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Reform rift over incoming chief Richard Jacobs’ Zionist credentials

SAN FRANCISCO (JTA) — Ads questioning the Zionist credentials of the leader-designate of the Reform movement, Rabbi Richard Jacobs, are a distortion, Reform leaders said.

The ad attacking Jacobs for not being sufficiently pro-Israel appeared in a number of Jewish newspapers this week. It was placed by a group of Reform Jews calling themselves Jews Against Divisive Leadership.

It notes that Jacobs, the nominee to be the next president of the Union for Reform Judaism, is on the rabbinic cabinet of J Street and the board of the New Israel Fund, two left-leaning organizations on Israel issues.

Three dozen members of U.S. Reform congregations signed the ad, which declares that Jacobs “does not represent the pro-Israel policies cherished by Reform Jews” and therefore “does not represent us.”

The ad calls upon the URJ to reconsider Jacobs’ appointment or risk driving “mainstream Zionists” out of the Reform movement. The URJ’s board is due to meet in June to vote on Jacobs’ nomination.

Responding in an Op-Ed in the L.A. Jewish Journal, three Reform leaders blasted what they call the ad’s “distorted caricature” of Jacobs. They suggested the “handful” of signatories are out of touch with current Zionist norms and are playing into the hands of right-wing critics of Jacobs’ Zionist credentials.

“The fact that those who have assaulted Rabbi Jacobs’ integrity have wrapped themselves in the flag of Zionist purity is particularly galling,” says the Op-Ed, which is signed by Rabbi David Ellenson, president of Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion; Rabbi Naamah Kelman, dean of the college’s Jerusalem campus; and Rabbi Michael Marmur, its vice president for academic affairs.

“Rabbi Jacobs is a model of constructive engagement,” they wrote, decrying the ad’s “tactics of witch-hunting and demagoguery.”

The Anti-Defamation League also blasted attacks on Jacobs’ character. National Director Abraham Foxman said in a statement that such attacks “are harmful to the spirit of unity and common cause that unites the Jewish people.”

Jacobs, 55, the senior rabbi of Westchester Reform Temple in Scarsdale, N.Y., was tapped in March to be the next president of the URJ, which claims 1.5 million members and nearly 900 synagogues.

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