Friday, May 13, 2011

Which Rabbi Jacobs Will Lead the Reform Movement?

Rabbi Richard Jacobs, President-Designate of the URJ
 The Jewish Reform movement has just started the transition to a new leader. In 2012, Rabbi Eric Yoffie is stepping down after 30 years in leadership roles in the Reform Movement. The process of introducing his successor,  Rabbi Rick Jacobs to the public has begun. One of Jacobs' first public appearances after the announcement was made was with Rabbi Yoffie was in DC last week. Speaking to Reform social justice activists he mounted a vigorous defense of his pro-Israel credentials. Rabbi Jacobs is a moderate. He has supported Rabbis for Human Rights, an activist group that does great work on behalf of Palestinian human rights. While he is a member of J Street's Rabbinic Cabinet, Rabbi Jacobs has aligned himself with Jewish Voice for Peace's position on BDS (economic sanctions and other measures). Namely, Rabbi Jacobs does not oppose BDS  against West Bank settlements.
His appointment to the head of the Reform movement is being hailed  - and attacked – as a victory for the  left-of-center J Street.
In this speech, however, Rabbi Jacobs goes out of his way to appease the right-wing. After coming under attack by the right wing,  he is now speaking with a different voice, answering Amen to the anti-Palestinian camp’s talking points.

Which of is two two public personas will Rabbi Jacobs bring to the URJ? The Rabbi Jacobs who supports BDS against or the one who supports the IDF's onslaught on Gaza?

I posted this response on The Forward website:

Rabbi Jacobs speaks of equality between Jew and Arab in Israel and speaks approvingly, if only in passing, of activism to dismantle settlements. These are important messages.
But these good points are, unfortunately, overshadowed by major sections of the speech.
Rabbi Jacobs speaks admiringly of Daniel Pipes, a man whose idea of reaching out to other faiths is expressed in statements such as "we should tolerate moderate Islam", and, in commenting on the peaceful, democratic revolution in Egypt said: " this time, they are the least democratic of peoples". Notwithstanding that one of the world's most populous democracies, is the Muslim country of Indonesia.
Where is Rabbi Jacobs' voice urging Reform Jews to reach out to American Muslims?
2. Rabbi Jacobs has nothing to say about Israel's shameful attack on the people of Gaza in 2008-9. He boasts that he anticipated the partisan retraction of one of the 13 serious war crime charges against Israel in the attack on Gaza in 2008-9. He implies that the retraction by a single member of the commission of just one finding is sufficient to invalidate the other 12 accusations of war crimes. Rabbi Jacobs surely knows that in our tradition, a da'at yachid, (a minority, dissenting opinion) does not decide the law.
Where is the Rabbi's moral concern for the horrendous destruction of civilian institutions and human life in the IDF's campaign in Gaza?
3. Rabbi Jacobs speaks approvingly of AIPAC and disparagingly of J Street. Jewish Voice for Peace is not mentioned in his speech on Israel.
Where is the "big tent" that the leader of the largest denomination in Judaism seeks to build?
Given such a partisan, political stance, Rabbi Kaplan's call for Reform Jews to disengage from Israel is understandable. However, this is less than optimal. A new generation of young American Jews is emerging who will not put aside their values in the name of loyalty the State of Israel. What will Rabbi Jacobs and Rabbi Kaplan tell them?
In the U.S. we have Palestinian and Arab neighbors. What message do we want to send them?
In the past the leadership of American Jewry gave the Israeli government the authority to bring settlements to the West Bank. Rabbi Yoffie has since retracted that support.
I wish Rabbi Jacobs well in his new position as leader of the Reform movement. There is still time, before he takes office next year, to go beyond narrow partisan politics and reach out to the broad, diverse spectrum of opinion that is American Reform Judaism.
I hope he does so.


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