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- Abstract

The naming of Rabbi Richard Jacobs as the new head of the Union for Reform Judaism has set off a debate about the Reform movement’s commitment to the state of Israel. Jacobs has been lambasted for serving as a member of the rabbinic cabinet of the left-wing lobbying group J Street, his participation in demonstrations against the building of Jewish homes in the Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood of Jerusalem, and his reported support for boycotts of settlements in the West Bank. His appointment, critics say, calls into question Reform’s willingness to remain part of the pro-Israel consensus.

Jacobs’s immediate predecessor at the URJ, Rabbi Eric Yoffie, may have been, like many Reform Jews, a liberal and a critic of Israel’s nationalist right and its Orthodox religious establishment, but he was also in the tradition of the mid-century leaders Stephen Wise and Abba Hillel Silver—who changed Reform’s orientation from hostility to Zionism toward passionate advocacy. Yoffie chastised J Street when it publicly opposed Israel’s December 2008 counteroffensive against Hamas terrorists. His action, as much as any other, drew a bright line between genuine liberal Zionists and those, like the leaders of J Street, who are uncomfortable with, if not downright opposed to, any act of Israeli self-defense.