There was a time when our national (now continental) organization actually had a voice on issues critical to the Jewish People. Not any more. Like so many other things of importance, JFNA, which represents us...ostensibly all of us...has just got nothing to say about anything on the Federations' agenda. And we have watched this happen -- this grape shrinking into a raisin -- in the same silence that afflicts JFNA like a metastasizing cancer. Our leaders attend the Prime Minister's speech to Congress, tell us about a speech we all watched, but have no opinion on anything; leaders travel on a Solidarity Mission to Paris, tell us all about it, but offer nothing more than a "we're with you" to French Jewry...and so it goes.
I was reminded of all of this by a confluence of events these past months and weeks. Like these:
- The seemingly daily onslaught against our children and grandchildren on college campuses across the Continent -- attacks too often being defended by a few courageous Jewish students willing to stand up and stand strong, with the help of our federations, or without that help. And JFNA, which claimed over the Summer, to be a "convener" of Jewish campus advocacy groups? Where is JFNA? Cowering...in silence.
- Our Board Chair and CEO write proudly that they attended Prime Minister Netanyahu's speech to Congress (much like CEO Silverman's "selfie" at Netanyahu's speech to the UN earlier) but JFNA as our institution offers neither commentary nor advocacy for or against the Obama Administration's "diplomacy" -- that's "for others to do." Where is our...that would be...our...voice against Iran's emergence now or in ten years, or after something called the "breakout?" I would suggest that our so-called leaders, so fearful that they won't be invited to Presidential Chanukah parties or Congressional appearances in the future, read Jennifer Rubin's brilliant analysis in her Blog on washingtonpost.com: "(W)hat can Congress do? Well, it can express bipartisan outrage and pass a resolution deploring the president’s end run. But it must do more. Ideally, one would summon a bipartisan veto-proof majority to fix U.S. sanctions in law with no presidential waiver unless a deal meeting the existing U.N. resolutions was agreed upon. (I suppose Congress could use the power of the purse to defund our U.N. contributions, but let’s not get carried away.) But we also have to consider that this might simply be unattainable or susceptible to the argument that Congress can’t constitutionally eliminate all executive discretion. The next best option would be to increase the threshold for waiving existing and new sanctions — in other words, to narrow severely the president’s ability to waive U.S. sanctions, and require officials in the intelligence community and/or the military to add their certification (and thereby put their own credibility on the line as well). For example, U.S. sanctions would not be waived unless and until Iran gave a complete accounting of past nuclear activities and dismantled the Arak facility, things that the Iranians have refused to do and are objective criteria the president and the intelligence community could not honestly certify have occurred." Our "leaders"? Cowering in silence.
- The failed cash collection and failed allocations efforts at calendar year-end 2014, following the same failures in each of the prior ten years and more hasn't merited a public comment or a public plea or, even better, a public acknowledgement of failure after failure and a public commitment to do something about it. Instead of taking responsibility, JFNA leaders have merely passed the buck, literally and figuratively, to the Global Planning Table and, in so doing, abandoned an important leader from a responsible community who had the advocacy portfolio as if he didn't exist. "It's so hard to remember these things" I guess.
- There is a growing almost, if not, daily anti-Israel onslaught on the pages of The New York Times be it in every Jerusalem Bureau Chief Judi Roderen's "news" stories or in the op-ed rants of Roger Cohen, Tom Friedman or Nicholas Kristof. The onslaught seemed to pick up speed as Israel's Prime Minister came closer to his date with Congress. And JFNA? Cowering...in silence. So who speaks for me, for you? It sure isn't JFNA or JCPA. Who is meeting face-to-face with the NYT Editorial Board (as our leaders would do and have done in Chicago and, probably, your community as well)? Sure it's a "New York" paper, but one that prides itself (for reasons presently unclear) on being a "national" one -- one deserving a national response. But...not from JFNA.
- And, of course, the Ukraine. No Solidarity Missions to Kiev. Nothing at all. Here is what the NCESJ wrote recently, after interviewing Jewish Ukrainians across that beleaguered country: "These stories show that many Ukrainian young people are struggling to survive in the current economic environment. But they are not giving up. Through student organizations, Jewish community and civil society groups they are active in defining their future and holding the government accountable to its commitment to reform.What they need is support from the U.S. government, the American Jewish community, and others to weather the storm of the current crisis, and to prevent Ukraine from becoming a failed state."JFNA, through Chair Michael Siegal, of course, sends a letter and then...only cowering in silence.
And, of course, nowhere is there debate among JFNA leadership on the great issues confronting our People. Here's what goes on at JNF: "The engagement and involvement of our lay leaders makes it a partnership, between the professionals, our volunteers and our cause. We talk and debate about everything, yet we are always focused on the cause and mission, not individual personalities and egos."
Yes, JFNA, which once had a "voice" on our behalf, once had a standing Resolutions Committee, once had an institutional spine, now has been silenced but for a letter to the Prime Minister or to us once in a while. When the Conference of Presidents was created, so long ago now, our federations, or JFNA, did not cede away our obligation to speak out, to express the consensus of our federations, our donors...
It just seems that way.