As Israel-Hamas war drags on, post-Oct. 7 unity fades as differences emerge over Israel advocacy

The head of the Orthodox Union lays out his organization's red lines for advocacy partners, apparently cutting the Reform movement out; he says they're entitled to their beliefs, but working together would muddle the message

Writing in the Orthodox Union’s magazine, its executive vice president, Rabbi Moshe Hauer, laid out the organization’s red lines that would render a group ineligible as an advocacy partner: seeking harm to Jews; not prioritizing Jewish self-defense; seeming more ashamed than proud of Israel; and failing to “unconditionally support the existence and defense of Israel even when critiquing it.”

In addition to drawing these borders, Hauer identified several organizations that appear to fall afoul of them, including the progressive Rabbis for Ceasefire and T’ruah, as well as — perhaps more surprisingly — the “affiliated organizations of the Union for Reform Judaism,” whom he said regularly issue statements in which “rebuke of Israel is plentiful, while consideration of [its] security needs is scarce.”

In the immediate aftermath of the Oct. 7 terror attacks, the American Jewish community experienced a level of cohesion that it had not seen in decades. With exceedingly few exceptions, Jewish organizations from across the political and religious spectrum — from AIPAC to J Street, from URJ to Agudath Israel of America — came together in solidarity with Israel and support for the start of its war against Hamas in Gaza. But nine months on, the divisions between many of these organizations are beginning to show, as different segments of the Jewish community develop and express their own vision for what should come next: a hostage release-cease-fire agreement, continuing the war, the two-state solution, Israel’s resettlement of the Gaza Strip.

Speaking to eJewishPhilanthropy about his article, which was published in the most recent edition of the OU’s Jewish Action, Hauer insisted that his circumscription was not meant to define what is or isn’t a legitimate belief about Zionism or to put any group in herem (excommunication), but was instead meant to signify the OU’s foundational values for advocacy work.

“It’s very, very important to be clear and to say, ‘This is not an attempt to put anybody in herem,’ so to speak. It’s not trying to chase anyone from Jewish community. It’s not even trying to get up from any table at which we already sit. Absolutely not,” Hauer said. 

“Of course, everybody has the right to their opinion, and they have a right to vote the way they want, and they have a right to choose what it means to them to support Israel… [But] I have to ask myself who’s going to be a good partner for me? Who’s going to join in the messaging which to us seems very, very clear what is called for? OK. Somebody could have a different opinion. That’s fine, but that doesn’t make them my partner,” he said.

Yet Rabbi Rick Jacobs, president of the URJ, who had read Hauer’s piece, told eJP that he balked at the article by the OU leader, whom he said he considers a “wonderful colleague and a friend.” Specifically, Jacobs said that he took great issue with Hauer grouping his organization together with Rabbis for Ceasefire, whom he said has a markedly different views of Israel and Zionism — negative ones, generally speaking — than the Reform movement, which he said is an explicitly Zionist organization. “I take, really, enormous exception to the way that he literally lumped us all together,” Jacobs said. 

Jacobs noted that Hauer’s article opens with a direct quote from Rabbi Rebecca Alpert praising the United Nations for its criticism of Israel, which he said “insinuat[ed] that the rest of us are somehow part of that.”

“We have never called for conditioning military aid [to Israel]. We have been filled with empathy and solidarity and activism on behalf of Israel,” he said. “We are the largest Zionist organization in North America. I think those things are important, and I think that we don’t line up exactly with OU, not because we’re right and they’re wrong, [but because] we approach these things differently.”

Jacobs added that unlike the other two organizations mentioned by name in Hauer’s piece  — Rabbis for Ceasefire and T’ruah — the URJ and most of its affiliated organizations are members of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations alongside the OU.

While Jacobs acknowledged that Hauer was not saying that the URJ’s viewpoints on Israel are illegitimate, he questioned the utility of drawing dividing lines in such a way that the Reform movement would not be considered a reliable partner as it relates to Israel advocacy. 

“I just think this is a moment in which the Jewish community would be helped and strengthened if we didn’t just categorize along ‘those issues’ or ‘those sides,’ and we found the common ground,” he said.

Jacobs noted that on other issues, the OU has specifically sought out the Reform movement for cooperation. “For example, there was a letter that was being sent to the attorney general [Merrick Garland] a week ago. Moshe Hauer reached out to me and asked us to join the letter…  he said, ‘Rick, here’s the letter. It would be strengthened if you added your names to it,’” Jacobs recalled. “That was a clear indication that having our voice joined with OU made it kind of like aleph ad tav [from A to Z], that it wasn’t just one segment of the community.”

Hauer stressed that the OU was not abandoning any of the groups or partnerships that it is already a part of and that the Jewish community is never “monolithic.” He also said that he “bristle[s] and object[s]” to any attempt to categorize Reform Jews as self-hating Jews. “They love Israel and they love the Jewish people and they’re trying to do [this] for the Jewish people,” he said. 

And yet Hauer said that while he believes that their dedication to Israel and the Jewish people is genuine, he thinks that “their statements are terribly misguided [and] that they misunderstand what it means to act in a way that stands supportive of the Jewish people.”

He offered as an example the Reform movement’s statement from January in support of the two-state solution, which he said “did not speak with pride of Israel’s conduct of this war, of the morality of [the IDF] in the work that it does and which spent far more time concerning itself with the Palestinian state than with the necessary security for the State of Israel.”

Hauer said that his decision to pen the article and list these red lines was a “proactive” measure to lay out how the OU would treat its Israel advocacy going forward.

“We’re not in the habit of walking away from tables, but at tables where the partners are representing this kind of ambiguity, we know we’re going to be getting less done and we have to somehow say, ‘OK, if this table is going to be restrained by trying to satisfy parties who don’t prioritize in a strong and clear way, unambiguously, shomer achi anochi [I am my brother’s keeper], looking out for their fellow Jews, then that’s not the table where we’re going to be able to get as much done,” Hauer said. “We’re going to have to break up into smaller groups and find ready partners to move forward and speak unambiguously.”