Republican Jewish Values: Rabbi Isaac Jeret

I suppose that the “Rabbi” in the title should be used with very heavy quotation marks.

A few years ago, a friend of mine who attends a large synagogue in the South Bay complained to me about her rabbi.  “He doesn’t talk about God,” she said.  “He doesn’t talk about spirituality.  He doesn’t talk about Torah.  All he talks about is Israel, and everything is straight down the Likud line.”  Depressing, but not surprising, I thought.

What I didn’t know is that the rabbi in question is alleged to have been a thief in service to the Republican Party:

In response to the Haiti earthquake in January 2010 and the Carmel forest fires in Israel in December 2010, members of Congregation Ner Tamid of South Bay, like so many others, wanted to donate money to help the victims. So, many of them directed donations through Rabbi Isaac Jeret’s discretionary fund.

But their money never made it to organizations working on the ground in Haiti and Haifa.

Jeret, who led the 500-member Conservative congregation in Rancho Palos Verdes for seven years, allegedly not only did not send the money where he was supposed to, but instead he is believed to have taken money from his discretionary fund to make political donations to congressional campaigns across the country, according to Timothy Weiner, the synagogue’s treasurer from September 2009 through June 2012, who participated in an internal investigation of the matter.

I’m not sure what is more outrageous here: that allegedly Jeret 1) didn’t spend the money where he said he would; 2) that he spent it on campaign contributions, which is illegal and threatens the Shul’s tax-exempt status; or 3) that he decided to give the vast majority of the money to Republicans.  (That’s a joke, but not by much.).

The Jewish Journal, in an attempt to be fair and balanced, reports that Jeret gave money to both Republicans and Democrats, and that is true.  But at least in the public listings of the $11,500 in contributions that he made in 2008 and 2010, $9,500 went to the GOP, and in 2010, all $7,500 went to Republicans — $7,000 to one Congressmember, Dan Rohrabacher.  Rohrabacher represents the district in which the congregation is, but he’s in a safe seat: this was clearly designed to be sent to House GOP candidates all over the country.

To be sure, Democratic Jewish leaders are hardly without sin — no one is — but I have never seen anything as egregious as this in terms of the alleged use of a rabbi’s discretionary fund.  And in any event, Jeter — who unsurprisingly, has resigned his post — was hardly a bit player.  He gave a speech at the Republican National Committee dinner in October 2010, where, shortly before suggesting that President Obama had “bowed down” before foreign leaders, he said:

I pray that a majority in the House and the Senate emerges in November that champions these traditional and historic American values and principles and calls upon the President of the United States to abide by them in the discourse and conduct of American foreign-policy.
Apparently, among “these traditional and historic American values” are stealing from your congregation, opening them up to legal danger, and doing so for the purpose of supporting a party that wants to create American plutocracy and destroy Israel as a Jewish and democratic state.
It will be interesting to see where Jeret winds up.  He need not worry: Sheldon Adelson will surely take care of him.  No doubt he will figure out some way to either start his own think tank or work for a place like the Ethics and Public Policy Center.  And when he does, he will probably rail against the “dependence” of poor people and about how progressives threaten Israel.  Just wait.



Author: Jonathan Zasloff

Jonathan Zasloff teaches Torts, Land Use, Environmental Law, Comparative Urban Planning Law, Legal History, and Public Policy Clinic - Land Use, the Environment and Local Government. He grew up and still lives in the San Fernando Valley, about which he remains immensely proud (to the mystification of his friends and colleagues). After graduating from Yale Law School, and while clerking for a federal appeals court judge in Boston, he decided to return to Los Angeles shortly after the January 1994 Northridge earthquake, reasoning that he would gladly risk tremors in order to avoid the average New England wind chill temperature of negative 55 degrees. Professor Zasloff has a keen interest in world politics; he holds a PhD in the history of American foreign policy from Harvard and an M.Phil. in International Relations from Cambridge University. Much of his recent work concerns the influence of lawyers and legalism in US external relations, and has published articles on these subjects in the New York University Law Review and the Yale Law Journal. More generally, his recent interests focus on the response of public institutions to social problems, and the role of ideology in framing policy responses. Professor Zasloff has long been active in state and local politics and policy. He recently co-authored an article discussing the relationship of Proposition 13 (California's landmark tax limitation initiative) and school finance reform, and served for several years as a senior policy advisor to the Speaker of California Assembly. His practice background reflects these interests: for two years, he represented welfare recipients attempting to obtain child care benefits and microbusinesses in low income areas. He then practiced for two more years at one of Los Angeles' leading public interest environmental and land use firms, challenging poorly planned development and working to expand the network of the city's urban park system. He currently serves as a member of the boards of the Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy (a state agency charged with purchasing and protecting open space), the Los Angeles Center for Law and Justice (the leading legal service firm for low-income clients in east Los Angeles), and Friends of Israel's Environment. Professor Zasloff's other major activity consists in explaining the Triangle Offense to his very patient wife, Kathy.

10 thoughts on “Republican Jewish Values: Rabbi Isaac Jeret”

  1. Jeret has just responded that “Mr. Zasloff is engaged in an unprecedented attack on freedom of religion. I call upon President Obama to abandon the politics of hatred and to renounce these Chicago-style smears which only divide the nation.”

  2. Oughta throw the book at the SOB for every legal transgression, and the congregation should pursue a civil suit too. Regardless whether Adelson or somebody else bails him out.

    And this– “All he talks about is Israel, and everything is straight down the Likud line”– is the biggest reason I’ve been completely unable to affiliate with any congregation and have been unable to read most of the “official” local Jewish press just about anywhere. Back in the early 70s an ABC foreign correspondent named George Bailey touched rather profoundly on the consequences of the relatively new tying of Jewish religious identity to land. Even before Begin, this direction was foreseeable.

    1. Altoid,
      You should look a little harder to congregations to affiliate with. Most Conservative congregations, AFAIK, are very circumspect on Israel, and limit themselves to general expressions of support, while avoiding internal Israeli politics and the settlements like the plague. (Or ten plagues!! Or fifty!! Or two hundred!!!) The rabbis know that this is a hot-button issue, and they would lose members if they took a strong stance either way.

      1. …and they would lose members if they took a strong stance either way.

        Sort of like how nobody knows Mark Zuckerberg’s (the King of Openness) politics…
        Remember what happened to MySpace after Murdoch bought it?

    2. In “My Dinner With Andre” there is a passage in which Andre Gregory is talking about going to Christmas Eve services at one of those dreary little churches on Long Island where the priest talks about Communism and birth control. Different faith, same problem.

    3. About not being able to tolerate the idea of affliating with the organized Jewish community because it has turned into nothing but Israel, Israel, Israel: me too.

      An aquaintance who was the president of her (independent Conservadox) congregation once tried to recruit me. I told her I didn’t think there could possibly be a congregation that I’d ever want to join. No, really, she said, what would it take. I thought a moment, then said I’d join a congregation that observed Rachel Corey’s yahrzeit. She just laughed and agreed, there was no possible congregation for me.

      I sometimes wonder how many of us there are. Only about half of all Jews in the US belong to a synagogue, and I know there is a lot of breast-beating about that number being so low. But I have trouble imagining that the breast-beaters have considered the idea that some of us aren’t all that enamored of Israel, or of the silence on social justice issues just about all of the Jewish community has adopted because if someone does speak out on say, the need for universal health care, it will be obvious they are liberal — and liberal is understood to “not be good for Israel” the way conservative/Republican is.

      1. Half the non-affiliated, or more? I do have to agree with you, they probably don’t think much about what might be keeping us away. And it’s kind of logical in a weird way– they’re organization people first, most of them, and they want to assure the organization continues. That means working really hard on differentiating Jewish kids from other kids to keep them in the fold, and it also means getting the organization to stand for something publicly. Ever since the Six-Day War and particularly since Begin et al really got serious about managing the diaspora, that something has been Israel. Which presents some moral and cultural issues for an old fart like me, who remembers rabbis marching in Selma. And this is completely personal: at some point in my relatively young adulthood, suddenly it became forbidden to pronounce Yiddish-inflected liturgical Hebrew. It had to be Israeli Sephardic; the other, which to me is culturally, politically, and historically much more true to the population involved, just disappeared, seemingly overnight. Part of the same process, probably. But that’s just me, I’m sure.

  3. Yes we must fight the Taliban/Jihad menace by donating to Rep Rohrabacher. Seems like time for Dana’s little secret

    Support for the Taliban in the early 1990s
    Rohrabacher voiced support for the Taliban when they seized power in the 1990s, visiting Afghanistan when it came under their control, saying that the Taliban would provide “stability”, and eliminate threats to the United States. He also claimed the Taliban “intend to establish a disciplined, moral society”. He said he believed complete Taliban control over Afghanistan would be a “positive development”, that they were “devout traditionalists, not terrorists or revolutionaries”, and that “sensationalist” media coverage of the Taliban’s introduction of Sharia law was “nonsense”.[48]

    1. Yes, I remember that. And iirc, this was shortly after the Taliban first came to world attention by blowing up some giant statues of the Buddha that had been carved out of mountainsides 1400 or so years ago. Benign traditionalism can be so easy to sensationalize, I guess.

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