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Most American Jews pay little or no attention to the alphabet soup world of national organizations that purport to represent them and their interests. The proliferation of groups known by their acronyms is such that few other than those who work in the milieu know them all. Still, some serve a distinct purpose, whether to advocate on specific issues, or act as a support group for the myriad of American-Jewish and Israeli charitable and political endeavors.
The Jewish people have various needs that should be addressed, and a great many philanthropic efforts, such as those devoted to education, don’t get the support they deserve. But one problem the community doesn’t have is too few advocacy groups, especially ones that dedicate themselves to left-wing causes.
So, the news that the Jewish Council for Public Affairs has decided to reinvent itself and create a NEW (the press release used all caps) JCPA that will be explicitly devoted to promoting progressive ideas—unfettered by its past ties to Jewish federations and other mainstream institutions—is not exactly the sort of thing that a divided, and in many ways troubled, community has been waiting for. On the contrary, it’s the opposite of what the Jews need.
Considering how much money and energy are already spent on keeping afloat so many groups that pretend, but don’t actually, speak for the majority of Jews, the thought of the “new” JCPA now competing with similar liberal groups for the cash to continue its operations is a depressing one.
Were it like another recently formed group, the Jewish Leadership Project (JLP), the JCPA could claim that it was engaged in an effort that no one else was attempting. The JLP is trying to give the community something genuinely new: provide an alternative voice—in defense of Jewish rights and the State of Israel—sorely lacking today in the liberal-Jewish establishment. But the JCPA is simply seeking to give us more of the same failed patent nostrums already sold as “social justice.”
This development is the result of two years of brainstorming on the part of a cadre of liberal and left-wing activists. The wonder, then, is how they deluded themselves into thinking that a “NEW” JCPA wasn’t an inherently redundant organization? And this is aside from the fact that by embracing radically woke ideas about race, it is steering the community down a path of self-destruction—one enabling, rather than combating, antisemitism and the war against Israel and Zionism.
The group’s origins go back to 1944, when the Council of Jewish Federations, a group that brought together the various regional fundraising organizations, founded it as the National Community Relations Advisory Council. It was renamed in the 1960s as the National Jewish Community Relations Advisory Council or NJCRAC, a tongue-twisting acronym that was pronounced “nackrack.” In 1997, it dropped that moniker for the prosaic, but easier to pronounce, JCPA.
Like a lot of products rebranded as “new” for consumerist purposes, the NEW JCPA won’t be much different from its old version, which nobody really needed either. It was, and apparently will continue to be, just one more clamoring left-wing voice in the cacophony of alphabet-soup Jewish advocacy for causes that, while certainly popular among the liberal majority, are, at best, only tangentially related to actual Jewish priorities.
Its self-description is illustrative. The NEW JCPA, according to its press release, will promote “democracy” (i.e. Democratic Party talking points opposing election integrity measures);the battle against “disinformation” (i.e. Democratic Party talking points seeking to discredit conservatives or even non-partisan skeptics about a host of left-wing orthodoxies); “racial justice” (i.e. the Black Lives Matter [BLM] agenda rooted in critical race theory that grants a permission slip to antisemitism); immigration rights (i.e. open borders and amnesty for illegal immigrants); gay rights; abortion rights; and opposition to gun rights.
Its brief is similar to that of the American Jewish Committee, the American Jewish Congress, the Anti-Defamation League (which used to be an apolitical group fighting antisemitism, but under its current leader, Jonathan Greenblatt, is another left-wing advocacy group) and those organizations advocating on behalf of non-Orthodox denominations or liberal ones, such as the National Council of Jewish Women.
Still, the JCPA was an umbrella group representing the various Jewish-community relations councils (JCRCs)—usually in concert with federations—throughout the country. Those JCRCs are themselves coalitions of local Jewish advocacy groups.
Most, even on the local level, are clearly liberal, though centrist and conservative groups also belong. And most are financed, as the national JCPA was, by federations that raise funds from the entire community and allocate resources for local, national and international Jewish needs as determined by community leaders.
That tethered the JCPA to the mainstream Jewish philanthropic world of federations and national groups, but it often ignored the needs of its sponsors in favor of left-wing causes. The new version is severing its connection to the federations and perhaps some of its old constituent organizations. It remains to be seen if non-liberal groups, like the Orthodox Union and the Jewish War Veterans, that were tolerated as part of the old JCPA will stick around to be part of the new version.
The federations, whose purpose is to represent and raise funds from the entire Jewish community, were used to the JCPA acting like a Democratic Party auxiliary operation. But the latter’s behavior could be justified as the product of a consensus among the majority of Jews who are politically liberal and vote for the Democrats.
But its endorsement in 2020 of BLM was a bridge too far for many in the mainstream Jewish world. For Jewish federations—led for the most part by liberal professionals and donors—to be tied to a group linked to radical anti-Israel and antisemitic advocacy was intolerable, although in the midst of the moral panic set off by the death of George Floyd, many acquiesced. But it created a rift that caused JCPA activists to want to liberate themselves from even the minimal restraints that the connection to the federations brought.
Were this merely a matter of a tiff between Jewish Democrats and Republicans or generic liberals and conservatives, it wouldn’t warrant much attention. But the road that the new JCPA and a lot of its competition are taking—by adopting the catechisms of BLM and DEI (diversity, equity and inclusion)—is particularly noteworthy and dangerous.
Indeed, the JCPA is siding with forces that are driving left-wing antisemitism and Jew-hatred in the African-American community—highlighted by recent incidents involving celebrities like Kanye West and the epidemic of black attacks on Orthodox Jews in New York City.
Rather than an invigorated Jewish leadership, the new JCPA is additional evidence of the catastrophic and disgraceful failure of the existing liberal establishment. It’s not only a waste of scarce Jewish resources; it also reveals the intellectual bankruptcy of liberals who claim to speak for Jews but are actually working against Jewish interests and security. Redundancy and waste are bad enough. But the current situation is a moral calamity.
Jonathan S. Tobin is editor-in-chief of JNS (Jewish News Syndicate). Follow him on Twitter at: @jonathans_tobin.