American Jewish leaders should lead or get out of the way

The Jewish Leadership Project calls on all Jews to demand their leaders finally stand up and fight against the tsunami of anti-Semitism.

Protesters in Boston advocate for the anti-Israel BDS movement on July 1, 2020. Courtesy: CAMERA.
Protesters in Boston advocate for the anti-Israel BDS movement on July 1, 2020. Courtesy: CAMERA.
Avi Goldwasser
Charles Jacobs and Avi Goldwasser

The Jewish community is under siege. Jews are beaten in the streets of New York City, murdered in Pittsburgh, San Diego and Jersey City, stabbed in Boston, taken hostage in Texas and harassed and bullied on college campuses across the country. Jewish buildings across America require extensive security.

According to FBI data, a Jew is twice as likely to be a victim of a hate crime as a black person or a Muslim, and ten times more likely than an Asian or a Latino. Four in ten Jews find ways to hide their identity. 90% of Jews think anti-Semitism is a problem in America.

Four ideological camps foment anti-Jewish bigotry: white nationalists, black nationalists, progressives and Islamists. The BDS movement incites against Jews in the name of Palestinian nationalism and human rights. Critical Race Theory paints Jews as undeservedly privileged whites. “Woke anti-Semitism” makes Jew-hatred socially acceptable, fashionable and even virtuous.

The Jewish establishment is failing to protect the community. The Anti-Defamation League (ADL), the Jewish Federations and the networks of Jewish Community Relations Councils (JCRCs) seem both ideologically conflicted and conflict-averse. Most importantly, Jewish leaders and their major donors are not being held accountable for major strategic failures:

  • Failure to stop the demonization of Jews in the media.
  • Failure to stop disparagement, harassment, intimidation and exclusion of Jewish students and faculty on campus.
  • Failure to stop anti-Israel education in high schools, now exploding across the nation via ethnic studies curricula and critical race theory.
  • Failure to recognize the long-term threat of the radicalization of the historically moderate American Muslim community.

Today, most Jewish leaders suppress dissenting voices. They and the major donors who support them seem too preoccupied with their social standing to break with fashionable Woke ideologies. Comfortable with the status quo, they are unwilling to allocate precious Jewish resources to the well-being of the community. We have yet to find any who are willing to consider a serious rethink.

For decades, both of us have been fighting our external enemies—the biased media, the professoriate, spineless college administrators, leftist anti-Zionists, high schools with poisoned “lesson plans,” radical Muslim anti-Semites and anti-Semitic demagogues like Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan.

We have finally concluded that the Jewish community cannot prevail against this organized tsunami of bigotry under its current establishment leaders. They cling to a progressive ideology that limits their range of effective action and lack the courage and imagination to break free of it and aggressively confront the haters.

Leadership is about having a vision as well as the ability to inspire people to act on that vision. It is possible, but unlikely, that the same leaders who got us into this crisis are capable of getting us out of it.

Jewish community leadership needs to declare a state of emergency and reprioritize all community initiatives in order to protect the Jewish community. We need to engage in open discussions about the crisis we face. Everyone needs to get involved.

To help promote this process, we are forming a national network of Jewish community activists who will promote creative new strategies for their communities by challenging local Jewish leadership, including their rabbis, local Federations, the ADL and the JCRCs. These activists will demand their leaders break out of their failed ideological straitjackets and explore new ways of thinking. To help organize such an effort, we have created a new initiative: the Jewish Leadership Project.

Given today’s realities, we urge Jewish activists to demand their local leaders immediately take the following steps:

  • Declare a state of emergency and mobilize the community.
  • Make protection of the community the top priority for Jewish communal resources.
  • Educate the public about the nature of today’s Jew-hatred and deconstruct poisonous academic social theories that demonize and marginalize Jews.
  • Educate Jewish youth about the threat to their future.
  • Build alliances based on mutual interests and honest reciprocity.
  • Experiment with alternative strategies to counter Jew-hatred.
  • Develop a new leadership class that is willing to fight back.

Not for the first time in Jewish history, we are at a watershed moment. But we are an accomplished community, with very talented members. We can and must find proud, brave and competent leadership to secure a better Jewish future.

Charles Jacobs and Avi Goldwasser are co-founders of the Jewish Leadership Project.

The opinions and facts presented in this article are those of the author, and neither JNS nor its partners assume any responsibility for them.
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