The Reform movement has always leaned toward the political left, but its decision to tap Rabbi Richard Jacobs as its new leader signals that it might be shifting its focus toward a slightly different form of political activism.
Jacobs, who will replace Rabbi Eric Yoffie as the head of the Union for Reform Judaism, has played a prominent role in the progressive activist community. He’s a long-time board member at the New Israel Fund, a major funder of left-wing causes as well as some that launched the anti-Israel “lawfare” movement. And while NIF says it no longer finances pro-boycott organizations, it previously contributed to Concerned Women for Peace, Israel Social TV, and Mossawa.
Jacobs is also listed as a member of J Street’s Rabbinic Cabinet, which suggests the controversial lobbying group might become a more influential player in the Reform movement than it’s been in the past.
Yoffie, who led the Reform movement for 16 years, had a notoriously rocky relationship with J Street. Though a longtime dove in terms of his take on Israel’s conflict with the Palestinians, in 2009, Yoffie’s speech at the J Street conference drew boos from the audience after he declared that UN Justice Richard Goldstone should “be ashamed of himself.” The Rabbi also blasted J Street’s condemnation of Israel’s military actions in Gaza, writing that the group “misread the issues and misjudged the views of American Jews” in a column in the Forward.
Yoffie wasn’t afraid to call out Israel’s delegitimizers, but will Jacobs be willing to do the same? The delegitimization campaign against Israel is gaining the most traction with left-wing Jews, and it’s crucial for the Reform movement to do all it can to counter this. On that front, Jacobs’s involvement with groups like NIF and J Street is a troubling sign.