Last month, Eric Fingerhut, the director of Hillel International, backed out of an appearance at the liberal Zionist group J Street’s conference in Washington because he said that the Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat, who was also speaking there, had made “highly inflammatory statements against the Jewish state”– for instance comparing it to the Islamic State. Five hundred members of J Street’s campus organization then marched on Fingerhut’s office in protest.
Well now, an anonymous Hillel director reached out to Derek Kwait of New Voices to say that Fingerhut wanted to go, but he was under pressure from big donors:
“Eric Fingerhut wanted to go to J Street, but he couldn’t because he knew that millions of dollars or his job would be on the line.”
This Hillel director said he or she had been on a conference call with Fingerhut in which Fingerhut urged others to attend the conference. But J Street is regarded as outside the pale for many in the establishment Jewish community, so Fingerhut couldn’t go himself. The anonymous director then described the insurgent position inside the Jewish community:
There are a lot of Jews in America who understand what’s at stake in the need for two-states, just not enough of them are on the board at Hillel. As was mentioned at the conference, this is a problem across the Jewish world, but Hillel is bearing the brunt of it.
The story raises an important question: How conservative is the big Jewish money that everyone seems to want a piece of?
When the New York Times writes about all the Republicans supporting Israel and its colonies on the West Bank because of pro-Israel donors; or when the Times reports that Sen. Robert Menendez, even under indictment, has maintained a deep reservoir of backing from “the expansive pro-Israel community, including prominent Jewish Democrats concerned about the direction of White House negotiations with Iran;” or when we learned yesterday that Senator Chuck Schumer, the most powerful Democratic senator, is bucking the White House on the Iran negotiations by backing legislation to give Congress a say over the matter– it raises the same question.
How much of Democratic Party giving comes from older Jews who don’t want a word of criticism of the occupation? In a word, the AIPAC crowd, as opposed to the J Street crowd. “Between now & June 30th, AIPAC will be letting Congressional supporters of #IranDeal know that there subsidies could be cut off,” MJ Rosenberg says. Don’t forget, Bill Clinton ran to incumbent President Bush’s right on settlements in 1992, and he won.
Salon today has a piece by David Palumbo-Liu deploring the “radical appropriation of the political process” by big donors who support Netanyahu and oppose BDS (boycott, divestment and sanctions). The piece quotes Emma Rubin of the International Jewish Anti-Zionist Network saying that these rightwing givers have influence at liberal institutions:
“Even foundations which purport to represent the whole Jewish community are deeply implicated in practices many Jews find reprehensible.”
Fingerhut’s craven stance reflects the power of those contributions in our politics.
I realize that I cannot stay away from the issue of Jewish donors. But I think the power the Jewish community grants these donors is something we must overcome if the Jewish community is going to regain its sanity. Let me relate an incident from my recent trip to Jerusalem that explains what I mean.
In the old city I met a Palestinian merchant who had been expelled from his house in Baka, West Jerusalem as a boy in 1948—the kind of Arab home that is advertised as such in the real estate columns when Israeli Jewish owners are trying to get top dollar. I asked him if his family had ever been compensated for the theft in any way? No. Well, you should be compensated I said. He got angry. He said, I will never take any money for that house. Why not? I don’t want the money; I want my house back, he said. Besides, I cannot take anything so long as there are Palestinian refugees still living in the camps in Syria and Jordan and Nablus and Bethlehem.
I related this conversation later to a Jewish friend, who also got angry at me. Don’t you see, it’s not about money! he said. But you are playing into the very worst Jewish stereotype: oh, let’s just give them money, and take care of it.
I recommend this lesson to Hillel International. Some things are a lot more important than money. Like the principle of open discussion, and questioning the effect of Zionism on the Jewish community.
P.S. And speaking of liberating yourself from the donors, Eli Clifton reports that Gary Samore, the neoconnish director of United Against Nuclear Iran, received $500,000 from Sheldon Adelson and yet has come out in favor of the Iran deal. Samore says that the real danger to Israel is the occupation:
Samore ended [an Israel Policy Forum] call warning that “in terms of Israel’s isolation with other countries, I think the Palestinian issue and settlements is a far more dangerous concern to Israel’s legitimacy than the Iran nuclear issue.”…
Sheldon Adelson may be wondering what exactly his $500,000 contribution to UANI went to support.