Why is New Reform Rabbi Repeating Anti-Israel Rhetoric?

March 31st, 2011 at 5:52 am | 12 Comments |

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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.

Jacobs said:

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.

Recent Posts by Martin Krossel

12 Comments so far ↓

  • Nanotek

    “What’s missing from this indictment, of course, is any sense of context.”

    There often is in dialogues but, for me, there’s a different game afoot.

    Like the US, Israel is not monolithic and has liberals and conservatives. Liberals in both countries should challenge the framing of criticism of conservative policies in Israel by conservative pundits in the US as being anti-Israel or anti-Semitic.

    Conservative Israeli policies and being pro-Israeli are not necessarily the same thing. American conservatives conflated being pro-American and the Iraq war, successfully framing any criticism of that war as anti-American. Same thing seems afoot in this article when it comes to criticism of conservative policies in Israel.

    “Jacobs claims to be pro-Israel. Yet, his 2010 sermon…” sounds a lot like “Obama claims to be Christian. Yet, his Chicago preacher… ”

    Deal with each issue on its own accord, please.

  • talkradiosucks.com

    I find it very odd that the author would post a rebuttal to a sermon without even providing a reference to it so we could read it for ourselves. For those who want to do so — I am reading it now — it’s located here (PDF): http://www.wrtemple.org/LinkClick.aspx?fileticket=u81m_NEWaFU%3D&tabid=75

    • Nanotek

      thanks talkradiosucks.com

    • jamesj

      Interesting. Thanks for posting the direct link TRS.

      “Does apathy keep us from standing up for Israel?”

      A good question, with an obvious answer.

  • ottovbvs

    This is another of Krossel’s rants against anyone, even a leading rabbi, who dares to criticise ANY aspect of Israel or Israeli policy. It’s most interesting for what it tells you about the literally fanatical mindset of Zionist diehards and why achieving any kind of a peace settlement is very unlikely while these guys are in charge of Israel.

  • talkradiosucks.com

    You know, I was going to reply to this article in detail, but I decided it really wasn’t worth the bother, because there’s nothing interesting here. The sermon is over 4,000 words long, yet Krossel seems content to have cherry-picked out a paragraph or two that he finds objectionable, while either missing or ignoring the entire general point that the sermon makes.

    This whole conflict summarizes down neatly into two sentences:

    Jacobs laments the vilification of Jews who refuse to express unconditional support for Israel.
    Krossel vilifies Jacobs for refusing to express unconditional support for Israel.


    • Elvis Elvisberg

      It’s somewhat worse than that, in my view, TRS. He’s trying to render Peter Beinart, the editor of the New Republic, a politically incorrect person like Michael Moore or Al Gore.

      Say what you will about Beinart, he’s a lifelong pro-Israel American who’s writing very seriously about the divide between Israel & Americans who are inclined to defend Israel. See here: http://www.nybooks.com/articles/archives/2010/jun/10/failure-american-jewish-establishment/?pagination=false

      Krossel is incapable of engaging a good-faith argument, so he tries to stigmatize Beinart as “controversial.”

      I’m not Beinart, so I’ll present some strident facts that Krossel will hate: From Dec. 08 until Jan. 09, according to the IDF, at least 400 Palestinian civilians were killed by Israel. In the previous seven years, 17 Israeli civilians had been killed by Palestinian rocket attacks. At the time of the Gaza operation, some American commentators defended Israel’s killing of civilians as an essential part of the mission. See, e.g.: http://www.weeklystandard.com/weblogs/TWSFP/2009/01/overkill.asp and http://www.salon.com/news/opinion/glenn_greenwald/2008/12/28/peretz/index.html

      This is shameless, irrational discourse-policing from Krossel– trying to wall off rational discussion as politically incorrect.

      It’s almost as if he believes there’s no rational defense of Israel’s actions.

  • pnwguy

    from the author:

    “…turned out to be a blistering attack on the Jewish state and on American Jews who give Israel their unqualified support.” ….. bold emphasis mine.

    Should ANY government have unqualified support of even its citizens, let alone outsiders? Would you ask that of a German in 1938? It’s as if the author believes that it’s impossible for Israel by definition to engage in any bad action. That’s the frustration that I think Beinart and others feel.

  • jamesj

    “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.”

    It would benefit the author of this piece to consider this statement on its own terms. Think about it. Let it sink in. Be human. Breath deep. Regardless of what one thinks of Beinart, doesn’t this simple statement hold a lot of truth? After all, it is 100% empirically true that innocent Palestinians and innocent Jews are dying and suffering day in and day out. Isn’t that, in and of itself, a fact worthy of note and reflection? Isn’t that fact something that should cause “concern” in any human heart without additional qualification?

    Not for the author. What follows in the author’s piece is a lengthy list of excuses and accusations of responsibility. Listen, I understand what you are saying here, but you’re missing something… the actual point. You come off as defensive. You come off as an apologist for tragedies that are 100% real.

    When someone like me studies this conflict, having no pre-bias and looking at both sides with an almost sterile historical mindset, I come away with the same amount of sympathy for innocents on both sides and disapproval for dogmatic extremists on both sides. To feel this way is simply to be human. If you can’t recognize that, if you can’t admit it, you’ve lost a part of your humanity. You’ll do your cause much good by tapping into this deep human nature and openly embracing it instead of going into denial. There is no value judgment as to who started the conflict or who is responsible for the conflict when you simply acknowledge that innocent human beings are suffering through little fault of their own. This is not a conservative or liberal way of looking at things. This is neither entirely right brain or left brain. It is simply human.

    In a very real way, your dogmatic changing of subject away from the tragic consequences of this conflict is part of the perpetuating energy that keeps it going, generation after generation. This is an important and deep point and should be reflected on at length. Your mindset plays a role in the world. You have the power to change your mindset, to be a better human being, to alter the world slowly in your own small way. Don’t be part of the problem. Don’t concentrate on blame when you should instead concentrate on reductions of human suffering wherever possible.

    • ktward


      Your post is both gracious and inspiring- and a cautionary reminder of the soul-crushing pitfalls of politics.

      otto and Elvis have already done a fine job echoing my own take on this Krossel screed, so I’ll simply add this: while it’s true that FF features contributors and content of various socio-political stripes and colors, the one thing we will never see here is a reasonable centrist take on Israel. Among Frum’s and Krossel’s ilk, any perceived criticism of Israel’s leaders, her policies or her actions, is evidence enough of an anti-Israel anti-semite. It’s quite sad and unfortunate really, mostly for Israel.

  • larry

    Those with Krossel’s views are trapped by history. They have gone too far. They have made a two-state option irretrievable. They are aghast at this recognition. Their response? Pointless shrillness, empty rage, mindless bluster, silence the wise, outlaw dissent, elect nutty governments, increase the threats. History remains unimpressed. The dream has perished. The illusions remain. Krossel offers his assessment. It is irrelevant. He is the last to know this. Or maybe Frum.

  • Danny_K

    This comes a week after the Knesset held hearings about whether J Street can call itself “pro-Israel” or not. To paraphrase Brecht, Israel has lost confidence in the current diaspora and will have to dissolve and form a new one! We are not living up to their standards.