Why Rick Jacobs Is Afraid of Tzipi Hotovely

Tzipi Hotovely has become the latest target in the ongoing saga between American Reform leaders and Israel. The inconvenient truth she shared in a TV interview, that American Jews have “quite convenient lives” and few serve in the military or have been “attacked by rockets,” has created an uproar.  Head of the Union of Reform Judaism Rabbi Rick Jacobs didn’t hesitate to call on Netanyahu to dismiss her. Claiming offense in the name of all American Jews, he has spinned a media campaign denouncing Hotovely. The high pitch is particularly puzzling, when you consider that 99% of American Jews have never heard Hotovely nor of the i24 channel, which aired the interview. They don’t even know how to pronounce her name.

The real issue is not what Hotovely had to say. The real issue is who she is. When Jacobs and his peers look at Hotovely, they see the ultimate other. She is everything they are not. Hotovely is a young dynamic, religiously observant woman, who wears her wig with pride. She is Sephardi and right-wing. And since she is poised, attractive, articulate, and intelligent, they also perceive her as dangerous.

Hotovely breaks every stereotype the Reform leaders would want their constituents to believe about Judaism and the status of women. No, she is not barefoot and pregnant. Yes, she is the new face of religious women in Israel, an engaged, worldly leader, who embraces the traditional values of Judaism, motherhood, and family. And with all her appeal she holds right-wing political views and serves on Netanyahu’s government.

You would think that the same leaders, who are valiantly standing up to Hotovely, would have had the courage to stand behind her, when Hillel caved in to BDS pressure and canceled her talk. They did not. Ironically, the only American group to defend Hotovely and to offer her an alternative venue for her speech were Chabad. The supposedly misogynist “ultra-Orthodox” rabbis went out of their way to protect her right to speak, while the liberal feminist men did not raise a finger to defend her or her right to free speech.

While Hotovely’s statement is an accurate reflection of facts, American leaders can certainly disagree with her decision to voice it. The facts are clear to almost anyone. Yes, some young Jewish Americans serve in the US military and a tiny number even volunteer for the IDF. However, the vast majority do no, and lack the sense of vulnerability that young Israelis have. Let’s be honest. While 19-year-old Israelis are chasing down terrorists near Gaza and Lebanon, Americans are going to college. It’s a vastly different life. So while we can argue about the wisdom of pointing this out, there is certainly no place for hard feelings.

Not only that. The attacks on Hotovely are just a new chapter in the ongoing Reform strategy of creating a continuous crisis with the Israeli government. By bringing things to a head over religious pluralism and so-called “Diaspora relations,” Reform leadership hopes to rally support back home and create a footbridge for gaining new followers in Israel. With Reform demographics shrinking in the US and remaining miniscule in Israel, they didn’t find a better strategy for advancing their agenda then to paint a target on the back of rising star, who is an Orthodox woman.

Israel cannot forget how the same Reform leaders refused to stand by her over the Iran nuclear deal. While some American Jewish leaders stood on the sidelines, many others actively supported Obama’s policy, which had put Israel in mortal risk. Now they are trying to intimidate the Israeli government with a so called “crisis in relations” between Israel and the Diaspora. With hardly 14% of American Jewish adults belonging to a Reform temple, speaking for the entire Jewish Diaspora is disingenuous at best.

Yes, there are policy disagreements between American Jewish leaders and the Israeli government. And there are major social issues in Israel and in the US, affecting millions. The real crisis is in the low standards of Jewish education, the rising numbers of intermarriages (condoned and blessed by Reform clergy), and a young generation that fails to see Judaism as relevant.  The real crisis is not about the 200 Women of the Wall, who want to pray as they wish at the Kotel. It is the lamentable 8% of young American Jews, who are active in the Reform movement.

So instead of giving serious thought to the failure back in their own pews, the Reform Movement has done what people always do when they want to escape taking responsibility. They find someone else to blame. A charismatic young Israeli diplomat provided a convenient (if ungentlemanly) target. Hotovely told a truth that few want to hear, yet she does not deserve being squashed for being honest. Netanyahu should ignore the tumult that is not much more than a PR spin and keep her in his government.

About the Author
Leah Aharoni is the Founder/CEO of SHEvuk, a business consulting firm, which helps companies grow by effectively marketing and selling great services to women. Drawing on her training in Organizational Psychology and extensive background in entrepreneurship, education, and international communications, she also channels her passion for women's empowerment into coaching women to succeed in business and personal goals. When not working or spending time with her feisty sabra kids, Leah enjoys learning and teaching self-development Torah, as brought down in chassidic sources. Find out more at www.SHEvuk.com.
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