Perhaps it was inevitable. The partisan split among American Jews is such that the majority of them are loyal Democratic voters and lean to the left on most issues. So, having the group that purports to best represent Jewish interests shed even the pretense of nonpartisanship or interest in speaking for every segment of the community may have always been in the cards. Yet now that it’s happened, and the Jewish Council for Public Affairs has made it clear that it is not just at home among liberal Democrats but aligned with the hard-left progressive wing of that party, the correct response to this shouldn’t be indifference.
By hiring Amy Spitalnick, a former staffer for J Street and Democratic politicians like former New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio, the group has sent a clear message to the rest of the Jewish world about its priorities. It is all-in on the policy agenda of the left wing of the Democratic Party and their every partisan talking point. It mimics their stand on “democracy” (i.e., smearing conservatives as “fascists”). It pretends that the threat from antisemitism lies only on the extreme right. It wants to fight “bigotry” by backing the intersectional wing of the Democrats and their religious faith in the woke DEI (diversity, equity and inclusion) catechism that grants a permission slip for antisemitism and is equally supportive of the progressives’ soft-on-crime deconstruction of the criminal justice system. Inevitably, this will mean that speaking up for Israel is pushed way down its priority list. The relationship with the Jewish state is also compromised by the devotion that people like Spitalnick have for building coalitions with groups utterly opposed to Israeli existence, like the Black Lives Matter movement and the Islamists of the Council on American Islamic Relations (CAIR).
That may sound great to Jews who believe that Judaism is solely a matter of promoting social justice causes that hinge on expanding government power while downgrading the obligation to promote Jewish peoplehood. But considering that JCPA still poses as the voice of American Jewry, the group’s shift to an even more left-wing stance than it had before has the potential to do real damage to the Jewish community.
A new JCPA
The decision taken last year for the group to break away entirely from the Jewish federations was already a clear indication that those involved were tired of trying to work within a system that fostered compromise and consensus. The left-wing activists who dominate the field of Jewish community relations and who will now operate on their own in the new JCPA resented relying on the Federations for funding its salaries and activities. The umbrella philanthropies inhibited their desire to engage in partisan and ideological projects that were inappropriate for an organization that claimed to speak for all Jews and be less focused on pro-Israel activism.
The new JCPA wants to leave those concerns behind and become what is, for all intents and purposes, just another left-wing advocacy and Democratic Party auxiliary organization. Given that there was no shortage of such groups, it’s difficult to understand why the Jews needed another. That’s especially true when you consider that there are actually very few groups that are set up—as JCPA has always been throughout its history—to act as a coalition of a wide array of Jewish voices, including those on the center and the right.
The hiring of Spitalnick, in concert with its breakaway agenda, fits in with the repurposed JCPA because she is not someone who has ever shown much interest in the issues that unite Jews throughout the religious and political spectrum.
Spitalnick does boast a major victory over Jew-haters on her résumé. The JCPA touted her success in suing the organizers of the 2017 “Unite the Right” neo-Nazi march in Charlottesville, Va., in her most recent job as executive director of the Integrity First for America group. But even on that issue, she has consistently shown herself utterly tone-deaf to the threat of left-wing antisemitism, which she considers of little importance when compared to neo-Nazis.
Her argument is that violence from the right is dangerous for Jews, but left-wing antisemites are unimportant. Yet Israel-haters who assaulted Jews in America’s cities in May 2021 in support of Hamas terrorists were real. And the most persistent threat of violence to Jews in this country comes from minority assailants who harass and attack Orthodox Jews in New York City and its suburbs. Just as important is the fact that left-wing antisemites are increasingly influential in the Democratic Party via the congressional “Squad” and its many progressive allies.
The new leader’s priorities
Spitalnick has won the admiration of liberals for her take-no-prisoners style and aggressive presence on Twitter. But recent posts on her account show her as a person with a narrow partisan outlook and seemingly little concern for the lives and well-being of ordinary Jews, either in the United States or Israel.
For example, on a day when Palestinian Islamic Jihad fired hundreds of rockets and missiles at Israeli civilians, and the platform was a virtual battlefield between supporters of the Jewish state and those backing the terrorists, she remained silent. That is fitting for a J Street backer who is, at best, ambivalent about Israel and unlikely to support its right to self-defense. But it’s entirely out of character for a person who is supposed to speak for Jewish interests. Or at least it would have been if JCPA were still an agency that prioritized support for Israel.
What was Spitalnick tweeting about? She was arguing about the motivations of the person who committed a recent mass shooting in Texas, insisting that alleged white supremacist ties were more important than his Hispanic heritage. That’s a point of no significance as far as the victims are concerned but of great importance if your goal is trying to use that atrocity as a political football.
Yet there are some mass shootings where the motivations of the shooter do not interest her. For instance, she is silent about the motivations for the recent attack on a Christian school in Nashville that left three children and three adults dead. The killer was a woman who identified as a transgender man. The authorities in Nashville have kept the shooter’s manifesto secret, likely out of fear that it might prove it was an anti-Christian hate crime. Even though Spitalnick claims that she wants to build coalitions with all sorts of people, including evangelicals who are ardent supporters of Israel, this is a mass shooting where the motive is of no interest to her.
What else has Spitalnick been tweeting about? She took a stand on the death of Jordan Neely, a mentally ill and drug-addicted homeless man in New York City. Spitalnick denounced the Marine veteran who restrained Neely when he began threatening other passengers as a vigilante and murderer. Apparently, Spitalnick thinks that deranged people have a right to terrorize subway passengers and appears on board with the effort of progressives like Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) to make Neely into a symbol: a new George Floyd and a martyr to racism.
This is significant not just because Spitalnick is wrong on this issue. The main reason why the JCPA broke away from the Federation system was the desire of left-wingers like her to ally the organized Jewish world with the Black Lives Matter movement, as well as the toxic intersectional and critical race theory teachings that are an integral part of it. The Federations balked at this for the very good reason that the BLM movement is tainted by rampant antisemitism.
We can count on Spitalnick to be zealous in opposing neo-Nazis—a stand that hardly requires courage in a country where virtually no one supports such extremists—and doing her best to unfairly link them to Republicans. But it’s far from clear that she will be as zealous in standing up against the “Squad” and its antisemitic members’ attacks on Israel and Zionism from their far more influential perches in Congress and pop culture forums.
There was a time when the JCPA could have been said to have said to speak for most Jews, even if there is never going to be unanimity on a host of issues. Still, even if most Jews are liberals and Democrats, the hijacking of a main forum for Jewish advocacy by leftist ideologues that are more comfortable with those who attack Israel than its defenders is a tragedy. Those who wish to fund an organization that will have those kinds of priorities are free to do so, but the conceit that such a group should have the right to pose as the voice of American Jewry is outrageous.
Jonathan S. Tobin is editor-in-chief of JNS (Jewish News Syndicate). Follow him on Twitter at: @jonathans_tobin.