Okay, he works for the competition and all, but I have to say it: the Forward’s J.J. Goldberg nailed it on the issue of Rabbi Richard Jacobs, recently selected as the new president of the Union for Reform Judaism.
Its seems that some on the Jewish right want to make an issue of Jacobs’ support for J Street and the New Israel Fund. In doing so, these activists are taking their political battles and shoving them into the religious sphere – and, more to the point, doing it in a religious body where Jacobs’ J Street sympathies are shared by many and almost certainly not a problem for most.
There was nothing remarkable in the fact URJ picked a new president who supports J Street; what would have been stop-the-presses remarkable would be if URJ, representing the largest religious segment in American Jewry, picked someone the Jewish right actually liked.
Anyway, back to J.J. : what he sees in all this is an intensifying “family feud” between still-liberal American Jews and an Israel that keeps moving further to the right, and pulling its right-of-center friends here along for the ride.
“The problem is that while Jacobs’ views on Israel are quite mainstream among American Jews, the notion that such views endanger Israel and have no place in Jewish communal discourse is becoming mainstream in Israel,” he writes.
Where I think Goldberg is a little off is his apparent belief the American Jewish community is shifting leftward. His proof: “J Street was founded just three years ago and is already one of the biggest organizations on the American Jewish scene, even before it’s out of diapers. Consider, too, the rapid growth of Jewish activism to the left of J Street, among the boycott, divestment and sanctions crowd and Palestinian-solidarity types. What used to be the left is now closer to the center.”
I’m not sure the community is moving leftward, but it’s certainly true that the American Jewish left is getting more organized and more vocal, if not substantially larger. Mostly what I see is a shift in the direction of less involvement and less connection to Israel – but there’s little doubt the largest segment of the community, if not actively involved in left-of-center activism, has no problems with the positions advocated by J Street.
If there’s any widespread concern about Jacobs and his affiliations among Reform Jews, I haven’t heard them.
At the same time, Israel continues its rightward tilt – now with the added dimension of a growing effort to control the agenda of an American Jewish community that’s in a very different place, politically.
First there was the agitation against the New Israel Fund, now it’s the Knesset committee investigation into whether J Street is entitled to call itself “pro-Israel.”
“Nations have their political mood-swings, and the two great Jewish communities have had their ups and downs before,” Goldberg writes. “There’s no precedent, however, for the sort of concerted assault against American Jewish institutions that’s underway in Jerusalem. It’s irresponsible, and it’s self-destructive. If Rick Jacobs is anything, he’s a peacemaker. Israel will need him.”
Israel is used to the major Jewish groups here jumping to attention when leaders in Jerusalem crack the whip. Surprisingly, they remain clueless about how uninvolved the majority of Jews here are in those American organizations, and how most Jews, while supportive of Israel’s right to exist, won’t look favorably on Israel telling them what to think about the Middle East.
Spot on, J.J. Even if you do work for the other guys.