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‘Forward’ lives up to its name, bashing denial of Palestinian narrative and donors’ control of Hillel

Israel/Palestine
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Jewish Forward collage

Jewish Forward collage

Roll over Ben-Gurion and tell Jabotinsky the news: The Forward, which has been fiercely pro-Israel, ran two pieces yesterday that are sharply critical of the Zionist establishment.

First, here is a piece defending Students for Justice in Palestine chapters from the ongoing university punishments– SJP “is one of the few campus groups pushing for a just peace in Israel and Palestine”– written by a member and former member of SJP chapters (respectively, Joey Morris at Brandeis and Gabi Kirk, formerly of University of California Santa Cruz). Notice the complete lack of hysteria in this rendering of the argument:

Everyone has the right to criticize a foreign government when it breaks international law, even if others have deep emotional ties to it. …

SJP’s actions are, at their heart, meant to bring the Palestinian narrative to campus. If telling history from a Palestinian point of view makes pro-Israel students feel uncomfortable, that’s not anti-Semitic on our part. It’s denial on theirs.

While pro-Israel groups have filed many Title VI discrimination complaints with the Department of Education, not one has been found in their favor. Pro-Israel students have alleged anti-Semitic harassment and have failed to provide objective evidence, yet administrators still cave to their demands. In contrast, when Northeastern Law SJP student Max Geller received death threats, the university’s response was tepid. The administration applies a double standard to Palestine solidarity groups, delaying the response to their harassment claims while taking decisive action when Israel lobby groups complain.

And then this excellent attack on Hillel, in which Jay Michaelson of the Forward staff tells young Jews just to leave the organization rather than try and reform it from within. Notice how Michaelson goes right to the funding question. “Institution Is Beholden to Donors, Not Students,” is a headline, and he scores “Jewish philanthropists” in the piece. Michaelson explains that the Hillel guidelines shutting down intelligent conversation about the conflict aren’t about institutional ideology or love of Israel but about money.

Remember back in 2009, when the Jewish Community Federation of San Francisco issued one of the first gag rules regarding Israel-Palestine? Why do you think they did that? Because they felt like it? No, because two major California-based foundations said that if one dime of their money went to support or endorse the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement, however indirectly — a film at a film festival, a speaker on a panel, anything — they would pull all their money. That’s why the policy was put in place, and that’s why it was mimicked around the country.

This is not to say, dear Hillel students, that you shouldn’t be outraged. On the contrary: you should be more outraged. The community institutions which pretend to involve your participation are a sham. Your Hillel “officers” are like student government: They can make petty decisions, but when the rubber hits the road, money talks and they walk.

So direct your outrage in a meaningful way: leave.

The only way these institutions will listen to you is if they begin to fail at their core mission. Their donors will then have to choose between their support of that mission, and their desire to maintain a particular kind of political purity. There is no point in arguing with your Hillel director, or Eric Fingerhut, Hillel’s president and CEO, or the Jewish Museum’s staff. You are clearly right. But if they listen to you, they will lose their jobs.

This is of course the reason that Vassar and Swarthmore have declared themselves Open Hillel’s and Harvard and Berkeley have failed to do so. Because the Harvard and Berkeley chapters are large and too embosomed in the local Jewish establishment to disentangle themselves financially. Michaelson is telling the students to break out now and form their own tabernacle in the desert.

Notice that both these pieces address the Israel lobby. So a progressive Jewish publication that sought to marginalize that analysis is now embracing it. You simply cannot understand the primacy of the special relationship in our politics without talking about the money of the Israel lobby.

The Forward’s apostasy underscores my mainstream political analysis: Not till Jewish progressive culture splits will American political culture break on this issue. You cannot get the Democratic Party unless you transform American Jewish attitudes; Jews are simply too important in the blue state liberal consensus. I’m all for organizing inside the rightwing of American life, with Rand Paul and the National Summit to Reassess the Special Relationship. But that just gets us back to a traditional opposition of the 40s and 50s, Harry Truman versus the State Department. And we saw how that worked out. You have to break down this powerful ideology in its own burrows.

Hat’s off to Forward editor Jane Eisner for having the journalistic integrity to take on these stories.

About Philip Weiss

Philip Weiss is Founder and Co-Editor of Mondoweiss.net.

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20 Responses

  1. pabelmont
    March 18, 2014, 11:23 am

    Forward: Mazel Tov.

  2. Krauss
    March 18, 2014, 11:30 am

    I’m all for organizing inside the rightwing of American life, with Rand Paul and the National Summit to Reassess the Special Relationship. But that just gets us back to a traditional opposition of the 40s and 50s, Harry Truman versus the State Department.

    Except that we don’t live in the 1950s, the Holocaust isn’t something a recent event and Israel is today a regional superpower. The Nakba had taken place, but from afar it looked a lot like refugees switching places. Of course, that’s not how it was, but it was the 40s and the 50s.

    I also think the Truman vs State dept analogy is misguided. But I do agree with you that you need a break within the progressive Jewish community, which is why I am here and I think a lot of readers are on this site. It’s not like we can organize from this place, but it is a keystone of information, of where the current battles are at.

    Nevertheless, I think a better analogy is opposition to the drug war/war on drugs.
    Both establishments of both parties were for it a long time, Clinton was actually the worst on it, but the grassroots of both parties organized away from their establishment cores and we’re already seeing the beginning of the end of 20-year sentences of marijuana possession.

    I have a personal interest in reforming the progressive Jewish community, and I can see progress every day. But like you said, this community is deeply embedded within the Democratic establishment. And establishments can be defeated when they are doing foolish policy, whether domestic or otherwise(and on Israel, I’d say it’s as much, if not more, a domestic issue in a sense, since Zionism is so tightly linked to Jewish identity).

    So I don’t share your deterministic assessment, nor your historical analogy. But I’d lie if I said that reforming the progressive Jewish community wasn’t a key goal for me, because Zionism isn’t just a foreign policy issue, it’s deeply intertwined with Judaism in America and in the wider Western world. Even if you’re an anti/non-Zionist, you have to grapple with it as a Jew, or else you are hiding from reality. But that doesn’t mean that if we won’t get reforms fast enough, that we should tie our hands. That’s an essentially Norman Finkelstein-esque argument.

  3. JeffB
    March 18, 2014, 11:32 am

    @Phil

    The Forward’s apostasy underscores my mainstream political analysis: Not till Jewish progressive culture splits will American political culture break on this issue. You cannot get the Democratic Party unless you transform American Jewish attitudes; Jews are simply too important in the blue state liberal consensus. I’m all for organizing inside the rightwing of American life, with Rand Paul and the National Summit to Reassess the Special Relationship. But that just gets us back to a traditional opposition of the 40s and 50s, Harry Truman versus the State Department. And we saw how that worked out. You have to break down this powerful ideology in its own burrows.

    I rarely get to say this but… I may disagree with your cause but I 100% agree with your analysis here. :) American Liberalism will not break with an important constituency over a policy issue that doesn’t have a corresponding gain. Those factions that try would not have the backing of Democratic moderates. Democratic moderates will not be willing to lose critical states (especially Florida and possibly Pennsylvania), a major source of activists and a major source of financing over Palestinian rights. I’ve always believed there are two huge battles that American BDSers/anti-Zionists will have to win to win the moral fight: Jewish Zionism on the left to become the consensus view among Democrats and then Christian Zionism on the right to become the consensus view among Americans.

    So we agree. I don’t see how you can win this but I agree that’s the first crucial battlefield.

    • Annie Robbins
      March 18, 2014, 5:37 pm

      Those factions that try would not have the backing of Democratic moderates. Democratic moderates will not be willing to lose critical states (especially Florida and possibly Pennsylvania), a major source of activists and a major source of financing over Palestinian rights.

      but the israel lobby doesn’t limit itself to palestinian rights, it’s got it’s mitts all over our congress and state department, iran, legislation that pushes islamophobia, the courts. there’s a lot more there than palestinian rights for ordinary citizens and moderate dems to get fed up with.

      • yonah fredman
        March 18, 2014, 10:43 pm

        annie- It’s got its mitts all over our congress and state department, iran, legislation that pushes islamophobia, the courts.

        What does “the courts” mean in this context?

  4. American
    March 18, 2014, 11:33 am

    ”You cannot get the Democratic Party unless you transform American Jewish attitudes; Jews are simply too important in the blue state liberal consensus. I’m all for organizing inside the rightwing of American life, with Rand Paul and the National Summit to Reassess the Special Relationship.”

    The Dems are a lost cause as far as Isr is concerned. We have a much better chance of getting Isr and the I-lobby out of US politics with the conservatives and libertarians than with the liberals.
    Even if Rand Paul were to swing the pendulum too far on both FP and domestic policy it is necessary imo to go to that extreme in order to bounce back to ‘balance.’

  5. seafoid
    March 18, 2014, 11:38 am

    Just a couple of decades too late . Why so shy and retiring ?

  6. ritzl
    March 18, 2014, 11:49 am

    Excellent.

    And it’s great that this message is getting more solidity:

    The only way these institutions will listen to you is if they begin to fail at their core mission. Their donors will then have to choose between their support of that mission, and their desire to maintain a particular kind of political purity. There is no point in arguing with your Hillel director, or Eric Fingerhut, Hillel’s president and CEO, or the Jewish Museum’s staff. You are clearly right. But if they listen to you, they will lose their jobs.

    It’s great strategy. The only counter to money politics is numbers of votes. I hope it broadens to include, say, the Democratic Party, on any number of core issues.

  7. Hostage
    March 18, 2014, 1:05 pm

    “Institution Is Beholden to Donors, Not Students,” is a headline, and he scores “Jewish philanthropists” in the piece. Michaelson explains that the Hillel guidelines shutting down intelligent conversation about the conflict aren’t about institutional ideology or love of Israel but about money.

    Well to be honest the State of Israel acts as an agent of the hardline Zionists of B’nei B’rith and vice versa:

    Jewish Telegraphic Agency, August 31, 1970, “Jewish Youth Challenged to Combat Anti-israel Propaganda on Campus”
    An Israeli official challenged American Jewish College youth today to combat anti-Israel propagandas on the campus, “much of it old anti-Semitism in new dress.” Moshe Yegar, Consul General of Israel in Philadelphia, said that such propaganda was being disseminated at colleges and universities across the country “by pro-Arab and certain radical groups.” Mr. Yegar addressed 225 students at the B’nai B’rith Hillel Foundation’s annual summer institute at Camp B’nai B’rith here. He claimed that anti-Israel propaganda had grown in vehemence and scope since the 1967 Six-Day War and that it “constitutes a danger to both the interests of Israel and those of the Jewish people.”

    A week-long Hillel workshop at Camp B’nai B’rith on Israel and American Jewry has been formulating programs to counter anti-Israel propaganda when the students return to their campuses next month.

    link to jta.org

    The funding and staffing comes straight from the government of Israel in many cases. See for example “58 Jewish Agency Israel Fellows to Hillel serve 67 North American campuses”. It claims that “Hillel’s goal is to inspire every Jewish college student to develop a meaningful and enduring relationship to Israeli culture and society.” http://www.hillel.org/jewish/hillel-israel/jewish-agency-israel-fellows

    Hillel’s Ellen Goldstein was quoted in an article here which said that she is not concerned about potential objections to pro-Israel programming on campuses in the United States being funded directly by the Israeli government. http://mondoweiss.net/2013/08/pro-israel-efforts-on-us-campuses-have-failed-jewish-agency-fundraiser-says.html

  8. Citizen
    March 18, 2014, 1:19 pm

    Phil says: ” I’m all for organizing inside the rightwing of American life, with Rand Paul and the National Summit to Reassess the Special Relationship. But that just gets us back to a traditional opposition of the 40s and 50s, Harry Truman versus the State Department. And we saw how that worked out. You have to break down this powerful ideology in its own burrows.”

    Funny, I don’t see how Phil places all the NS panel speakers, or most of them, by direct implication of what he said here as stationed inside “the rightwing of American life.”
    Do you? I’ve followed many of those speakers for a long time they’ve been railing not only in favor of a “realist” view of US best interests, but, as well, in the best interests of humanity generally, and, yes, in favor of Israel’s best long term interests. How is that”rightwing?” As compared to what POV, what interests, exactly? Further, the State Department under Truman has been proven wise by history.

  9. David Doppler
    March 18, 2014, 1:41 pm

    “There is no point in arguing with your Hillel director, or Eric Fingerhut, Hillel’s president and CEO, or the Jewish Museum’s staff. You are clearly right. But if they listen to you, they will lose their jobs.”

    Now there’s a brilliant piece of analysis. It has the potential to change the attitude of protesting students toward the organization’s leadership from one of intellectual adversarial argument to one of economic understanding and pity. And it turns the focus from those bought and paid for to those doing the buying.

    • Real Jew
      March 18, 2014, 5:26 pm

      “SJP’s actions are, at their heart, meant to bring the Palestinian narrative to campus. If telling history from a Palestinian point of view makes pro-Israel students feel uncomfortable, that’s not anti-Semitic on our part. It’s denial on theirs.”

      What a wonderfully simple way to respond to people who try to suppress free speech by claiming their campus is antisemetic and/or a “hostile environment”. Now those students who claim to feel uncomfortable either have been misinformed their entire life (understandable considering the amount of propaganda our media regurgitates) or just saying that to shut down the debate. I presume its the latter. Seriously, the I/P conflict is the only topic in the world where college students who disseminates widely believed facts become a target for administrators and face punishment

  10. joer
    March 18, 2014, 3:55 pm

    I was looking for a chance to post this link to the Forward in a thread where it would have some relevance. This is a video of a settler who climbs onto a Palestinian’s roof in Hebron to take down a Palestinian flag-and he got stuck in the barbed wire the Israelis put up…and he needs the Palestinian homeowner to free him. It’s quite an enjoyable video…and fairly allegorical to the situation Zionists are in now…tangled up in their own barbed wire.

    http://blogs.forward.com/forward-thinking/194562/if-a-palestinian-did-this-hed-be-dead/

    There may be hope for the Forward after all. Emily Hauser, who reported the incident represents the real peace movement among Jews far better than IDF sniper JJ Goldberg.

  11. seafoid
    March 18, 2014, 6:14 pm

    The Forward should go further and condemn Israeli militarism, the cancer at the heart of the whole catastrophe.

    Get the kids into Arthur McBride, the Paul Brady version

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VBdywzKD2Jw

    Bob Dylan sang it too when he was anti-war, before he was pro Jewish war

  12. DICKERSON3870
    March 19, 2014, 12:36 am

    RE: “There is no point in arguing with your Hillel director, or Eric Fingerhut, Hillel’s president and CEO, or the Jewish Museum’s staff.” ~ Jay Michaelson

    SEE: “The ‘Israel First’ Industry and CEO Profiteering”, by James Petras, dissidentvoice.org, 1/16/14

    [EXCERPTS] During the first half of the 20th century, socially conscious Jews in the United States organized a large network of solidarity and charity associations financed mostly through small donations, raffles, and dues by working and lower middle class supporters. Many of these associations dealt with the everyday needs of Jewish workers, immigrants, and families in need. . .
    . . . Over the past fifty years a far-reaching transformation has taken place within Jewish organizations, among its leaders and their practices and policies. Currently, Jewish leaders have converted charities, social aid-societies and overseas programs for working class Jews into money machines for self-enrichment; converted charities funding health programs for Jewish refugees fleeing Nazism into the funding of colonial settlements for armed Zionist zealots intent on uprooting Palestinians; and organized a powerful political machine which buys US Congress people and penetrates the Executive in order to serve Israeli military aims. From defending human rights and fighting fascism, the leaders of the principle Jewish organizations defend each and every Israeli violation of Palestinian human rights – from arbitrary arrests of non-violent dissidents to the detention of children in ‘cages.’ Israel’s Kafkaesque prolonged administration detention without trial is approved by contemporary leaders. In the past Jewish leaders, especially labor and socially-engaged activists had joined forces with Leftists in opposition to political bigots, McCarthyite purges and blacklists. Today’s leaders practice the very same bully, blackmail and blacklist politics against critics of Israel and its Zionist appendages.
    In the past Jewish leaders of social aid organizations received modest salaries . . .
    . . . The moderately social liberal Jewish weekly, The Forward, recently completed a survey of the salaries of Jewish “not-for profits” leaders, with the aid of a professor from the Wharton School of Business (University of Pennsylvania). Among the leading profiteers was Abraham Foxman of the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) earning $688,280, Howard Kohr of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) — $556,232, David Harris of the American Jewish Committee (AJC) — $504,445, Morton Klein of the Zionist Organization of America (ZOA) — $435,050, Janice Weinman of Hadassah — $410,000, Malcolm Hoenlein of the Presidents of Major Jewish Organizations (PMJO) — $400,815, Mark Helfield of the Hebrew Immigration Aid Society — $268,834 and Ann Toback of the Workmen’s Circle/Arbeter Ring — $185,712. These salaries and perks put the Jewish leaders of non-profits in the upper 10% of US incomes — a far cry from the not-too-distant past. According to the analysis by the Forward and the Wharton team, ‘most leaders (CEOs) are vastly overpaid – earning more than twice what the head of an organization of their size would be expected to make”.
    While the membership has declined in many organizations, especially among working and lower middle class Jews, the funding has increased and most important the plutocratic leaders have embraced a virulent militarist foreign policy and repressive domestic policies. Forward describes Abraham Foxman as “diverting the ADL from its self-described mission of fighting all forms of bigotry in the US and abroad to putting the ADL firmly on the side of bigotry and intolerance.” . . .
    . . . The overwhelming response of the Jewish readers to the Forward’s survey was one of indignation, disgust, and anger. As one reader commented, “The economic disconnect between their (CEOs) salaries and the average incomes of those who contribute to their charities is unacceptable”. Another indignant reader remarked succinctly: “Gonifs! (Thieves!)”. Many announced they could cut off future donations. One formerly orthodox reader stated, “I would rather give to a street beggar than to any of these”.
    The drop-off of donations from lower-middle class Jews, however, will have little effect in reducing the salaries of the ‘non-profit’ CEO’s or changing the politics of their ‘non-profits; because they increasingly depend on six and seven digit contributions from Jewish millionaires and billionaires. Moreover, the contributions by big donors are linked to the politics of repression at home and securing multi-billion dollar military aid and trade programs for Israel from the US Treasury. The billionaire donors have no objection to funding the millionaire leaders – as long as they concentrate their efforts on buying the votes of US Congress members and aligning their politics with Israel’s war aims. . .

    ENTIRE COMMENTARY – http://dissidentvoice.org/2014/01/the-israel-first-industry-and-ceo-profiteering/

  13. giladg
    March 19, 2014, 2:56 am

    The Forward, fiercely pro Israel? Where have you been for the past few years Philip? You are joking aren’t you?

  14. Boomer
    March 19, 2014, 7:22 am

    “You have to break down this powerful ideology in its own burrows.”

    True. And you and your colleagues are doing a great work here toward that end.”

  15. CitizenC
    March 21, 2014, 8:39 pm

    Better think again about the Forward.

    Why Recognizing Israel as ‘Jewish State’ Is Key to Peace
    Palestinians Must Finally End Resistance to Zionism
    http://forward.com/articles/194963/why-recognizing-israel-as-jewish-state-is-key-to-p/

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