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

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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