Zionist No Longer
For a secular American Zionist organization to point to a Rabbi’s ties to organizations it deems “extremist” is nothing new. What makes this particular critique newsworthy is that the Rabbi in question is the new head of the Reform Movement, and the extremist organizations really are: J Street and the New Israel Fund.
Eric Yoffie, the past head of the Union for Reform Judaism, may have been a leftist member of the “peace” camp, but at least he came to his senses when the facts were overwhelming. In his remarks to a national board meeting of what was then called the Union of American Hebrew Congregations, in June of 2001, he said:
We have believed, along with our allies in the peace camp, that if an Israeli prime minister would be brave enough to say that Israel must choose peace over territories, the Palestinian Authority would also choose peace… But the offer was not accepted. The voices of reason and moderation on which we had counted did not appear. And the PLO showed itself, once again, to be one of the most stupid, murderous, and bloodthirsty national liberation movements in all of human history… We misjudged Palestinian intentions and misread Palestinian society.
We should not expect similar words from his successor, Richard Jacobs. As pointed out by the Zionist Organization of America, Jacobs is a member of the Rabbinic Cabinet of J Street, and a board member of the New Israel Fund. Anyone needing more information about either organization should consult the preceding two links, this piece from Jonathan Rosenblum, or the ZOA Press Release.
One would have to go to the Niturei Karta to find an Orthodox Rabbi so strongly identified with organizations deemed pro-Palestinian by the Israeli left. The Mirrer Yeshiva refused to give synagogue honors to the head of Niturei Karta, yet the Reform movement has now made Jacobs its head. Jewish groups in America have criticized Charedi Jewry less and less frequently for purported anti-Zionist leanings, but this should silence the criticism once and for all. Should, but won’t… and in any event, the appointment of Jacobs further weakens American Jewish support for Israel, and can only be regarded as dangerous if not tragic.
You are correct. Reform was anti zionist for a long time. Some big Reform rabbis were Zionists but many were afraid of dual loyalty. Since the Movement is in trouble and this new rabbi is the popular head of a big temple, and especially since he led the opposition to the status quo, they decided to give him the job. Now, he can’t criticize, he has to come up with answers that work. Reform stands for gay marriage, abortion on demand, patrilinial descent, and in reality has a large number of non converted intermarried members. So, why do you think they should appreciate Zionism. Some do and are among the biggest givers to Israel but ,as memory of Jewish persecution wanes, Reform is more comfortable in a less ethnic,foreign identity. Maybe they are going back to their origins, as we say “Renew our days as of old”.
And the ZOA is supposed to define what constitutes a “kosher Zionist”?
The Reform movement is not monolithic on Israel. Take David Ellenson (HUC head), for example–he is a self-admitted “hard-liner” on Israel, which he told me in person at the URJ offices a few years back. And Eric Yoffie has actually made Israel more of a priority for the Reform movement as a whole.
You may not like the New Israel Fund, but it’s hardly beyond the pale…some of its directors have had very active roles in American Jewish affairs, including a former US Ambassador to Israel, to boot (Martin Indyk….who, as you’ll also recall, had a prominent role in AIPAC some years before).
Well this should come as no surprise! But while its popular to castigate Reform for its deviation from Mesorah,isn’t reform traditionally anti-zionist?
Dangerous and tragic. You know, it was lucky we got so many years of the reform movement being pro-Israel. They could have just kept their anti-zionistic stance that they held for so long. Now, they are just going back towards their previous opinion.
Reb Yid: I would suggest that the NIF is indeed beyond the pale. They have given voice to organizations that advocate for BDS and even some that have advocated the destruction of the state of Israel. At the very least, they have no interest in Israel as a Jewish state.
J-Street is a little bit more gray but they are moving closer and closer to their left fringe. At this year’s conference one of their founders, Daniel Levy, declared that perhaps a Jewish State that must use force to defend itself isn’t such a good idea after all.
Two points: 1) a pluralistic group is less subject to the opinions of its leaders; I doubt an individual will dominate reform opinion. to the contrary, rabbi jacobs may be a moderating influence on j street; one can hope! 2) the reform movement has opposed what it views as religious and territorial extremism, a viewpoint not dissimilar from that of (almost) all US governments and a (probable) majority of israelis. i do not think their view and that of tzippi livni or ehud barak are that far apart.
The fact that the new head of the Reform Jewish movement is not a Zionist should not be shocking to any observer of the history of the movement. The Reform movement has already disassociated itself from most of the concepts that were considered pure and holy for thousands of years. It substituted the entire Torah for a single concept of the Jewish philosophical idea of “Tikkun Olam,” and they have even distorted that concept. If a Reform Jew does not believe that he is obligated in Shabbat, kashrut, niddah, or anything else written in the Torah, why should he believe that Jews have a right or obligation to Zion, the Land of Israel? To me the only shocking thing is that it took this long for the Reform movement to appoint an anti-Zionist as its head.
One more thing:
“Reb Yid” writes: “You may not like the New Israel Fund, but it’s hardly beyond the pale.” Are you kidding? For the newest generation of secular American Jews, the generation that cares more for Lady Gaga than Yom Kippur, the generation which believes in aiding Guatemala but not Israel, the generation that follows the teachings of Thomas Jefferson and not the teachings of Moses, certainly the New Israel Fund is not beyond the pale. But that is a transitory generation. A generation that does not particularly identify as part of a Jewish nation, but rather as Americans of Jewish ancestry. To my sorrow, that is a generation that simply cannot sustain itself and is, therefore, largely irrelevant. But here in Israel, where even the secular Jews have not entirely abandoned the Torah, and where Jewish tradition is still respected, even if not necessarily followed, the New Israel Fund and J-Street are VERY much beyond the pale. Even Peres and his ilk from the left-wing camp have never gone as far as the New Israel Fund’s efforts to de-legitimize Israel. You can be a Zionist and hold left-wing opinions, so long as your ultimate goal is for the good of Israel. Obviously, I believe that those left-wing opinions are wrong, but I wouldn’t say that such a person is not a Zionist, and those opinions are still within the pale. But when your ultimate goal is not the strengthening of the Jewish state, but rather the invention of a “palestinian” homeland; when you care more for the rights of the “palestinian people” than you care for the rights of your own people, then you are not a Zionist. You are not even a non-Zionist. You are an anti-Zionist. And that is, indeed, beyond the pale. I understand this. Israeli society understands this. Even the vast majority of secular Israelis understand this. But “Reb Yid” does not understand this. Perhaps this is part of the reason why the Reform movement has never managed to gain a major toehold here.
I think that serving as a member of the Rabbinic Board of J Street is indicative of a lack of judgment, especially since we know that some of J Street’s founders and members are so enamored with the concept and dream of a Palestinian state that they would view Israel R”L as an expendable political entity. William Kristol has an excellent article in the Weekly Standard that documents this in no uncertain terms.
To Pinchas Steinberg:
Zionists come in all different flavors. But one cannot ignore that from its inception, Zionism and Zionists have included many with a liberal bent, both in Israel and the US, who wanted to see a true democratic state flourish in the land of Israel and, yes, quite a few who wanted to make sure local Arabs did not get a raw deal, either. The idea of a binational state came from liberal Zionists of the early 20th century.
Yes, Jabotinsky and Begin and Bergson were part of the picture, for sure. But they did not define Zionism for everyone. Heaven help us if David Ben-Gurion were around today…the ZOA would probably lash out at him, denying that he was a Zionist.
Pinchas Steinberg mentioned “…the generation that follows the teachings of Thomas Jefferson…”
That would be the Tea Party, not these guys!
I think the main reason why Reform has failed to gain a toehold in Israel is largely due to the fact that the regular secular Israeli sees no need for some half baked version of Judaism,and if they are in need of religious services they can go get a real Rabbi.
The shidduch between Reform and Secular Zionism makes no sense, for Reform is a religious movement and Secular Zionism has no need for religion.
I think the common denominator that binds Reform and the secular elites and academics of Israel is frustration that the general populace are too smart and sensible to buy into their product,whether its half baked religious ritual or repackaged peace initiatives
I am sure that there are some in the Reform movement who would link their support of Israel with changing the “status quo”. It provides a convenient excuse to not support Israel.
Reb Yid, may I correct your history? Jabotinsky didn’t want Arabs to get a raw deal [from Wikipedia: He was convinced that there was no way for the Jews to regain any part of Palestine without opposition from the Arabs, but he also believed that the Jewish state could be a home for Arab citizens. In 1934 he wrote a draft constitution for the Jewish state which declared that the Arab minority would be on an equal footing with its Jewish counterpart “throughout all sectors of the country’s public life.” The two communities would share the state’s duties, both military and civil service, and enjoy its prerogatives. Jabotinsky proposed that Hebrew and Arabic should enjoy equal rights and that “in every cabinet where the prime minister is a Jew, the vice-premiership shall be offered to an Arab and vice versa.] He believed that a war will happen, and he wanted to do whatever it took to win it, but that’s not the same as wanting to discriminate against them once the war was over.
You neglect to mention the huge caveat that Jabotinsky also believed the entire Mandate area (i.e., including Transjordan) should become the Jewish state.
Reb Yid, that is true. However, I fail to see the relevance. I don’t see how being a subject of the Hashemite Dynasty is better than being an Israeli citizen.
That may be true from your perspective. But I’m sure most Arabs living there feel quite differently about the matter.
The implication here that all expression of anti-zionism are the same is highly inaccurate. In today’s day and age, your average mainstream yeshiva bochur is well educated about the absurdity of “reishis tzmichas geulatienu”, the evil deeds of ben gurion and his ilk, and hardly considers himself a zionist. In spite of this, that same bochur appreciates the mortal threat faced by Israel, that one can not negotiate with bloodthirsty murderers, and the extreme animosity exhibited towards Israel by Obama. He will then act and support Israel accordingly. The fact that a reform jew faced with the same facts goes and joins Jstreet speaks to a belief much different than mere anti-zionism.