Richard Jacobs, rabbi of Westchester Reform Temple, has just been chosen the new leader of the Union for Reform Judaism, Judaism’s largest domination. Yet, when it comes to his stance on Israel, Jacobs has some baggage that should trouble Israel’s supporters.
Jacobs claims to be pro-Israel. Yet, his 2010 sermon on Yom Kippur, titled “Standing with Israel”, turned out to be a blistering attack on the Jewish state and on American Jews who give Israel their unqualified support.
Some of Jacobs’ criticisms of Israel are valid: For instance, he rightly criticizes the ultra-Orthodox Chief Rabbinate for rescinding the conversion of a 29 year old, Yossi Fackenheim, for failing to strictly adhere to all of the commandments. Fackenheim, who was converted when he was two years old by an Orthodox religious court in Montreal, is the son of the famous Jewish philosopher Emil Fackenheim.
But in other cases Jacobs criticisms of Israel and American Jews amount to a smear. In his sermon, he cited controversial writer Peter Beinart. Referring to the 2002 Solidarity with Israel campaign during the violent Second Intifada Jacobs quoted from Beinart:
When the then Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz told the rally that ‘innocent Palestinians are dying and suffering as well’ he was booed. America’s Jewish leaders should think long and hard about the rally, Beinart says. ‘Unless they change course, it portends the future: an American Zionist Movement that doesn’t even feign concern for Palestinian dignity and a broader American Jewish population that does not even feign concern for Israel.
What’s missing from this indictment, of course, is any sense of context. Beinart’s words suggested a moral equivalence in the midst of a war launched by Palestinians and randomly targeting Israeli civilians. Palestinian civilians died by accident as the Israeli army, trying as best as it could to avoid harming innocents, tried to defend its civilian population. Innocent Palestinians would have never been victims had their own leaders not launched two years of almost continuous lethal attacks on Israeli civilians. Whenever those attacks would have stopped, the danger to Palestinians would have ended.
Israelis however had no such option during the Second Intifada. They were totally at the mercy of Palestinian terrorists trying to blow them up. By his refusal to acknowledge the difference between deliberate murder and Israel’s efforts to defend its civilian population Jacobs exposes his own cold indifference to the lives of Israelis.
Also in that sermon, Jacobs criticized an April 2010 open letter to President Obama by Ellie Wiesel in which the Nobel Peace laureate discussed the centrality of Jerusalem to the Jewish people and religion. Wiesel pointed out that Jerusalem is mentioned over six hundred times in Jewish scriptures and not even once in the Koran. Wiesel wrote:
Today, for the first time in history, Jews, Christians and Muslims all freely worship at their shrines. … The anguish over Jerusalem is not about real estate but about memory.
In rebuttal, Jacobs read approvingly from a letter written by a group of “Jewish Jerusalemites” (unnamed in the sermon) who wrote to Wiesel:
Your letter troubles us, not simply because it is replete with factual errors and false representations, but because it upholds an attachment to some other-worldly which purports to supersede the interests of those who live in this-worldly one. … As true Jerusalemites, we cannot stand by and watch our beloved city, parts of which are utterly neglected, being used as a springboard for crafty politicians and sentimental populists who claim Jerusalem is above politics and negotiations.
Jerusalem was divided for only 19 years of its long history. Between 1948 and 1967 Jordan controlled the eastern parts of the city. Jews were exiled from and not allowed to be in the parts of the city that the Jordanians controlled. After Israel captured those parts of the city which had been under Jordan’s rule in the 1967 war a left-wing Labor government incorporated the entire city into Israel. Because of Jerusalem’s centrality in Jewish history, culture, and religion the extension of permanent Israeli rule over all of Jerusalem had the virtually unanimous support of Jews around the world — not just “crafty politicians and sentimental populists.”
Now, the letter’s authors and apparently Jacobs are willing to conduct negotiations over who rules Jerusalem. In effect, they are willing to contemplate Palestinian rule over parts of the city. But what are the likely consequences of this? Consider that last November the Palestinian Authority’s Interior Ministry posted on its website a paper which argued Jews had no connection to the Temple Mount, long regarded as the place where two Jewish temples stood, and thus the holiest site in Judaism.
In the current issue of The American Interest, Hebrew University professor Yitzchak Reir shows how the now common Palestinian denial of the historic Jewish connection to Jerusalem is a relatively new phenomenon. Before 1967, even Arab intellectuals acknowledged that the Temple Mount was the site of the two Jewish temples.
It’s almost certain that Jews will be excluded from any sites Palestinians rule over. If Jacobs truly wants to see a multi-ethnic Jerusalem, where are his protests over attempts to deny the Jewish connection to the city? How after all can a promoter of pluralism endorse the Palestinian demand for the ethnic cleansing of Jews from the territory of a prospective Palestinian state?
For Jacobs, Israel seems responsible for everything that is wrong in the Middle East. During his sermon he carried his obsession with bashing Israel to absurdity in his comments on attending a rally in support of Gilad Shalit, a young Israel soldier kidnapped and taken to Gaza by Hamas fighters in an unprovoked 2006 cross-border raid.
A woman addressed the rally in favor of releasing some of the most notorious terrorists in Israel to win Shalit’s release. She told us that her husband and two sons had been killed in a terrorist attack, but if the release of her family’s killers could win the release of Shalit, she would be a very happy woman. I didn’t ask, but I think most of the people I was standing with love the State of Israel, but feel the government isn’t doing enough to win enough Shalit’s release.
The absurd assumption behind his comments is that Israel only holds terrorists to assuage the feelings of terror victims. Apparently Jacobs didn’t even consider the consequences of Israel releasing these dangerous terrorists. Would the knowledge that terrorists in Israeli custody could be freed in hostage exchanges encourage more terrorism or more hostage taking? Jacobs hasn’t a word to say. Nor does he condemn Hamas’ totally unjustifiable abduction of Shalit or its continued imprisonment of him.
Ever since it came into being in 1993, billions of dollars in foreign aid for the Palestinian Authority has been used to enrich its ruling oligarchy, sponsor hatred against Israel and Jews and fund a terrorist war against Israeli civilians. If Jacobs and others in the “pro-peace” left cared one whit about these ordinary Palestinians, they would be protesting this. Sadly, Jacobs mouths, without any qualification, the line of the corrupt autocracy that now rules in the territories. By doing so, he forfeits the moral authority to criticize Israel.