslims think it should be radical and violent, and that radical Islamist regimes are replacing conservative ones all over the globe.

Calling attention to this isn’t inciting hate against Muslims — it is asking for us to realize that there is an enemy of what we call Western civilization, an enemy that has already showed us its savage side on 9/11 and in the Middle East, an enemy that does not want to coexist with us but wants to replace our civilization. This enemy is radical Islamism, an ideology associated with a religion, but no less an ideology than communism and fascism.

Rabbi Jacobs would like us to believe that the ‘vast majority’ of Muslims are just like Reform Jews, except that they say “allahu akbar” instead of the shema, and he would like the others to be invisible.

But it’s not rational (or safe) to ignore them, even if it were possible to ignore the open sewers of hate speech pouring from the media in Egypt, Iran, the Palestinian Authority, etc.;  the rockets falling on Israeli towns (559 so far in 2012); the vicious threats from Iran to destroy Israel; religious wars, terrorism and more.

As another ad that Rabbi Jacobs finds hateful says, “it’s not Islamophobia, it’s Islamorealism.”

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Rabbi Jacobs confirmed URJ President, critics ignored

Sunday, June 12th, 2011

A press release from the Union for Reform Judaism:

New York, June 12, 2011- The Board of Trustees of the Union for Reform Judaism today unanimously and enthusiastically elected Rabbi Richard Jacobs to serve as its next President. Only the fourth person to hold the office since its creation in 1943, Jacobs follows Rabbis Maurice Eisendrath, Alexander Schindler and Eric Yoffie. Rabbi Jacobs currently serves as Senior Rabbi at Westchester Reform Temple in Scarsdale, NY, and will assume the URJ Presidency in 2012.

The fourth person to hold this office, Rabbi Jacobs is also the first to be a member of J Street’s Rabbinic Cabinet and a board member of the New Israel Fund (NIF) — organizations which are, despite their denials, anti-Zionist. He is also the first to take part in a demonstration against Jewish sovereignty in eastern Jerusalem.

The unanimity and enthusiasm of the Board is noted. It’s not unimaginable that at least one of them was a little uneasy, but kept quiet for shalom beit. Let’s hope so.

Current URJ President Rabbi Eric H. Yoffie remarked, “There were, to be sure, many fine candidates, but the selection of Rabbi Jacobs as the next President of the Union was an extraordinary and an inspired choice, and one that has been greeted with acclaim throughout our Movement

One hundred Reform Jews purchased advertisements in Jewish publications to oppose Rabbi Jacobs. You can see one of them here. What are we, chopped liver? Plenty of Reform Rabbis and professionals agreed with us too, although I expect some were intimidated by the threats to their livelihoods coming from Rabbi Jacobs’ supporters.

This really is the essence of the problem: A self-appointed elite that has defined “the movement” as only those that share their political perspective.

As Rabbi Jacobs winds down his responsibilities with Westchester Reform Temple, he also will step down from his involvement in other organizations, boards and advisory committees during the first years of his Presidency in order to focus his energies on the task ahead of him. Additionally, as President of the URJ, he will assume many new official posts on Jewish communal organizations including the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, the Jewish Agency for Israel and the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, among others.

Presumably this means that he will give up his positions with J Street and the NIF for a while, but may return to them later, when things quiet down.

Is this supposed to make his critics feel better? Our problem is not his workload! How about a statement that as President of the URJ he understands that it is inappropriate for him to belong to — let alone take a leadership role in — these organizations?

As I wrote a few days ago, this appointment is a triumph for J Street, who now can inject their pernicious point of view into multiple mainstream Jewish organizations.

The URJ press release treats Rabbi Jacobs’ critics as if they are invisible, but Jacobs himself, in his acceptance speech does not:

First, I stand squarely in the tradition of Rabbis Schindler and Yoffie, that I will never, ever compromise on Israel’s security, never. I will ever lift up our efforts to strengthen it as a Jewish and democratic state, and that I will be proud to work to advance the Israel policies that this Movement has adopted over the past generations.

Second, and just as important, I hope that when the time comes for such a debate, that it will be a machlochet L’shem shamayim – a dispute for the sake of heaven…that we will conduct that debate with passion, to be sure. I hope and pray we will always debate with passion — but with civility and a respect for those who hold differing views.

I hope we will work to learn what others really think, and have really said, rather than relying on rumors, half-truths and outright lies. I hope that we will talk about real issues, and not find people guilty by association. I hope that anyone who wants to know what I think about something will ask me. As you will learn, I’m not exactly shy.

As his supporters have done, Rabbi Jacobs himself takes the low road. I certainly haven’t, in any of my posts about his nomination, relied on “rumors, half-truths and outright lies” or told any of them. I challenge Rabbi Jacobs to come up with even one. And I have not tried to divine what is in his mind. I have simply pointed out that he is an activist in two organizations that I and others have documented, over and over, as taking positions inimical to the state of Israel.

Further, here’s a logic lesson: it’s not “guilt by association.” Let’s look at an example of real guilt by association. Consider this:

  1. I was seen having a beer with Tony Soprano.
  2. Therefore I must be a member of the Mafia.

Agreed, unsound reasoning. Guilt by association.  But what about this?

  1. Rabbi Jacobs has a leadership role in J Street.
  2. Therefore Rabbi Jacobs supports, in general, the actions and principles of J Street.

That is a much better argument, isn’t it? Sure, he will say that he doesn’t agree with all of their actions. But unless he agrees with most of them, why would he be a part of it?

Here is what I want to know about what Rabbi Jacobs thinks. I would like him to answer this question:

What is there about an organization that lobbies for the US to allow a motion condemning Israel to pass in the security council, that lobbied against a congressional letter condemning incitement in the official Palestinian Authority media and the naming of public squares after terrorists that killed Israeli children, that introduced the author of the Goldstone Report to members of Congress and supported the Goldstone report that accused the IDF of war crimes, that applauds the Hamas-Fatah pact, that lobbied against a congressional resolution calling for sanctions on Iran, that called for an immediate cease-fire on day 1 of Operation Cast Lead while the Qassams were raining down on southern Israel, whose co-founder thinks that the creation of Israel was a mistake, that takes money from a former president of the Arab-American Institute, a Turkish maker of antisemitic films, and the self-proclaimed anti-Zionist George Soros (and lies about it) — what is there about J Street that you don’t understand?

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Mainstream Jewish groups infiltrated by anti-Israel J Street

Thursday, June 9th, 2011

Item: the Jewish Community Relations Council (JCRC) of Greater Boston, in a controversial vote on May 25, decided to keep J Street as a member. The JCRC of Hartford, Connecticut is co-sponsoring an event with J Street on June 13th, despite community opposition.

Item: the University of Pennsylvania Hillel allowed J Street to hold the kickoff event in February for its new local network in its space; the Harvard Hillel cooperated with J Street U (downloadable video) to host Breaking the Silence in March; and the Columbia-Barnard Hillel hosted a “Bagel Brunch” with J Street of NYC this month.

Item: the Union for Reform Judaism (URJ) has nominated, and despite protests will probably confirm, J Street and New Israel Fund activist Rabbi Richard Jacobs as its new president.

In all of these cases the argument was made that J Street represents a legitimately pro-Israel point of view — dovish, left-wing, perhaps, but nevertheless pro-Israel. A point of view that might be taken by someone who wants Israel to survive and thrive, but disagrees with the policies of the present government because they are too ‘hard-line’ toward the Palestinians. A point of view that belongs ‘in the big tent’ with other shades of Jewish opinion. A ‘loyal opposition’, so to speak. After all, there are plenty of Israelis that disagree with their government, too.

In the 30 posts that I’ve written about J Street I’ve argued that this is not the case. I’ve argued that there is direct evidence — J Street’s official positions and their lobbying activities — that show that J Street acts against the interests of the Jewish state. Lobbying for a security council resolution condemning Israel, in favor of the Goldstone report, against sanctions on Iran, even against a congressional letter denouncing the continuing Palestinian incitement to hatred at the time of the vicious murder of the Fogel family, cannot possibly be construed as ‘pro-Israel’.

There is also indirect evidence that J Street is actually an anti-Israel organization: the fact that it has received funds from individuals and groups that are anything but pro-Israel, like the former president of the Arab-American institute and anti-Zionist George Soros (about which they lied for at least a year). Further evidence is the fact that J Street invited anti-Zionists and supporters of boycott-divestment-sanctions to speak at their convention, where they received enthusiastic applause — including the vicious Egyptian journalist Mona Eltahawy.

I will go as far as to say this: the J Street leadership is consciously aligned with Israel’s enemies, even if some of its uninformed supporters still think of themselves as merely pro-Israel peaceniks. Its true goal is not to make Israel ‘better’, but to help replace it with an Arab state.

The Boston JCRC is already learning what it means to invite J Street ‘into the tent’:

In a January 2011 meeting, the group’s representative successfully pushed through a motion diluting the language in a statement calling for Palestinian recognition of Israel as a Jewish state. The same person also pushed through a motion opposing Israel’s insistence on direct negotiations with the Palestinians. Yet another vote almost succeeded in calling for division of Jerusalem. — Andrea Levin, “Jewry with the fringe on top: Boston JCRC boosts J Street,” Boston Jewish Advocate

A recent poll shows that the great majority of American Jews do not agree with J Street’s point of view. Nevertheless, the strategy of infiltrating mainstream Jewish organizations like JCRCs and campus Hillels is proving to be a highly effective way to amplify a fringe ideology — indeed, an ideology which is exactly the opposite of what it claims to be.

The nomination of Rabbi Jacobs to head the URJ represents the opening of an entirely new chapter in the saga, because there are more Reform Jews in America than any other denomination. Several Reform rabbis that I talked to indicated that they were blindsided by the vehemence of the opposition to Rabbi Jacobs from pro-Israel Reform Jews. It may sound odd, but apparently many of them, concerned about financial and management issues in the movement, did not think to ask whether Jacobs’ position on Israel might become a problem!

This may be so, but I’m certain that there is a well-organized group that was very conscious of ideology regarding Israel, and committed to getting their kind of candidate selected. The takeover of the URJ is perhaps the greatest triumph yet — Jacobs is certain to be confirmed — for the strategy of infiltration.

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Three things about the Jacobs nomination

Sunday, May 15th, 2011

Here are three short remarks about the controversy over the Union for Reform Judaism’s (URJ) nomination of J Street and New Israel Fund (NIF) activist Rabbi Richard Jacobs to be its new President (prior posts on this subject are here):

1. The URJ leadership doesn’t get it.

Reportedly, a member of the search committee said that the discussion was all about Rabbi Jacobs’ organizational and leadership ability. It did not occur to them that his politics regarding Israel might be a problem.

I’ve been told by a Reform rabbi well-informed about the process that most of the finalists and semi-finalists had similar political viewpoints. When Peter Beinart spoke to the CCAR (the Reform rabbinical body), his remarks — highly critical of Israel — were greeted, according to one rabbi present, with “thunderous applause.”

Insofar as this is the norm among Reform rabbis, it’s not surprising that the committee didn’t find anything wrong with it.

But grass roots Reform Jews do put a high priority on real support for Israel.

2. The URJ leadership is a bunch of bullies.

The language used in the URJ response to the initial advertisement placed by a group of Reform Jews was insulting, accused those signing the ad of extremism, divisiveness, witch-hunting, etc. Here is one small example:

By setting the battle lines in the way they are currently doing, Rabbi Jacobs’ critics are sailing in very dangerous waters. They argue that any demurral from the current party line of Israel’s government is disloyal. If this position prevails, the plague of separation will reach epidemic proportions.

The advertisement did not make any such ridiculous argument. But that’s not the point. This, and the tone of the entire response, is meant as a warning to Reform rabbis. Don’t sign on to this right-wing extremist campaign, they are told, or you will be marked as carriers of the ‘plague of separation’. You will be sailing in dangerous waters.

If that’s not enough, a member of the URJ Board of Trustees, Alan Warshaw, sent an explicit threat to the JADL email address:

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.

As a blogger, I love it when some self-important prick shows how stupid and vicious he really is. But imagine how this reads to a Reform rabbi who is considering speaking against Rabbi Jacobs’ confirmation! The employment situation for rabbis is difficult today, with many institutions cutting back, others merging, etc., and the URJ plays a critical role in the placement process. Dangerous waters indeed.

3. The confirmation of Rabbi Jacobs would be a bad for Israel and bad for the URJ.

If Rabbi Jacobs is as involved and aware as he appears to be, he can’t be unaware that J Street is not the ‘progressive’ pro-Israel lobby that it pretends to be. Here’s what I wrote last week, in response to the statement that Jacobs’ Israel policy is “nuanced”:

Certainly there can be multiple points of view among Israel supporters. But you can’t define black as white, up as down, an elephant as a giraffe — or J Street as ‘pro-Israel’…

It is not “nuance” when J Street calls for the US to support a Security Council resolution that condemns Israel, nor when it arranges appointments for Judge Goldstone to meet with US Congress members, when it opposes a Congressional letter calling for sanctions on Iran, applauds the union of Fatah with Hamas, sponsors a speaking tour by the anti-Israel John Ging of UNRWA, invites boycott-divestment-sanctions advocates to present at its national convention, etc.

If that isn’t nuanced enough, J Street’s sources of funding include individuals associated with the Saudi embassy and the Arab-American institute, George Soros, and a mysterious woman in Hong Kong who provided more than $800,000 in one year…

Here’s still more nuance: the New Israel Fund (NIF) funds organizations that call for boycott-divestment-sanctions of Israel, Israeli Arab groups that want ‘de-Zionization’ — the conversion of the Jewish state into a ‘state of its citizens’ — as well as the NGOs that provided the majority of the false ‘evidence’ cited by the libelous Goldstone report, and that engage in ‘lawfare’ against Israel.

Words do have meanings. Is any of this part of the meaning of ‘Zionism’ or of love for Israel? I don’t think so.

Israel is probably in as much existential danger today as it has been at any time since 1948. Pro-Israel Americans take their cues about policy toward the state — and politicians their excuses –  from the Jewish community. This appointment is critical.

The Reform movement is struggling. Rabbi Dana Evan Kaplan wrote,

Remember that the search committee decided on Rabbi Jacobs because they saw in him a leader who could bring the Reform movement into the 21st century. Both sides of this growing debate would do well to remember that there are, after all, bigger issues at stake for a denomination whose numbers have been quickly dwindling. We need to reconsider our core religious messages. We need to emphasize observance — however we decide to define Reform ritual and ceremony. And we need to do this urgently, before an entire generation slips away from us. This also means that we can’t afford a costly debate over what is essentially an irrelevant issue from an organizational point of view.

But grass-roots Reform Jews are telling them that Israel is not irrelevant. Polls indicate a high degree of support for Israel among Jews (most of these are Reform Jews or ‘just Jews’ who tend to be less supportive), even if Reform Rabbis don’t share it. If the movement moves in the opposite direction from its membership, then problems will get worse, not better.

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The URJ’s sharp left turn onto J Street

Monday, May 9th, 2011

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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A challenge for Rabbi Jacobs

Wednesday, May 4th, 2011

In March, I wrote an article about why I don’t think Rabbi Richard Jacobs is the right choice for leadership of the Reform movement, because his activism in J Street and the New Israel Fund places him, in my opinion, outside of the Zionist tent.

Last month, I agreed to place my name on an advertisement which appeared in several Jewish media which called on the Union for Reform Judaism to not confirm Rabbi Jacobs.  The ad was respectful and factual, but the response was vicious, including attacks on our motives, accusations of extremism, and even a threat of blacklisting from a member of the URJ Board of Trustees!

The URJ leadership also seems to have called in all of its markers, getting supportive comments from  various Jewish organizational luminaries:

We worry when efforts are made to continuously narrow the definition of “support for Israel,” and we are concerned as well by those who claim that only those who agree with them on everything are fit to be called “pro-Israel.”

The pro-Israel community, like the Jewish community, is diverse and eclectic, representing a range of opinions and ideals. The last thing that we need is for people in this community to be excluding one another.

… Our experiences working with Jews of different backgrounds and viewpoints has taught us the importance of unifying behind issues of great importance to Israel even when disagreements over nuance and positions existed. When we can all find common ground to stand on, our voices together are all the more powerful.

Nope, I’m sorry. This dog simply won’t hunt. Certainly there can be multiple points of view among Israel supporters. But you can’t define black as white, up as down, an elephant as a giraffe — or J Street as ‘pro-Israel’.

Words have meanings.

It is not “nuance” when J Street calls for the US to support a Security Council resolution that condemns Israel, nor when it arranges appointments for Judge Goldstone to meet with US Congress members, when it opposes a Congressional letter calling for sanctions on Iran, applauds the union of Fatah with Hamas, sponsors a speaking tour by the anti-Israel John Ging of UNRWA, invites boycott-divestment-sanctions advocates to present at its national convention, etc.

If that isn’t nuanced enough, J Street’s sources of funding include individuals associated with the Saudi embassy and the Arab-American institute, George Soros, and a mysterious woman in Hong Kong who provided more than $800,000 in one year.

Words have meanings.

Here’s still more nuance: the New Israel Fund (NIF) funds organizations that call for boycott-divestment-sanctions of Israel, Israeli Arab groups that want ‘de-Zionization’ — the conversion of the Jewish state into a ‘state of its citizens’ — as well as the NGOs that provided the majority of the false ‘evidence’ cited by the libelous Goldstone report, and that engage in ‘lawfare’ against Israel.

Words do have meanings. Is any of this part of the meaning of ‘Zionism’ or of love for Israel? I don’t think so.

Rabbi Jacobs gave a talk on May 2, during which he declared, over and over, his love for Israel and his Zionism. He was somewhat vague on details — several times he called for a “two-state solution” without mentioning the inconvenient truth of the Hamas-Fatah pact, announced the week before. He also stressed the importance of  “complete equality of social and political rights to all [of Israel's] inhabitants” without mentioning the very real problem that some of these inhabitants are committed to the destruction of the very state that gives them rights.

But talk is cheap. So I am issuing a challenge to Rabbi Jacobs:

You say you are are opposed to boycott, divestment and sanctions against Israel. You say that you want to fight the delegitimization of the Jewish state: then resign your position with the New Israel Fund, whose grantees advocate these things.

You say that you care about Israel’s survival: then resign from J Street, which is a thinly-veiled front for anti-Israel activities.

There actually is a big tent for Israel supporters. It does include the pro-state Left. If that’s where you stand, then ditch your baggage and welcome inside.

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Critics of JADL poorly focused, vicious

Sunday, May 1st, 2011

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.

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Action alert: Reform Jews, stand up for Israel!

Friday, April 29th, 2011

The other day I mentioned a group of Reform Jews called “Jews Against Divisive Leadership” (JADL) who are opposing the selection of Rabbi Richard Jacobs as President of the Union for Reform Judaism. Rabbi Jacobs is an active member of the phony ‘pro-Israel’ J Street as well as the New Israel Fund, which funds anti-Zionist organizations in Israel.

JADL thinks that Rabbi Jacobs’ position on Israel is not consistent with the beliefs of a majority of Reform Jews, and has called his nomination a “J Street coup.”

If Jews don’t stand up for Israel, who will?

JADL is planning to purchase more advertisements in the Jewish media. If you are a member of a Reform congregation and would like to add your name to one of them, email JADL and tell them so!

It wouldn’t hurt to send them money, either.

Update [30 Apr 1239 PDT]: An incorrect email address was given for JADL. It’s been corrected.

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Three eminent Reform rabbis who slept through logic class

Wednesday, April 27th, 2011

This advertisement appeared today in the Los Angeles Jewish Journal:

LA Jewish Journal advertisement opposing Rabbi Jacobs (click for larger version)

LA Jewish Journal advertisement opposing Rabbi Jacobs (click for larger version)

The nomination of Rabbi Richard Jacobs to head the Union for Reform Judaism (URJ) created more than a little controversy. Rabbi Jacobs is an active member and supporter of both J Street and the New Israel Fund, Jewish organizations which claim to be pro-Israel, but whose actions — and in the case of J Street — sources of funding have a distinctly anti-Zionist tinge.

Today a group of Reform Jews called “Jews Against Divisive Leadership” published advertisements in the Los Angeles Jewish Journal and the Forward (I’m  one of the signatories). The LA ad appears above. Apparently the editors of the Journal couldn’t let it go unrebutted, and so solicited an op-ed from several  prominent Reform rabbis to do so.

Rather than defend the positions taken by Rabbi Jacobs, these rabbis chose to simply attack the motives and politics of his critics. Some years ago I taught a class in elementary logic. The rabbis’ essay would not have gotten a passing grade.

It begins with a basic argumentum ad hominem and continues by setting up a straw man to attack:

The current advertisement means that a handful of Reform Jews have now joined previously Right-leaning critics who in recent weeks have challenged the Zionist credentials of Rabbi Jacobs. The claim is that Rabbi Jacobs’ involvement with groups promoting human rights and social improvement aligns him with crazed extremists.

Of course “right-leaning” is in the eye of the beholder, and the direction of lean has nothing to do with the soundness of the critics’ claims. And I don’t see the phrase “crazed extremists” in the ad, do you? So why do the rabbis say “the claim is…” when that isn’t at all what the ad says?

Here are five reasons why such a canard needs to be refuted with vigor:

1. If American Jews related to Israel the way Rabbi Jacobs and his family do, nega’ ha-netek [the plague of separation] would be in retreat. He cares deeply about the country, has strong relationships with many Israelis, encourages bilateral encounters and programs in his synagogue and through his work in the larger Jewish community, studies in Israel and even owns property in Jerusalem. He comes to Israel several times every year, and spends every summer studying sources with curiosity and profundity at the Shalom Hartman Institute. He is a passionate Zionist, who devotes time and love to the State of Israel. By any dispassionate standard, Rabbi Jacobs is part of the solution to the challenges confronting American Jewish engagement with and support of Israel, not part of the problem.

In the paragraph above, we find two common fallacies: the red herring in which irrelevant facts are presented as if they are evidence for an unrelated conclusion, and begging the question, in which the writer assumes that which he wishes to prove. Clearly the fact that someone visits Israel doesn’t imply that he is a Zionist — some of the most ‘passionate’ anti-Zionists live there year round. And simply calling Rabbi Jacobs a Zionist does not establish that he is one.

2. By setting the battle lines in the way they are currently doing, Rabbi Jacobs’ critics are sailing in very dangerous waters. They argue that any demurral from the current party line of Israel’s government is disloyal. If this position prevails, the plague of separation will reach epidemic proportions. The old parliamentary notion of “His Majesty’s Loyal Opposition” is an important idea.

“They argue that any demurral…”? No they don’t! Nobody ever argued that. Talk about straw men! Where do the rabbis find such a statement in the ad? Or in my “right-leaning” blog, for example?

3. Let us also face facts. 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.

Agreed, many Jewish liberals do not support Israel. How is Rabbi Jacobs significantly different from them? What is his “meaningful model for engagement”? Participating in an anti-state demonstration? Is that what “confronting complexity” means?

Further, the ad does not ‘vilify’ anybody. It simply draws attention to Rabbi Jacobs’ actual positions and associations, suggests that these are best characterized as anti-Zionist, and asks if someone who takes these positions is a suitable leader for the largest denomination in American Jewry.

4. The fact that those who have assaulted Rabbi Jacobs’ integrity have wrapped themselves in the flag of Zionist purity is particularly galling. Since its inception, the Zionist movement has provided a forum for a range of opinions. If these self- appointed purists try to bar a great congregational rabbi whose views represent the mainstream of the American Jewish community and the Reform Jewish Movement from the fold of the True Believers, who wins? The campaign to discredit the work of the New Israel Fund (which hundreds of Zionist rabbis support) shows all the symptoms of separation plague — self-righteous certainty, disregard for nuance, allergy to reason and a strong appetite for the whiff of a witch-hunt. Support for Israel is not the exclusive property of one party or another.

I’m tired of repeating myself, but we did not “assault Rabbi Jacobs’ integrity.” I’m sure he is as honest and fair as the day is long. But we strongly disagree with his politics, and we think they are inimical to the survival of Israel as a Jewish state.

I am not sure about what wrapping oneself in the flag of Zionist purity is, but this brings me to the next fallacy that is so prevalent in this piece: I call it the Humpty Dumpty fallacy (apologies to Lewis Carroll): the view that words can mean whatever one wants them to mean. ‘Zionism‘ is a word that already means something, and the rabbis cannot simply redefine it to mean “knowing what’s good for Israel better than Israelis themselves,” as they seem to want to do.

5. Anyone who knows Rabbi Jacobs will tell you that he is a mature and wise man. He cares. He learns. He is a mensch. He is the farthest from a fanatic one can possibly imagine. In fact, Rabbi Jacobs lives his life striving for balance, humanity and depth. In the struggle against the plague of separation, he is staffing the ER.

OK, granted. I am sure he would be a good guy to have a beer or be in a foxhole with. But what does that have to do with his positions about Israel, and in particular what American policies toward Israel ought to be?

Let me add one more thing. The tone of this article is insulting. The writers say that critics of the New Israel Fund display “self-righteous certainty, disregard for nuance, allergy to reason and a strong appetite for the whiff of a witch-hunt.”

May I suggest that this better characterizes the writers themselves?

Update [1824 PDT]: The other ad was in the Forward, not NY Jewish Week. Corrected.

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New URJ leader’s appalling ideology

Tuesday, March 22nd, 2011

The new head of the Union for Reform Judaism, Rabbi Richard Jacobs of Scarsdale NY, is a member of the J Street Rabbinic Cabinet and a former member of the board of directors of the New Israel Fund (NIF), presently chair of its ‘Pluralism Grants Committee’ and (former and possibly also present) co-chair of its Rabbincal Council.

The URJ announcement says that he is “deeply committed to the State of Israel.” From what we know about the phony ‘pro-Israel’ J Street and the NIF (which funds numerous groups that are explicitly anti-Zionist or engage in delegitimization of the Jewish state, it is hard to understand how his associations can reflect this commitment.

Especially at this very dangerous time in Israel’s history, is it a good thing that the man chosen to head the largest Jewish denomination in the country with the greatest population of Jews in the world is active in groups which by an objective evaluation are anti-Israel?

This past Yom Kippur, Rabbi Jacobs gave a sermon called “Standing together for Israel” in which he explains his position clearly. He calls J Street “pro-Israel, pro-peace” and suggests that Ambassador Michael Oren was unwise when he declined to speak to their convention (which he did because they opposed sanctions on Iran).

He quotes approvingly a tendentious article by Peter Beinart, and says that he “agrees with Beinart’s thesis.” Beinart thinks that the reason young people don’t support Israel is that it is becoming theocratic and antidemocratic, and does not see Arabs as human beings. Apparently Rabbi Jacobs thinks so too.

Among his reasons to criticize Israel are the Rotem conversion bill and the “disastrous marriage of religion and political power in the Jewish State,” the treatment of the Women of the Wall, etc. — issues which are of far more concern to liberal American Jews than to Israelis, who have existential threats to worry about.

Worse:

Earlier this summer, as Jerusalem was preparing for the peace of Shabbat, I joined 150 protesters in Sheikh Jarrah, a  Palestinian neighborhood of East Jerusalem.  In August 2009, 53 Palestinians, including 20 children, were forced out of their homes by Israeli authorities, who handed over the seized property to Jewish settlers.  Every Friday since, there is an organized protest.   The day I was there, 8 Israelis were arrested.   Professors, writers and activists braved the oppressive heat to stand up for the deepest ideals of the Jewish State. [my emphasis]

Rabbi Jacobs leaves out some facts:

The neighborhood in question is also called shimon ha-tzadik. Many Jews lived there, on land purchased in the 19th Century, until 1948 when Jews were forcibly expelled by the Jordanian army. Their homes were given to Arabs. After 1967, the land was returned to its original owners.

The Israeli Supreme Court, a body which is often strongly criticized for pro-Arab bias, decided that the Arabs were ‘protected residents’, but they had to pay rent to the Jewish owners. Some did, but the ones who were ultimately evicted have squatted there for years, claiming that Ottoman documents showed that the land was theirs. The Court ultimately decided that the documents were forged. The Arabs were evicted after they continued to refuse to pay rent.

This issue has become a cause célèbre for Israeli leftists, visiting radicals and nationalist Palestinian Arabs who have been demonstrating there, sometimes violently, for several years. Rabbi Jacobs’ participation in this demonstration (and his use of the obnoxious phrase ‘Jewish settlers’ for Jews trying to live in their capital) is profoundly disquieting — especially since he seems to count this toward his ‘pro-Israel’ credentials.

Rabbi Jacobs commented on the ‘peace process’ as well:

For me and many other pro-Israel American Jews, the West Bank settlements are a tremendous obstacle to peace.  What happens next Sunday with the moratorium on building in the settlements [the proposed extension for an additional 3 months] will be a critical moment in the latest round of peace talks.   I know there are many Israelis and many American Jews who feel that President Obama has been stinting in his love and support for Israel. I think we’d all be wise to wait at least till a year from now to see where Obama’s chess match called the Middle East peace process leads.

Did Rabbi Jacobs not notice that the Palestinian Authority had refused to negotiate while the moratorium had already been in force for the preceding ten months? Did he miss its refusal to recognize Israel as a Jewish state, or give up ‘right of return’? And yet he cites the settlements, not Arab intransigence, as a ‘tremendous’ obstacle to peace!

A year hasn’t passed, but it’s looking more and more as though Obama’s approach is going to lead to a UN-supported unilateral declaration of Palestinian statehood in which Israel’s security and political considerations will be ignored or given only lip service. It is not helpful for a spokesman for American Jews to blame Israel for the failure of negotiations.

The heart of the solution to the conflict for Rabbi Jacobs seems to be found in this, which is the ‘moral’ of a story about young Israeli Jew and Palestinian Arab:

Avi and Sami had planned to live together this past summer, travel in Israel and the West Bank in their mission to understand each other’s stories, and educate each other that “an enemy is someone whose story you have not yet heard” – a lesson Avi learned from his father. [my emphasis]

I can’t think of a worse ‘lesson’ to help us deal with the realities of today’s Middle East.

First, there are not just ‘stories’, there is objective historical fact. And history tells us that the Jewish state is legitimate and is not stolen property which must be returned, as the Arab story says.

Second, the conflict is not just been Israeli Jews and Palestinian Arabs — it is between Israel and the whole Arab and Muslim world, where Israel and Jews are viciously hated, to a degree that’s hard for most of us to imagine. Will we tell them all our story and suddenly they will stop hating us?

Consider the terrorists that murdered the Fogel family last week. Let’s compare them to a right-wing Israeli Jew that I know, the kind that Rabbi Jacobs disapproves of. He’s a young man who believes that it is important for both spiritual and practical reasons that Israel should hold on to all of Judea and Samaria. He strongly opposed the withdrawal from Gaza. He thinks that Jerusalem and especially the holy places should remain undivided under Israeli rule.

I doubt that he thinks much, if at all, about the problems faced by the Women of the Wall or the non-Orthodox religious movements in Israel (although he himself doesn’t wear a kippa and only rarely goes to synagogue).

This man, like Rabbi Jacobs’ friend Avi, was also a lone soldier and served in an elite combat unit in the IDF. After the army he joined a police counter-terrorism unit. One day he was driving along a peaceful road when his beeper went off. There had been a bus bombing a short distance up the road. It turned out that he was one of the very first to arrive at the scene.

I can’t describe it — I’ve never seen such a horror myself, but he told me what it was like, the bus still burning, the screams, the body parts. And he told me how he felt:

I wanted to kill the ******* that did this. I would do it with my bare hands.
But I didn’t want to kill their wives and children.

This isn’t a question of different stories. It’s not something that can be solved by listening, by encounter groups or classroom study. It has to do with cultural differences, with generations of indoctrination to hate on one side. It has to do with one side making sacrifices over and over, in the name of coexistence, while the other side responds with violent rejection. The solution is not to try to learn more about the enemy’s twisted ‘story’, but to defend what’s rightfully yours, whatever that takes.

I do not know Rabbi Jacobs and I don’t doubt his sincerity in working for what the announcement calls “global social justice.” But I’m appalled by his ideology and sorry that the URJ chose him.

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