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]