Rick Jacobs and Stephen Wise
When Rabbi Richard ‘Rick’ Jacobs was nominated to be the head of the Union for Reform Judaism (URJ) in 2011, I and other members of Reform congregations were strongly opposed. Rabbi Jacobs was a member of J Street’s Rabbinic Cabinet and a board member of the New Israel Fund (NIF), both of which are de facto anti-Zionist organizations, in spite of their self-definition as ‘pro-Israel’. Jacobs also proudly took part in a demonstration in support of Arab squatters in an East Jerusalem neighborhood, even after the left-leaning Israeli supreme court upheld the decision to evict them.
The reaction of the URJ to our criticism was immediate (actually comingbefore an advertisement we placed in the Los Angeles Jewish Journal hit print) and vicious. Despite its pretenses to democratic principles, nobody knows how to threaten, slander, and stifle free speech like the Left!
Now Jacobs has been in charge of the URJ for several years (and his official bio does not include J Street and the NIF among the multitude of organizations that he has served). Where does he stand on Israel today? Let’s look at the speech he delivered at the URJ Biennial yesterday.
There has been interdependence between the Diaspora and Israel from the start. In this current moment, the paradigm of Jewish life is moving toward a more globally interdependent world Jewish community that shares responsibility with the State of Israel for the preservation and regeneration of the Jewish people wherever they may live.
Actually, Jewish life is drying up in the diaspora. In Europe, Jewish communities are fleeing or living in fear of resurgent Jew-hatred, both from Muslim immigrants and home-grown neo-fascists. In the US, the liberal Jewish community is rapidly shrinking. While the number of Orthodox Jews is growing to some extent, the Conservative movement is on its last legs, with synagogues closing and merging rapidly.
The Reform Movement, led by Jacobs, is trying to hold its own (although membership in URJ congregations has dropped significantly in recent years) by embracing what Jacobs calls “interfaith families.” I call them families that are unlikely to have Jewish children and almost certain not to have Jewish grandchildren. This is a policy that leads to short-term growth and long-term disaster.
It’s probably correct to say that today the center of gravity of Jewish life has shifted to Israel from the diaspora. But what Jacobs means by ‘sharing responsibility’ is a paternalistic attitude exemplified by the URJ, J Street and the NIF, which purport to know what’s best for Israel much better than Israelis or their democratically elected government. As if to prove my point, Jacobs goes on to lecture Israel about its relations with the Palestinians, settlements, the treatment of women, and the delicate balance between the religious and secular aspects of the state.
Here is what he says about the farcical ‘peace process’:
The security concerns that Israel faces are of the utmost concern to all of us. Let us never forget. Israel still remains surrounded by forces that, if they believed they could militarily destroy her, they would not hesitate to do so. Only Israel’s strength, enhanced by American support, prevents this outcome. At the same time, we remain deeply committed to the proposition that a real peace process that brings about a viable Palestinian state and secure borders for Israel is indispensible [sic] for Israel’s security and well-being, even as it is for Palestinian political aspirations and for U.S. and Canadian foreign policy interests throughout this volatile, but vital region. [my emphasis]
Now it is bad enough that Jacobs seems to think that “Palestinian political aspirations” do not include the replacement of the Jewish state by an Arab one, or that he thinks that the Jewish people need to be responsible for anyone else’s political aspirations.
But the part about “U.S. and Canadian foreign policy interests” is chilling, especially when the present US administration is so hostile to Israel.
It is the voice of his predecessor in the Reform Movement, Rabbi Stephen Wise, who worked against efforts to save European Jewry during the Holocaust, going so far as to call Ze’ev Jabotinsky a “traitor” and activist Peter Bergson “worse than Hitler” for their attempts to raise the awareness of Americans to the horror taking place in Europe.
Wise did what he did out of devotion to President Roosevelt, and from the conviction that making too much of a fuss about a genocide in far-off Europe would exacerbate Jew hatred in America. Some suggest that he was simply too dazzled by his closeness to power to understand his true moral obligations. And there is the age-old impulse of the diaspora Jew to cling to the hope that non-Jewish power will protect him.
Jacobs clearly sees himself as politically ‘progressive’, but there is more to his remark than ritual obeisance to the administration. I interpret it as an attempt to reassure the non-Jewish world that there is no question of dual loyalty here. When it comes to a conflict between Israel and the Obama Administration, Jacobs wants there to be no uncertainty about where he stands.
With the administration.