J.J. Goldberg gets it on Richard Jacobs, Reform, J Street
03/31/2011 - 14:04
James Besser

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.


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Goldberg has it wrong. The mainstream Jewish organizations are comprised of decidedly left of center members who view the actions and agenda of JStreet as very far "left of left" and as counter-productive ideologues who have adopted the propaganda that Israel shoulders full responsibilty for the ongoing conflict. The liberal activists of the mainstream Jewish advocacy organizations understand that it has been, since at least 1948, the profound human rights deficit characteristic of Israel's neighbors, and consequently their inability to tolerate "the other", that led them to reject the U.N.'s two-state solution and fueled decades-long efforts to combat Israel as a Jewish homeland.

I would think that the central point in the complaint made against the appointment is that while less-than-Orthodox-observant religious streams in American Judaism see it fit & proper to insert a very non-Jewish political ideology into their prayers, as it were, adopting the most extreme progressive liberal version of democratic thought and also denigrating all other streams and almost denouncing what they consider an "extremist" national Zionist enterprise in Israel, they tolerate no reciprocal criticism and, in a very nasty way, seeks alliances with non-Jewish political groups. That is what I call not playing fair. Either what's goo d for one is good for the other or the field is wide open for maneuvers and clips and 'fouls'. I know Reform Rabbis who are very uncomfortable with J Street and how do they feel with a J Streeter as their foremost Rabbinical figure? Does the Rabbi cover for the financial shennanigans of Jeremy? The odd sources of donations? The early links with pro-Iran groups? I think that is a very legitimate agenda item which JJ should not get lax about.

At least that's how I see it from Shiloh.

Really many of these so called leftists have never in their lives had anything to do with Jews Politically ,Culturally or in any other way.Many have been members in Anti war groups and leftist politics for many yrs.Now these refugees from non Jewish anti Zionist Groups have found cover in in the variety of Leftists groups with Jewish Names.The question is with these groups move these these ant Israel people into the Zionist ways or will these groups just become cover for long time anti American, Anti Israel activists