‘Increasingly vocal’ Jewish left is taking over the American Jewish ‘street’

Israel/PalestineUS Politics
on 36 Comments

I try and keep up on the shift within the Jewish establishment, the "seismic shift" that a year or so back MJ Rosenberg predicted was coming, and that Peter Beinart‘s piece was the best evidence of. Well, the "Fundermentalist", the Jewish Telegraphic Agency’s blog about philanthropy, written by Jacob Berkman, sent out an email to subscribers today (including our friend Jeff Blankfort) that included excellent reporting on American Jewish organizational response to the flotilla raid. Berkman describes the propaganda effort, but warns Jewish leadership to watch out:

it should probably come as no surprise that the… Jewish Federations of North America, immediately jumped to Israel’s defense in the aftermath of the flotilla confrontation.

Within hours of the incident, the JFNA had distributed talking points to its 157 member local federations, more than 400 independent communities and its broader mailing list . The emphasis was on how the federations and their supporters could combat the quickly rising swell of condemnation of Israel.

Within 24 hours, the JFNA had given Israel’s deputy foreign minister, Danny Ayalon, a forum with more than 700 Jewish community officials to make his case for why Israel was not in the wrong and about how its actions were justified because the NGO behind the flotilla was nothing more than a proxy for Iran.

Fundermentalist’s take: It was not surprising to see the JFNA and the federation system jump to Israel’s defense. But in doing so in this case, JFNA opened itself up to criticism from some increasingly vocal segments of the Jewish community on the left.

Public relations for Israel has always in a sense been a key part of the federations’ mission. .. But when the federations took up the PR mantle, they ran a major risk. Yes, the federations must stand by Israel. But in defending its actions and justifying them so ardently before all of the facts of the flotilla fiasco were fully known, in effect they were placing a huge wager that they would not alienate a North American Jewish street that was quite conflicted on the flotilla. And while for federation veterans placing all of the system’s chips on Israel seems fairly safe — and morally required — it comes at a time when the movement is struggling to figure out how to reach out to Jews in their 20s, 30s and 40s, for whom Israel is a more complicated topic. Could lining up so forcefully and quickly for Israel end up further disenfranchising the very demographic that federations are most concerned about targeting?

Daniel Sokatch, the former exec of the federation in San Francisco and now the president of the New Israel Fund, offered some criticism along these lines.

"It is distressing to see the American Jewish community immediately go into spin mode without finding out what happened," said Sokatch, whose organization has aggressively been positioning itself as taking the lead in fighting to turn back what it describes as Israel’s undemocratic shift in recent years. "You damage your credibility when you are wrong.

"But the longer-term dangers are twofold. You run the risk of enabling destructive behavior on the part of the Israeli government that is ultimately not in the interest of Israel. And the second long-term risk you run is that the vast majority of American Jews are deeply conflicted and deeply ambivalent about this situation. They are asking questions. When the spin is Israel had no choice and is a victim, and all the dead guys are on the other side, you run the risk of further alienating them and making more and more pronounced the gap between American Jews and Israel. That is a huge concern for me and it should be for all of us."

The JFNA’s CEO, Jerry Silverman, strongly rejected the notion that the federations were simply carrying Israel’s PR water. [blah blah]

36 Responses

  1. Todd
    June 7, 2010, 3:53 pm

    Too little, too late. At this point, it just seems opportunistic.

  2. Homer
    June 8, 2010, 1:14 am

    “But in defending its actions and justifying them so ardently before all of the facts of the flotilla fiasco were fully known, in effect they were placing a huge wager that they would not alienate a North American JEWISH STREET that was quite conflicted on the flotilla. And while for federation veterans placing all of the system’s chips on Israel seems fairly safe — and MORALLY REQUIRED — it comes at a time ….” (emphasis mine)

    Notice how these people are concerned about alienating with their actions only the “Jewish street”, not the much more substantial “non-Jewish street.” This conforms to a deeply ingrained pattern: American Jews believe they don’t need to care what non-Jewish Americans think. They perceive their Lobby and its supporting elements to be all-powerful, so why worry beyond the tribe?

    • RoHa
      June 8, 2010, 6:48 am

      And how are you going to persuade me that the Lobby isn’t all-powerful?

      Just the last few days sugest that it is.

      Israel attacks people on a humanitarian mission, and kills a (nother) US citizen. What does the President do? Sweet F.A.

      Helen Thomas, no less, makes a foolish remark, and, bang, she’s gone.

      (Hello again, Joe McC. Don’t worry, Ed Murrow isn’t here any more.)

      So why, indeed, worry beyond the tribe?

      • RoHa
        June 8, 2010, 6:49 am

        suggest

  3. Shmuel
    June 8, 2010, 1:52 am

    But the longer-term dangers are twofold. You run the risk of enabling destructive behavior on the part of the Israeli government that is ultimately not in the interest of Israel.

    Again with the “ultimately”? Can’t you guys just stop enabling destructive behaviour? Why does it matter whether such behaviour is or isn’t “in the interest of Israel”? The Gaza Massacre was destructive because it killed 1,400 people and destroyed the lives of hundreds of thousands. The siege is destructive because it is inflicting suffering on 1.5 million people. The attack on the Mavi Marmara was destructive because it killed at least 9 people and injured tens of others and – all for the sake of the continued oppression of the men, women and children of Gaza.

    • thankgodimatheist
      June 8, 2010, 5:17 am

      But Shmuel!! Don’t you want to save Israel from itself? :)

      • Shmuel
        June 8, 2010, 5:24 am

        But Shmuel!! Don’t you want to save Israel from itself? :)

        That comment earned you a Guardian cartoon.

      • thankgodimatheist
        June 8, 2010, 5:41 am

        Yay! The Rowson cartoon. I had already posted it a couple of days ago..Excellent..Have you noticed the two unicorns and their horns (reference to sticks) help up by a commando? Un coup de mâitre..

      • Shmuel
        June 8, 2010, 5:46 am

        Sorry, I missed your post. My take on the unicorns is: guess who didn’t make it off the boat.

      • thankgodimatheist
        June 8, 2010, 5:59 am

        “Sorry, I missed your post.”
        I didn’t mean I posted it here but on my blog..

        Now, who didn’t make it off the boat!! Does it have a nature-made weapon ? ..A rhinoceros?

      • Shmuel
        June 8, 2010, 6:07 am

        Good thing Noah brought some extra doves along though, eh? That dove was carrying a stick!

      • wondering jew
        June 8, 2010, 6:32 am

        Shmuel- Is there any policy that Israel can pursue that puts pressure on Hamas that doesn’t involve punishing the people in Gaza?

      • Shmuel
        June 8, 2010, 6:38 am

        Is there any policy that Israel can pursue that puts pressure on Hamas that doesn’t involve punishing the people in Gaza?

        Pressure to do what?

      • RoHa
        June 8, 2010, 6:54 am

        They could try talking to Hamas.

      • Donald
        June 8, 2010, 7:16 am

        “They could try talking to Hamas.”

        Yeah, exactly. But that would require them to acknowledge they don’t have the right to pick Palestinian leaders for them. A lot of Israelis and Americans find this concept almost impossibly difficult to grasp.

      • potsherd
        June 8, 2010, 7:18 am

        Shmuel, as always, hits the point. There is nothing Hamas can ever do that will satisfy Israel, except self-destruct in an act of mass suicide. Israel means to keep the blockade in place indefinitely, as long as Hamas exists. So – pressure on Hamas to do what?

        Stop the Qassam rockets? They did that. Israel keeps up the blockade.

        Offer a ceasefire? They’ve done that all along.

      • wondering jew
        June 8, 2010, 10:10 am

        The obvious and easiest answer to this question is pressure to let the Red Cross visit Gilad Shalit.

      • wondering jew
        June 8, 2010, 10:21 am

        Shmuel- besides the Red Cross visits that Gilad Shalit is entitled to and which Israel should pressure for:

        Gaza is a territory that is technically occupied because of the sea blockade. But is this so? When Egypt opens its border with Gaza is it no longer occupied? Gaza is not a country according to Hamas, it is only part of a country, part of which is obviously occupied (the West Bank) and part of which is not so obviously occupied (Gaza).

        Hamas is independent but it uses the Israeli shekel as its currency. Whose fault is that?

        It refuses to declare independence, because it is to its advantage to maintain a quasi status.

        When countries are at war with each other or have no relations with each other, there are obviously pressures and counter pressures that are involved.

        Shmuel- You know there are disagreements between Hamas in Gaza and Hamas in Damascus. You know that there is influence of Iran involved in the decisions of the Damascus leaders. To pretend that there are not pressures of all sorts involved here is to engage in pretensions. You are playing to the crowd, rather than dealing with the reality.

      • Shmuel
        June 8, 2010, 10:38 am

        I see nothing in your remarks here that justify collective punishment. The fact that Egypt occasionally and partially opens the Rafah crossing does not change Israel’s status as an occupier, based on the criteria I have cited here before. Israel still has effective control over the entire territory of Gaza. Hamas is not independent – in fact, it is dependent on Israel for just about everything, from food to fuel. I’m not sure exactly where currency fits into all of this, but I doubt that the reason the Shekel is used is because it is to Hamas’ “advantage to maintain a quasi status”. I don’t see how using Egyptian or Jordanian or even some kind of Gazan scrip would change matters. Even if Gaza were a “country”, civilians would still have “protected status”, according to international humanitarian law, and the blockade would still be illegal (see the Gisha documents I have cited here before). I don’t understand the relevance of the Hamas-Gaza/Hamas Damascus tensions to Israel’s holding 1.5 million Gazans hostage.

      • wondering jew
        June 8, 2010, 10:51 am

        Shmuel- I asked a very simple question and I meant it seriously. How can Israel pressure Hamas without punishing the people of Gaza? In effect you have answered, they cannot, they should not even think of it, they should only think of engaging Hamas in negotiations, pressures of the sort that we know of are illegal and that ends it.

        When Hamas was first elected there was talk that it would moderate its views given power. Maybe you feel that it has done so because of certain statements of certain of its leaders. I think that a convincing case can be made that Hamas has not moderated itself.

        I cite the Damascus Gaza split to show that pressures are involved here, all sorts of pressures. Pressures that influence decisions regarding negotiations with Fatah and pressures that influence decisions regarding prisoners are just two of them.

        If in fact there is nothing Israel can do to pressure Hamas, then that is the answer. But don’t pretend that there is nothing to pressure them about. If you favor a carrot rather than a stick, say so. But don’t pretend there is nothing to pressure them about.

      • Walid
        June 8, 2010, 11:05 am

        “… the Red Cross visits that Gilad Shalit is entitled to.”

        WonderingJew, why should Shalit be entitled to Red Cross visits while Israel deprives the prisoners it is holding of this right? Cheikh Abdul-Karim Obeid was abducted and held prisoner for almost 10 years in Israel’s Little Auschwitz, Camp 1391 without the benefit of RC or lawyers’ visits all this time.

      • Shmuel
        June 8, 2010, 11:07 am

        WJ,

        Of course Israel has issues with Hamas, and there are types of military and diplomatic pressure that it may and does exert (military blockade, attacks against clear military targets, pressure of various kinds through the US, EU, Egypt, etc.). I asked “pressure to do what?” because I wanted to understand what you felt might justify collective punishment. Your reply (Red Cross visits to Shalit) is an area in which I believe that pressure (of both the legal and the illegal kind) has proved useless. It is not that I prefer carrots, but that you prefer sticks. You wanted to know what kind of pressure would be acceptable – presuming that pressure is what is called for.

      • droog
        June 8, 2010, 11:10 am

        I would say every prisoner is entitled to a Red Cross visit of some manifestation, I do believe it is also one of the rules of war under the Geneva Conventions.

      • wondering jew
        June 8, 2010, 11:12 am

        Walid, Is there currently anyone that Israel is holding that is deprived of Red Cross visits? And if there is not, do you feel that previous history is sufficient justification to deprive Shalit of this right?

      • Shmuel
        June 8, 2010, 11:15 am

        Walid,

        Shalit’s right to visits is not compromised by Israel’s denial of that right to Obeid and others. It is just rather hypocritical of Israel to demand that Shalit’s rights be respected, when it continues to violate the rights of thousands of Palestinian prisoners.

      • Shmuel
        June 8, 2010, 11:21 am

        WJ,

        As far as I know, Israel is currently allowing the RC access to Palestinian prisoners, but denies them other rights – eg. family visits, access to legal counsel, etc. You can find details at B’tselem.

        Nothing justifies denying Shalit his rights – even if Hamas feels it needs to exert “pressure” of some kind on Israel.

      • potsherd
        June 8, 2010, 1:04 pm

        So if Hamas allows the RC to visit Shalit, Israel will lift the blockade?

        You know it won’t.

        My question still is: what could Hamas actually do that would cause Israel to lift the blockade and cease acts of war against the population of Gaza?

      • MRW
        June 8, 2010, 2:00 pm

        WJ, Shalit is under Egyptian jurisdiction. Has been for six months. Hamas did that to effect the release of Palestinian prisoners by showing good faith. Did Israel keep its end of the bargain? No.

    • MRW
      June 8, 2010, 1:56 pm

      Excellent, Shmuel. The point. Period.

  4. javs
    June 8, 2010, 2:46 am

    while our comments are awaiting moderation, the iof have killed people somewhere in Palestine and we do nothing here but type, we are all to blame. Every person on the planet earth needs to go out to the medias and stop this propaganda, let everyone know whats happening there, it is as if the holocaust of the Palestinians has gone on for 60+ years. With us all funding it with taxes and allowing aipac to exist.

  5. wondering jew
    June 8, 2010, 8:34 am

    Shmuel- Pressure to allow weekly visits by the Red Cross to Gilad Shalit.

    • Shmuel
      June 8, 2010, 10:21 am

      Pressure to allow weekly visits by the Red Cross to Gilad Shalit.

      I don’t want to discuss efficacy – although it is clear that the massive pressure Israel has exerted so far has not brought about the desired result – because collective punishment would be unacceptable even if it were effective.

      Israel could try respecting the human rights of the thousands of Palestinians it holds. If we are talking about pressure or incentives, the prisoner “lobby” is very powerful in Palestinian society. It could also try lifting the siege – i.e. returning to the restrictions in force prior to 2005 (far from free, uncontrolled passage of goods). I don’t know where the talks regarding Shalit stand at the moment, but various commentators have suggested that Israel’s position regarding the Palestinian prisoners is needlessly rigid, mostly for internal, political reasons.

      And they can stop this silly game of who recognises whom. It is time to talk to Hamas – starting with confidence-building measures, such as allowing Red Cross visits to Shalit, and family visits to Palestinian prisoners.

      • MRW
        June 8, 2010, 12:47 pm

        Shalit was transferred to Egypt six months ago.

  6. Colin Murray
    June 8, 2010, 9:26 am

    “But the longer-term dangers are twofold. You run the risk of enabling destructive behavior on the part of the Israeli government that is ultimately not in the interest of Israel. And the second long-term risk you run is that the vast majority of American Jews are deeply conflicted and deeply ambivalent about this situation. They are asking questions.

    He left out the third. American Gentiles are deeply effected by the Israel Lobby’s facilitation of Israeli ethnic cleansing and colonization and therefore have a right to have a seat at the table, and we are going it whether we are invited or not.

  7. potsherd
    June 8, 2010, 12:57 pm

    This ought to warm Yahoo’s cockles: link to haaretz.com

    Nearly half – 49 percent – of likely U.S. voters believe that pro-Palestinian activists were to blame for the deaths that occurred when the Israel Defense Forces raided a Gaza-bound aid flotilla last week, according to a new Rasmussen Reports national telephone survey.

    Only 19 percent believe that Israel was to blame. Another 32 percent said they were not sure.

    • MRW
      June 8, 2010, 1:58 pm

      No wonder the quality of US high school graduates dropped to 49th of the 110 countries worldwide tested each year. Dumb kids of dumber parents.

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