OpinionBoycott, Divestment & Sanctions (BDS)

America’s failing Jewish establishment: The case of the Rochester Federation

The city’s community leadership has become so wedded to the new “progressive” ideology that it forbids community discussions, inquiries or challenges to it.

A view of the skyline of Rochester, N.Y. Credit: Wikimedia Commons.
A view of the skyline of Rochester, N.Y. Credit: Wikimedia Commons.
Patti Munter
Patti Munter

After calling on the Palestinian Authority to end its ongoing incitement to violence, chair of the board of trustees of the Jewish Federations of North America Mark Wilf celebrated a longed-for Jewish unity, exclaiming on May 10: “The entire North American Jewish community stands in solidarity with all Israelis at this very difficult time.”

Twenty-four hours later, on May 11, the situation had dramatically worsened. Moments before 2 p.m. came the report: Tel Aviv had been hit, and perhaps 60 rockets had been fired in the past hour.

Then reports began to trickle in of violence against Jews on New York City and Los Angeles streets.

It did not even occur to me that our local Federation would go forward with its scheduled “Honest Conversations” event featuring Koach Baruch Frazier, a “queer, trans Jew who is working toward the day everyone experiences liberation.” Frazier sits on the board of the pro-BDS, anti-Zionist organization Jewish Liberation Fund and the Tzedek Lab, alongside IfNotNow trainers and Bend the Arc “priestesses.” He is also a board member of GSA, an organization that trains young trans teens. This “Honest Conversation” was an exercise in what could only honestly be called “normalizing anti-Zionism.” Yet even as rockets rained down on Israelis, my Federation felt the need to put on this anti-Israel show.

Then again, perhaps I shouldn’t have been surprised. Rochester’s Federation spent the past two decades ignoring the Corbynism growing like cancer within the American left. Even enabling it:

  • It had brought Eric K. Ward to lecture us on “racism.” Ward sponsors JLF as a “fiscally funded project.” And he funds Hamas-tied CAIR via his position as chair of the Proteus Fund.
  • Our Federation sent its local JCRC head to a Bend the Arc Selah Training without community knowledge. Bend the Arc is virulently anti-police, and constitutes a clear and present danger to a Jewish community in need of police protection.
  • In Rochester, out-of-state anti-Zionist, pro-BDS activists are invited to speak to the community while local Black Zionist Jews are not. In addition to their anti-Zionism, the invited speakers promoted such notions that sexuality is a political statement, and that the nuclear family is a bourgeois institution preventing oppressed minorities from getting free. My Federation is so besotted by the new Progressive religion that it has helped spread these anti-Jewish ideas.

Radical anti-Zionist activists and their allies are building a new religion inside of Judaism, and it has seeped inside the Jewish community’s mainstream organizations. A fusion of anti-Zionism and paganism, some versions promote the belief that African-American Jews are the “real Jews.” All versions mandate neutrality towards the Jew-hating Nation of Islam.

My Federation’s accommodation, if not adoption of this new dispensation, especially its negative treatment of Israel, has been noticed: Back in 2014, I had coffee with a lovely white Christian minister active in the BDS movement. She spends much of her time taking a pro-BDS roadshow to churches across New York State. I explained to her how misguided she is, especially given the history of the Christian church. She seemed surprised. She told me she had assumed every Jew was pro-BDS. Why? She is part of an invitation-only New Testament interfaith Bible study held at the local Federation. The head of the Federation had never brought up BDS, she explained to me. Surely, if he had any objection to BDS, he would have brought it up to the room full of Christian ministers.

Rochester’s community leadership has become so wedded to the new “progressive” ideology that it forbids community discussions, inquiries or challenges to it. Topics such as BDS, J Street, critical race theory, the Nation of Islam, Durban, Bend the Arc, Progressive Churches, black conservatism and the Iran nuclear deal have been placed off-limits for discussion.

It is becoming clear to more and more Jews that we have enemies not just on the right, which are easy to see and require no courage to call out. Each week, we scan videos of Jews being beaten on the streets—not by Nazis, but by Jew-hating blacks and Muslim Palestinians. An increasing number of us see that Jewish organizations have been enabling and even promoting groups on the left, as well as in the black community and in the Muslim community, which are now so visibly our foes. In the past, even to bring up these painful subjects was to put oneself at risk of being charged with “racism” and “Islamophobia.” That must no longer be the case.

And so I have asked the leadership of our Federation to explain the policy that led to such a spate of anti-Israel speakers and the refusal to have open community discussions. I asked for a general statement addressing the assaults on Israel from the left and Jewish left. So far, the leadership has declined to do so, even though I told them I would be writing this piece.

This is a new and dangerous time for the Jews. Community activists must take it upon themselves to challenge local Jewish establishments. They have led us down a dark and dangerous path. Their game plan to cling to the leftist coalitions has backfired. We Jews are in trouble. It is time to act. I have begun to organize my community to take back our voice. You should, too.

Patti Munter is co-founder of the National Organization on Fetal Alcohol Syndrome and Rochester for Israel. Before that, she worked for “Rolling Stone” magazine. She has appeared on “The Larry King Show” and “The Today Show.”

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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