Brant Rosen, Suburban Chicago Rabbi, Doubles as Firebrand Critic of Israel

Evanston Congregation Stands by Jewish Voice for Peace Leader

Stand by Me: Rabbi Brant Rosen tends to the spiritual needs of a suburban Chicago synagogue, even as he speaks out fiercely against the Israeli occupation.
ALEX GRANGE
Stand by Me: Rabbi Brant Rosen tends to the spiritual needs of a suburban Chicago synagogue, even as he speaks out fiercely against the Israeli occupation.

By Menachem Wecker

Published November 20, 2013, issue of November 29, 2013.

It was on December 28, 2008, soon after Israel launched its punishing military campaign in Gaza, known as Operation Cast Lead, that Rabbi Brant Rosen hit the “send” key for a blog post that he believed could well pitch him out of his pulpit.

“We good liberal Jews are ready to protest oppression and human-rights abuse anywhere in the world, but are all too willing to give Israel a pass,” Rosen had typed out as Israel’s bombs were falling on Gaza — part of a massive response, with numerous civilian casualties, to rockets fired into Southern Israel by the Palestinian faction Hamas, which controls the territory.

“What Israel has been doing to the people of Gaza,” Rosen wrote on his blog, Shalom Rav, “is an outrage.”

Rosen, then a decade into his tenure as spiritual leader of Jewish Reconstructionist Congregation, a 520-household synagogue in Evanston, Ill., concluded his 221-word post with these sentences: “There, I’ve said it. Now what do I do?”

That rhetorical question came from a writer whom Newsweek had named earlier that year to its list of the top 50 pulpit rabbis in the United States.

Today, Rosen, 50, heads the rabbinical council of a group called Jewish Voice for Peace, which makes him a high-profile official with an organization on a much different kind of list: the Anti-Defamation League’s “Top Ten Anti-Israel Groups in the U.S.” for 2013.

JVP, which is No. 6 on the list, does not just criticize Israel’s fundamental policies toward the Palestinians and Iran, while claiming its position as a matter of Jewish values. The group contains a range of Israel critics, from self-described left-wing Zionists who favor some form of binational state to anti-Zionists. And it supports boycott, divestment and sanction campaigns against targets it views as involved in Israel’s occupation of the West Bank. As an organization, it is determinedly agnostic on whether Israel should be governed as an explicitly Jewish state.

No to Occupation: Rabbi Brant Rosen speaks last month at a Palestinian popular demonstration against the Israeli separation wall in the West Bank village of Al Ma’asara.
aaron cahan
No to Occupation: Rabbi Brant Rosen speaks last month at a Palestinian popular demonstration against the Israeli separation wall in the West Bank village of Al Ma’asara.


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