Tbe Reform movement has started to retreat from its opposition to the Trump administration’s recognition of Jerusalem as capital.
Following President Trump’s recognition announcement, Union for Reform Judaism (URJ) President Rick Jacobs issued a statement on Dec. 6 expressing “serious concern” that the president’s action “may well undercut the Administration’s peace process efforts and risk destabilizing the region.” The URJ’s opposition broke with the broad American Jewish communal support of the Jerusalem recognition.
But on Dec. 22, the URJ publicly denounced the U.N. for condemning Trump’s recognition.
Criticism of the URJ’s opposition to the U.S. recognition has been bubbling up from within the Reform movement’s ranks. The URJ’s former president, Eric Yoffie, wrote in Haaretz on Dec. 19 that “Jerusalem is and will remain the capital of Israel. … It is comforting and gratifying when President Trump finally states what I know to be eternal and true.” Other Reform leaders were quoted in The Jewish Star as expressing their displeasure with the URJ’s original criticism of the president’s action.
Yoffie pointed out that Trump’s announcement was praised by “leaders of the Israeli center and center-left. Knesset opposition leader Isaac Herzog, Yesh Atid chair Yair Lapid, Zionist Union chair Avi Gabbay, and former foreign minister Tzipi Livni all applauded the President’s words. When I am looking for guidance from Israel’s political leaders, these are the people to whom I turn.”
“I want the Jewish world to know that [the URJ’s] position is not my position, nor does it reflect the views of multitudes of, perhaps most, Reform Jews,” Ammiel Hirsch declared in a sermon at the Manhattan congregation he leads, the Stephen Wise Free Synagogue.
Hirsch, who was the executive director of the Association of Reform Zionists of America for 12 years and served as a tank commander in the Israeli military, strongly challenged the URJ’s criti-cism of the timing of the Trump announcement.
“Now is the not the right time?” asked Hirsch. “Two-thousand years later and it is still not the right time? … There were critics who accused the civil rights movement of moving too quickly. The Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.’s response: ‘The time is always ripe to do what is right’.”
Hirsch told JNS there was an “evolution” in the Reform movement’s position between the organization’s official statements on Dec. 6 and Dec. 22. In his view, the URJ “is now supportive of what I believe should have been our position from the beginning.”
Rabbis from other denominations told JNS that they are pleased at these developments.
“In many corners of the Jewish community today, the reflexive response to anything connected to Trump is: ‘I’m against it’,” said Neil Cooper, spiritual leaders of the Conservative Temple Beth Hillel-Beth El near Philadelphia.
“The December 6 statement was consistent with the attitudes of those URJ leaders who sat down with Palestinian Authority chairman Mahmoud Abbas in Ramallah, yet refused to join President Trump for a High Holy Day phone call,” said Rabbi Pesach Lerner, president of the Coalition for Jewish Values, which represents some Orthodox rabbis.
“It’s heartening that the pushback from other Reform leaders apparently forced a change of course.”