The polarization dividing America is now mirrored within the Jewish community, where traditional viewpoints and institutions are also being targeted by “woke,” far-left activists.
In Boston, this process was on full display on Feb. 5 when a committee of the Boston Jewish Community Relations Council met to consider a petition by far-left groups to expel the staunchly pro-Israel Zionist Organization of America. The attempted purge is driven by two left-wing groups, seen by many as hostile to Israel: J Street and the New Israel Foundation. The focus of their attack is ZOA’s president, Mort Klein.
ZOA is America’s oldest pro-Israel organization. Initiated by Theodor Herzl in 1897, it has been led by such luminaries as U.S. Supreme Court Justice Louis D. Brandeis. Expelling ZOA from a communal Jewish institution would be like erasing the name of “Abraham Lincoln” from an American public school.
Not long ago, far-left groups gained admittance to traditional Jewish institutions by arguing for a more inclusive “Big Tent.” Having won a seat at the table, J Street (along with its leftist allies) is now flipping the argument, throwing the “inclusivity” principle under the bus.
The hypocrisy is dwarfed by J Street Boston’s membership scandal: a report by CAMERA (the Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting in America) revealed that J Street gained membership to Boston’s JCRC by subterfuge. J Street claimed it had merged with another small member organization, even though that organization had still remained in existence. J Street’s JCRC membership was thus never voted upon; it avoided undergoing the application process, and thus scrutiny of its long litany of hostile-to-Israel activities, including condemning Israel at the United Nations, promoting hostile-to-Israel U.N. resolutions and U.S. legislation, giving major platforms to major anti-Israel BDS promoters and more.
J Street’s animosity towards Klein is legendary; it has been gunning for him from the start. J Street’s 2008 launch video opened with a snippet of Klein speaking about the dangers of a Palestinian state and declared that J Street’s role is to replace Klein’s voice. The video featured a “Tic-tac-toe” board of nine squares showing J Street’s pro-Israel targets with Klein in the center square.
J Street and its radical allies are using two pretexts for trying to expel the ZOA from Boston’s JCRC.
First is Klein’s criticism of anti-Semitism within the leadership of the Black Lives Matter movement. As the ZOA has documented, BLM is intertwined with and is a top member of the lesser-known Movement 4 Black Lives (M4BL). The ZOA has compiled a mountain of direct evidence linking BLM/M4BL’s leadership to the rawest forms of Jew-hatred, including blood libels. The BLM/M4BL platform, social-media posts and demonstrations accuse the Jewish state (falsely) of committing genocide and apartheid. They advocate for boycotts against Israel. A BLM-Los Angeles leader incited the pogrom-like attack in Los Angeles’ Jewish Fairfax district on Shavuot where Jewish synagogues, schools and businesses were defaced, burnt, looted and/or destroyed. BLM actively participated in an anti-Israel “day of rage” in cities across the United States this past summer. BLM/M4BL also spouts the libel that Israel trains American police forces on how to violently abuse blacks in America.
If this were not enough, it’s been documented that the BLM/M4BL leadership has ties to front groups (Al-Haq and DCI-Palestine) for the PFLP (Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine) terror organization. It promotes PFLP groups’ anti-Israel agendas on social media, in meetings and educational materials. It demonstrates against Israel with PFLP. It has meetings with PFLP groups during BLM/M4BL trips to “Palestine.”
There is a not-so-hidden time bomb in the wholesale assent given to the BLM movement by establishment Jewish leaders: An uncritical embrace of BLM gives a nod to the BLM worldview that is ominous for Jews. BLM asserts that American society is “structurally racist”; that “white privilege” is the cause of black suffering; that white prosperity is racist theft; and that Jews are the most “privileged whites,” and hence evil. BLM calls Jews “the 1 percent of the 1 percent.” How Jewish leaders can avoid these assertions and escape the resultant hatred none of them say.
Jewish-black relations are certainly among the most complex and sensitive matters. Surely, no Jewish leader can be ignorant of the frightening rise of black Jew-hatred. Yet these deadly serious concerns have not engendered sober discussion and debate. Rather, those who raise concerns about BLM or Islamic anti-Semitism are angrily labeled as “racist” and “right-wing.”
That is the exact tactic used by the leftist groups in Boston to avoid the inconvenient truths: They claim that Klein has to be removed from the JCRC because his criticism of BLM is “racist.” This, though Klein has time and again made it very clear that he supports the idea and the phrase “black lives matter,” that his issue is with the organizations that coopted this phrase to vilify and harm Jews. Klein has time and again condemned anti-black bigotry. And for the record: Klein, who grew up in a poor black neighborhood where, he says, virtually all of his friends were black, was arrested in Mississippi in the 1960s fighting for black voting rights. J Street and other Jewish leftists who have placed all their bets on the left have no choice: They need those who raise these legitimate concerns to be “racists.”
J Street’s second pretext for trying to expel the ZOA is its criticism of the resettlement contractor HIAS. According to the Anti-Defamation League, the cultures and regions from which HIAS now resettles people into the United States are the most anti-Semitic on the planet. Studies of the Syrian government-controlled school curricula reveal that each and every Syrian school child is taught that because Jews reject the truth of Islam, Jews are “treacherous,” destined for “elimination” in this world and for “hell” in the next. While America asks refugees about their past deeds and statements having to do with terrorism, it does not inquire what our incoming neighbors think about Jews—or women, or democracy, or gays, for that matter. HIAS ignores this issue at every turn.
Meanwhile, the ZOA has documented that HIAS partners with the anti-Semitic and terror-linked “Islamic Relief” organization. Israel, the UAE, major banks and others designate Islamic Relief as a Hamas-affiliated terror group.
Both of these matters—black anti-Semitism and unvetted Muslim immigration—are emblematic of the deepening ideological split within an American Jewish community under mounting assault. One of the biggest wedges in the Big Tent is driven by divergent views concerning the dramatic rise of anti-Semitism. Inside the Jewish community, there is a growing concern that left-wing Jews, who are trying to gain control of Jewish communal organizations, are focused almost exclusively on Jew-hatred coming from the right while ignoring or down-playing animosity from politically incorrect sources—namely, left-wing anti-Zionists, radical Islamists and black supremacists.
The J Street/ZOA tussle at Boston’s JCRC offers a window onto a Jewish community under mounting stress and poses fundamental questions: Will the Jewish far-left, which is seeking to obtain control of our communal organizations, be able to “cancel” their ideological foes by redefining what constitutes kosher beliefs? With such fundamental—some would say existential—issues dividing the Jews, can the “Big Tent” still hold contending factions together?
If the ZOA is expelled from Boston’s JCRC, then who will represent Jews in the Hub who share Klein’s concerns? If they are told that their worries about leftist, Islamist and black supremacist Jew-hatred are—to use an unfortunate but telling phrase—“deplorable,” how will that benefit a community under siege?
Opinion writer and editor Bari Weiss quit her job at The New York Times because she says the once esteemed “paper of record” is no longer what it once was, citing her decision to leave after being bullied by colleagues for her focus on anti-Semitism. Many Jews already sense that their communal and defense agencies are no longer what they once were. Expelling Mort Klein’s ZOA from Boston’s JCRC might just convince thoughtful Jews that an establishment that once represented the whole community no longer does. They will then have two choices: either to become unaffiliated or break away to set up their own tent. Stay tuned.
Charles Jacobs is president of Americans for Peace and Tolerance.