I attended the Union for Reform Judaism (URJ) Biennial and, unsurprisingly, the theme of diversity, inclusion, and acceptance of a “big tent” was prominent everywhere you looked, listened, and interacted. And of course it was – our diversity and inclusion is one of the most beautiful things about being part of the Reform movement. So why then, does a movement- so firmly grounded in the principles of diversity of opinions and backgrounds, tolerance and understanding- claim to speak with a single voice on the issue of Jerusalem?
The statement issued by URJ President Rabbi Rick Jacobs on behalf of the organizations of the Reform Jewish Movement regarding the United States’ recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, and the corresponding commitment to move the U.S. embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem says that, “we cannot support [President Trump’s] decision to begin preparing that move now.” (Emphasis added]. I, for one, do support it, and I’m sure that in a denomination made up of over two million American Jews, I’m not alone.
Ask any Jew what the capital of Israel is, and they’ll tell you, without hesitation, that it’s Jerusalem- so why would I be disappointed that my government has finally recognized what we all know to be the truth? Why would I disapprove of my president demonstrating support for proclaiming a fact that the Jewish community holds as self-evident? And why would the URJ leadership presuppose that all members of the Reform movement would also disapprove? I’m proud that once again our nation has shown leadership in our commitment to Israel, one of our country’s closest allies. I’m proud that my president has declared that Israel will no longer be the only nation on earth that is not allowed to choose its own capital. I’m thrilled that our nation is demonstrating the moral courage to do what’s right in spite of the fact that it’s politically complicated both at home and abroad. And it’s baffling to me that an organization that recognizes that such great diversity exists within its movement would deign to represent the totality of the people in it with a statement like this, claiming that all in our diverse movement hold one monolithic view.
I also want to be clear- I’m under no delusion that I hold the majority opinion within the Reform movement, nor am I advocating for the URJ to publicly adopt my position. I am well aware of the complicated nature of officially recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital – the increased risk of conflict that is now possible in an already unstable region, the potential for the Palestinians to turn further away from already stalled peace negotiations, and the risk of the U.S. marginalizing itself as an honest broker in any future talks. I realize that this makes many within the American Jewish community inclined to take a cautious approach. But this decision, initiated not by President Trump, but by Congress in 1995 with the overwhelmingly bipartisan Jerusalem Embassy Act, does not prejudge the final outcome of any peace negotiation. As President Trump stated directly in his remarks, “We are not taking a position of any final status issues, including the specific boundaries of the Israeli sovereignty in Jerusalem, or the resolution of contested borders. Those questions are up to the parties involved.” President Trump made it clear in his statement that the U.S. is not prejudicing the outcome of any final agreement, trying to dictate terms, or discounting the possibility that part of Jerusalem may one day become the capital of an independent Palestinian state.
But the truth is, I’m not arguing my case based on the merits. I’m not trying to convince anyone that the U.S. recognizing Jerusalem as the capital of Israel is the right thing to do- even though I believe it to be true with every fiber of my being. What I’m saying is that the URJ got it wrong, and continues to get it wrong, when it makes pronouncements about how all in the largest denomination of U.S. Jewry views anything.
The URJ likes to say that they build communities and strengthen our movement at every level by offering a community that is open and inclusive. And in statements like the one issued on Jerusalem last week, they also like to claim that they speak for all of us who identify, religiously, as Reform Jews. To that I say- to Rick Jacobs and the URJ leadership- diversity and inclusion are not just concepts to be applied in a social context- they’re also essential in recognizing the diversity of political views and personal opinions that reside within our large movement. It’s time to stop pretending that you can speak with one voice for our entire denomination, because I can tell you this for certain- you don’t speak for me.