OpinionJewish Diaspora

Some in the Jewish establishment, even now, dilute our pro-Israel voice

One key failure of American communal leaders has been their policy of the “Big Tent.”

Pro-Palestinan protesters gather in Herald Square in New York City for a “March for the Martyrs” rally, showing a sign: “Anti-Zionism Does Not Equal Antisemitism,” Dec. 16, 2023. Credit: Syndi Pilar/Shutterstock.
Pro-Palestinan protesters gather in Herald Square in New York City for a “March for the Martyrs” rally, showing a sign: “Anti-Zionism Does Not Equal Antisemitism,” Dec. 16, 2023. Credit: Syndi Pilar/Shutterstock.
Simon Deng, an escaped jihad slave from South Sudan, is accompanied in Israel by Dr. Charles Jacobs (pictured), President of the American Anti-Slavery group.
Charles Jacobs
Charles Jacobs is co-founder of the Jewish Leadership Project.

Few Jews still believe that the Jewish establishment has done a good job defending and protecting the community from the rhetorical onslaught against Israel that has morphed into a full-on assault against American Jewry.

From the start, the “establishment”—the Anti-Defamation League, the American Jewish Committee, the Jewish Federation system, the Jewish Community Relations Councils and many rabbis—failed to understand that the obsessive, intense, continuous “criticism of Israeli policies” that appeared almost daily in the media was a new form of antisemitism. They failed to defend Jewish students on campus who were intimidated and harassed by the leftist academia and then subjected to continuous vigorous attacks by woke student groups. The establishment told us to embrace all the leftist groups’ causes so that presumably these groups would reciprocate and have our backs, too. We followed this advice: We supported blacks and feminists, gays and Latinos, and even Muslims, and then all of them stabbed us in the back. To this day, neither local nor national establishment leaders have given an accounting of this colossal and perhaps lethal failure. Worse, they refuse to do a difficult rethink of the unthought-out policies that brought us all down to this dark alley where we seem to be dangerously trapped.

One key failure of our leaders was their policy of the “Big Tent.” This concept was pitched to us as a way to include all segments of Jewish opinion to maintain Jewish unity in the face of severe internal disagreements. For example, the JCRC in Boston accepted as members both J Street and the New Israel Fund, organizations that essentially place the blame for the conflict on Israel. Of course, the actual result of the Big Tent policy—now clearer than ever—was to dilute the pro-Zionist voice in our community while making the establishment even less likely and less able to defend Israel and the Jewish community. And in those instances when the establishment did defend our people, public officials, the media and other foes could quote J Street’s hostile-to-Israel policies to weaken the defense of the Jewish state.

Left unstated was the fact that the Big Tent policy served the establishment’s fundraising needs. (Big salaries need to be paid, after all.) In reality, it should be referred to as “the Big Money Tent:” Just keep the left at the table, and you get their money, too.

This foolishness persists, even now when we are under direct assault at even the highest levels. The Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations (aka, the Conference of Presidents or also, “CoP”) is a collection of 50 organizations that is assumed to be one of the most powerful voices of American Jewry. Yet even now the CoP continues to include groups that blame Israel for the conflict with the Palestinians, and think and demand that Israeli concessions can lead to peace with Islamist movements that insist that Jews may never have sovereign self-rule in “holy Arab land.” And even now, when more than ever we need their voices to be strong and determined, the CoP’s very mechanism for choosing its next chairperson indicates that it will be a mostly feckless group, unable to protect American Jewry.

Many people will be surprised that even today—when the Jewish community is under an ideological assault that brands its support for Israel as “racist” and even “genocidal”—the CoP’s 50 organizations include the far-left groups Americans for Peace Now and Ameinu, which announced that it is merging into APN. Ameinu/APN actively oppose key mainstream Zionist positions and are more allied with the Jewish community’s foes.

Ameinu/APN resist or oppose fighting the BDS movement. While the CoP took action, for example, against Ben & Jerry’s anti-Israel boycott in the summer of 2021, Ameinu/APN actually wrote 30 letters to U.S. governors telling them not to take action against the ice-cream chain. While the CoP called for ending funding to UNRWA because it is largely a Hamas operation and UNRWA employees even participated in the Oct. 7 atrocities, Ameinu/APN called for resuming that funding.

While the CoP supports the helpful International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance’s (IHRA) working definition for combating antisemitism, Ameinu/APN opposed IHRA and, unbelievably, went so far as to defend the “right” to critique the legitimacy of Israel’s founding “without being smeared.” This, as world Jewry is being defamed and attacked as “racist” for supporting the creation and existence of Jewish sovereignty in the Jewish homeland Israel.

Ameinu/APN further opposed defeating Hamas, calling for a ceasefire and saying there is no military option. Ameinu/APN has also sought to divide a besieged and battered Israel by refusing to “normalize” the democratically elected Israeli government and calling for the removal of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. This, when American Jewish critiques of their unelected Jewish establishment for its decades-long failure to protect the community, are smeared as “divisive” by these same groups.

The continuing inclusion of Ameinu/APN in the CoP thus damages the CoP’s ability to effectively defend Israel and American Jewry.

To make matters worse, the CoP recently weaponized Ameinu/APN’s ability to blunt the CoP’s pro-Israel voice. They placed a far-left Ameinu/J Street ideologue, Kenneth Bob, on the small, select committee that nominates the CoP’s next chairperson and executive council. Bob is the president of Ameinu and the treasurer of J Street, as well as a member of the board of J Street’s Educational Trust. Ameinu/APN and J Street also work together with other far-left hostile-to-Israel organizations in a group called the Progressive Israel Network. Giving this top Ameinu/APN/J Street individual a major role in choosing the Conference of Presidents’ leadership—and consequently, its policy—can only weaken the CoP’s ability to defend Israel and American Jewry at the worst possible time.

Three strong pro-Israel organizations (the Zionist Organization of America, the AEPi fraternity and American Friends of Likud) recently wrote a detailed letter to the CoP’s leadership, pointing out Bob and Ameinu/APN’s harmful activities and positions described above, and calling for him to be removed from the CoP’s nominating committee. The CoP leadership refused, claiming it needs “diversity.” So the most powerful members of the Jewish establishment show us that they have not learned a key lesson of why they have failed. The “Big Money Tent” will continue to hamper the ability of the CoP—the major umbrella “establish” organization—to defend Israel and the Jewish people.

What a travesty.

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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