Friday, August 14, 2015


One of us recently wrote Anonymously quoting the ubiquitous Peter Beinart:
"Your blog is an important resource for our discussions and you deserve credit for giving us this space. We should discuss this:

'Thus, in the days after the Iran deal, American Jewish leaders didn’t wait for polls of American Jews. Nor is there any public evidence that the eight Federations that came out against the deal surveyed Jews in their cities first. So how did Jewish leaders make their decision? When I asked an influential Jewish communal official, he said simply: “They consulted their boards.” In other words, they consulted their large donors.'

There is much that Beinart gets wrong here. And yet there is a point that we can't ignore either: 'Whether or not you support the Iran nuclear agreement, it has laid bare a profound gulf between American Jews and the organizations that purport to represent them.'"
Under Beinart's postulate, Federation Boards, as an example, are: (1) made up everywhere by "large donors" and "only large donors;"and (2) "American Jews" so overwhelmingly support the "Iran deal" as to render opposition to the "deal" against the grain. Beinart's presumptions are wholly refutable -- they embody the fatal flaw of categorical generalizations; especially generalizations about American Jewry; and those presumptions evidence how very little Beinart knows about the federations. And, JFNA, whose leaders should be the ones publicly rejecting Beinart, they'll probably invite him to speak at the GA.

As one commentator wrote, the more Americans and American Jewry learn about the details of the "deal" and its ramifications the greater the opposition to it.  Yet, for some, for many, the "Deal" is nothing more than a battleground -- maybe the battleground -- for the hearts and minds of the American Jewish polity. It is a battle being fought on all sides with emotion and passion and mistruths and real anger.

My federation Board, no matter the ultimate position it takes, if any, speaks for me on the Iran deal and more; so do the stronger Statements on the Iran Deal from, e.g., Miami, Houston and Los Angeles. Peter Beinart presumes to speak for me...and for you...I know that he does not speak for me, and I doubt he speaks for anyone other than Peter Beinart. My federation Board is fairly representative of my community: Peter Beinart is representative of no one other than Peter Beinart. What Beinart believes, and he is not wrong on this one, is that no organization...none...can presume to speak on behalf of the community if it does not have support of that community; yet, he does not believe in communal governance -- at the least he does not trust those who are governing when they don't agree with him

If we follow Beinart's formulation, then no Jewish communal organization could ever take a position on anything, could take no action on anything,  without somehow polling the entirety of the Jewish population in its community. The entire construct of representative government as embodied in the very concept of federation, would be void. Is this what we want? Really? Have we forgotten that our communal strength is in our unity; with all of our political power, our numbers remain small, our power disproportionately great. This will not continue if we allow ourselves to be divided by partisan battles. 

At the end of the battle over the "Iran Deal," there will be a vote, a veto and another vote. There will be winners and losers but, trust me on this, we will all be losers at the end of this process, emerging weaker no matter the outcome. And, you hear not one of our communal leaders talking about this reality invested as they are either in "winning" or "losing" or not being found on "the wrong side."

My sense is that trust in our communal institutions and our Continental organization is breaking down...and rapidly. That collapse is not the fault of Blogs or Beinarts, it is the fault of a failed lay and professional leadership  -- a "do nothing/see no evil" leadership that repeats its failures and, in Orwellian fashion, "rebrands" failures as successes. 

Your thoughts are welcome...


I thank most of you for your Comments to this Post, as always. Unfortunately if the Commentators are considered representative of our polity, we are a deeply, deeply divided based upon where one stands with regard to the federation positions vis-a-vis the Iran Deal -- sadly, those who are opposed to their federation's position on the Iran transaction have articulated the view that the Federation is not representative of the community. (Conversely, I assume that if your community has adopted a position on the Iran Deal, or a silence with which you agree, then the Federation is representative of the community.) 

Our collective community, unrepresented though we are by JFNA, will emerge even more weakened from this dialogue (if it can be called that), this disputation (if it can be called that) than the terribly weakened state it was in before the Iran Deal. It did not have to be this way. I repeat as I wrote above, at the end of this "process," "we will all be losers."

More's the pity.



bob hyfler said...

The issue is not whether a Federation board speaks for community but when and at what cost it is prudent and wise to do so.

Anonymous said...

Federations speak for federations. Federations don't speak for "the community." At best, and even this is a leap, Federations speak for its community (of donors? of big donors? of beneficiary agencies?). Same can be said of JCRCs. This is not a criticism. It's just how it is today and for the foreseeable future.

The notion that the American Jewish community can, as a unified entity, concentrate political capacity and achieve a specific political objective is simply not doable.

Between individual and institutional ego/turf. Jewish communalism giving way to individualism, no enforcement of communal rules/norms, partisanization of Israel, etc., the days when the Jewish community acted as one are over. Besides, the politicians can read the polls. They cans see the Jewish community is split on this and that there is not likely to be effective punishment over taking the "wrong" position. The real test will be whether Aipac can punish congressional supporters of the deal they way supporters of Awacs were punished. Failure to do so will be a serious blow to Aipac as without political enforcement its agenda will face increasing challenges.

I have no problems with JCRCs or federations taking a position (by the way, of what use is taking a position unless it's followed by effective action?). That said, from a business perspective, it may be wiser not to. After all, there are organizations whose role is political advocacy.

Anonymous said...

The issue isn't whether we are for or against the Iran deal. It is that Bbi has turned the issue into whether we are for or against one party or the other, whether we are for or against the Presidency. He has turned it into a no win game - both for us as a community and for Israel. We will now all be loosers whatever the outcome is.
I urge you to steer your blog back to its original track - to our need to restore a unified communal system with strong Federations and a strong collective support system for Israel and the Jewish People wherever they are.
That is the most important challenge facing our community today and our failure to fix our broken system may be more problematic for the future of the Jewish People than any deal with Iran might
We are going to need a unified collective system more than ever once the smoke clears after this fight.
We used to have a collective system that worked. We used to be good at pulling together and meeting the needs whatever they were (Anybody remember UJA, Project Exodus, "We Are One"...?).
It is totally unacceptable that our slogan has become "We Used To Be One".
We need to get back to the business at hand and fix what we have broken!

Anonymous said...

Getting a unified collective system begins with Chicago, Cleveland, LA and New York agreeing we need a "collective" as opposed to the current "me" emphasis.

Anonymous said...

I find it fascinating that the poster at 10:23 says that "we used to have a collective system that worked," I don't know what system he knew but the federation system definitely was in a worse shape then than today. Yes, JFNA is not the organization we deserve and need. But let's not kid ourselves - we really have come a long way.

RWEX said...

WOW!! To the last Anon Commentator who believes the collective is in better shape today, please provide some examples -- maybe just one. For at the time of the merger and two years in, the overseas allocations to the core budgets of JAFI/JDC were $120,000,000 more than today; into the merger, UJA and the federations had one successful Special Campaign after another; since the merger...not one. Maybe we just have different definitions of "success" and/or the collective.

Anonymous said...


(I'm not the above anon commentator. But I have been following this thread with interest). Do you really think everything was successful before the merger? Do you not remember why we needed the merger?

RWEX said...

Of course, "everything" was not "successful" pre-merger --I remember those days better than most, I suppose. Over the years, as I have written, it has become clear that those who most strongly pushed for the merger wanted the federation system, which was paying the costs of UJA/CJF/UIA, wanted to control/own the system -- apparently with little interest in making it better. In this political season, we have all been reminded of President Reagan's mantra when he ran against Jimmy Carter: "Are you better off today than you were four years ago?" I ask you, are the federations better off today than they were before the merger that created JFNA?" And do we make the situation "better" by perpetuating what we have in place right now?

Anonymous said...

If anyone thinks we are better off today than pre-merger it is not sufficient to simply state we are better off. Please state specific examples of how we (federations) are better off today.

Anonymous said...

Are our federations not raising more funds for Jewish causes and the community today than before the merger?

Anonymous said...

Anyone suggesting that our collective Jewish enterprise is in any way better today than it was before the merger is delusiona.
Sure we had problems then but today we have an almost total disaster.
How could anyone in their right mind destroy UJA and favor what we have today?
Can anyone imagine our current system being able to hold a "Breakfast of Champions"?
In today's reality we would have left behind the vast majority of FSU Jews that wanted to come to Israel - - either because our GPT didn't have the research to prove that there was a real need to bring them or because we couldn't be sure that we would be able raise enough money and could only order the tickets after we had all of the cash in the bank - and we don't like doing collective fundraising anyway...

Anonymous said...

Even a cursory glance at our history would show that we were far, far, worse off pre-merger. Just merging UJA and CJF saved the system some $3 million. To blame the merger for the ills that were evident far far earlier is not a fair reading of the situation.

Read the section "Declining Donations to UJA: 1991-99"

RWEX said...

I am going to leave it to any of you to respond to this most recent Anonymous Comment based on an Orwellian self-serving version of "history." Let me just point out one simple fact -- the annual "dollar savings" of the merger was far greater than $3 million -- $3 million was the annual amount "saved" in creating the UJA-CJF Partnership pre-merger. One must balance annual "savings" against the costs of a system deconstructing before our eyes -- see the Comment immediately preceding this last one.

Anonymous said...

Richard, you missed another point -- no one, certainly not you, "blames the merger" for much. What many of us see as worthy of "blame" for the systemic ills of today are the leaders of JFNA -- lay and professional -- and their LCE enablers. Any "fair reading of the situation" as the sum of its parts or the "parts" alone recognizes that the incompetence and disinterest when paired have weakened our system's abilities to perform the totality of the functions that were responsibly performed pre-merger.

Anonymous said...

To the anon at 4:35 PM. Let's see if I have this right about raising more after the merger.
Before the merger there were close to 1 million donors to federations. How many are there today, 300,000? 400,000? Before the merger the annual campaign came close to $1 billion. (These numbers may be off a little). Post the merger how much are the federations raising today? Have you seen any reports of all funds raised by federations? I haven't. In the decade before the merger the federations raised close to $1 billion for Operation Exodus, hundreds of millions for project renewal, guaranteed another $1 billion in loans and probably things that I am forgetting. Since the merger how much are they raising and how much have all the special campaigns raised combined in the 15 plus years after the merger, maybe a few hundred million when you include the only successful IEC-Argentina Campaign of 2001-2003.

Anonymous said...

The decline of federations and the national systems, merger/pre-merger, UJA, CJF -- whatever -- is more a result of changes in the American Jewish community and the failure of organizations to keep up (or better yet get ahead of the curve). Don't get me wrong; Jfna's unclear mission (and therefore lack of strategic direction and corresponding impact execution) is still a shanda at any amount, much less $30 million.
Simply put, but apparently impossible to overstate to the deaf ears who long for what was, American Jews don't need the same organized infrastructure as represented by the federation system. And they know it. The marketplace of American Jews knows that these products and their delivery systems are not needed as they once where.
Look at the Jewish organizations that have thrived over the last couple of decades. Aipac, JNF, ADL -- all with specific agendas, all controlled within a singular governance and profession structure to ensure strategic and tactical alignment and proper resourcing, marketing etc. These organizations "get" that there is no singular Jewish community (local or national) and operate accordingly.
Federations have become the playground of the uber process-oriented who love nothing more than to kill ideas (especially anything new or that which they don't understand, mostly because they're simply not qualified), the major donor who wants to be a Big Fish enjoying the solicitous execs and campaign pros/volunteers while pontificating their nonsense about the Lion lunch menu (or invitation), or the volunteer who feels like a Gadol by virtue of some committee or process chairmanship (which usually produce gornischt).
How is it that the Jfna board has done nothing to fix Jfna? Perhaps for them, Jfna is their playground and they don't want to mess with it. Perhaps they think it's working (and with no objectives or benchmarks, who's to day it isn't?)? Perhaps no individual will speak out (although they seem to rant on Mr. Wexler's blog from time to time) because they're scared of being marginalized or targeted?

paul jeser said...

Without commenting about how and why the Federation system self-destructed I do believe there is a need and a role for a community Federation. I offer a vision that I wrote a few years ago...

My vision – or at least the beginning of a concept: We need a totally new communal structure.

• The Federation should no longer raise funds to directly allocate to other institutions, agencies or programs.

Thus it will not be seen as a competitor.

This is the key.

Once the Federation is no longer an advocate for any specific organization, agency or program, it can become the ‘honest-broker’ for the donors and agencies and the effective organization the community needs.

• The Federation should be the communal organization whose responsibility it is to:

o Serve as a resource for all organizations in the areas of fundraising, leadership, staff development and management.

o Serve as a resource for all donors and provide ‘fair and balanced’ (sorry FNC) information about all programs and projects needing funding.

o Serve as the place where all organizational leaders meet to discuss the issues – not necessarily to force a consensus but to allow for open discussion in a neutral environment.

o Serve as a true ‘community relations committee/council’ in developing relationships between the Jewish and non-Jewish community and even within the Jewish community.

o Serve as the community-wide outreach organization to motivate those not involved to become involved and assist them in developing their own paths.

o Convene the community in times of crises or special need. Play the major role in the development and coordination of community action, programs, and responses.

• Federation leadership should include the top local leadership (lay and pro) of all communal organizations and, as importantly, the top donors (who may be much more willing to serve in this new institution than in what we now currently have).

• Funding for this ‘new’ Federation will have to come from the cadre of communal donors who, if they buy in to the new concept, will see this new structure as a benefit to all, not as a waste of time and money.

• This vision does not see the need for the JFNA since the JAFI and the JDC will, as all other organizations, raise funds directly in the community. This vision does see the necessity for an organization much the same as the CJF was – a national umbrella resource for all community Federations.

This is drastic surgery for the community. However, without it, or something close to it, we will continue to see the diminution of the one community organization/structure that is so needed.

Anonymous said...

This is a terrible vision. Can you imagine JAFI and JDC raising funds in the community? What's the point of collective action if it's spearheaded by divisiveness and rivalry. No thanks. Let's improve what we have rather than "visions" that would do more harm than good.

Anonymous said...

Paul Jeser's vision seems to be "hey, ignore the key needs of the community. Rely on the donors who see you as now irrelevant, because you're not involved in the key needs of the community. Oh, and let the really critical international organizations raise money in direct competition to you." Hilarious. Did you get paid for that?

Anonymous said...

"fair and balanced" by whose definition? If you don't involved the community agencies then, let's face it, you're not going to be fair. Or balanced. Do you let J Street in to the balance? Or is that not your definition of fair?

Anonymous said...

Is Paul Jeser's vision real? Or is this satire? If the latter, it's very well-written.

Michael Weil said...

The fundamental point is two fold. One, the 15 or so Federations that have advocated strongly against the Iran deal are indeed doing so when in all probability most of their constituents either support the deal or are neutral. They are doing so based based on the majority opinion of their full board, in the best of cases, or by polling key lay leadership and donors in most cases.

Secondly, few have given sufficient thought to the day after the vote in Congress, when we will collectively have to repair the damage of alienating many Democrats who voted for, alienating a sitting President and alienating most of young Jews who view the deal as favorable.

It is for these reasons that our Federation preferred to highlight the risks and threats the deal presents, to urge for full debate and scrutiny and not take a stand on advocating for a vote either way.

This way we will be better positioned for the day after.

Anonymous said...

It has to be satire. One of the most divisive commentators on Richard's blog calling out for fair and balanced honest brokers. Let's see all those he's attacked in the last month join forces and hold hands with him.

Community politics, Paul, aren't about vision and grand plans. They're about mutual respect, hard work, and decent dialogue.

Anonymous said...

Let me see if I understand Michael Weil's point correctly ...
We should ignore our elected Boards and leaders, and instead defer to those who have not spoken up or don't affiliate with the community anyway? And ignore the views of the majority of those in leadership positions who care deeply about a deal that seems to ignore Israel's security and safety. Because "this way we will be better positioned for the day after"?
Frankly, that's ridiculous. That's not leadership. It's just a sorry excuse for sitting on a fence. Come out opposed if you really think your Federation is brave and unique.

Anonymous said...

Getting back to the fate of the Federation system discussion. A lot of criticism of Jeser's idea - but no other suggestions - just a lot of complaining and criticism. How about some other specific ideas on how to fix the system besides dumping the JFNA Exec.

Anonymous said...

What's ridiculous is purporting to represent the Jewish community and then doing your own thing under the guise of exerting "real leadership." Of course it's cloaked in the self justification double speak that lauds the know-it-all insider whose elite knowledge and deep caring trumps the constituency this King claims to actually represent. Of course, according to anon 747if you oppose the deal then you must care more deeply and have a better understand of Israel's safety and security than anyone with a different opinion.
Know why federations are declining? It's this kind of out of touch mentality, where the self proclaimed leaders knows better than anyone else and feels license to substitute his/her personal perspective over another opinion, even if he/she is in the minority.
Don't give me this claptrap about "leadership." That's not leadership.
And preparing for the day after the deal is just smart politics. What exactly is there to gain from fighting that which you'll lose without preparing for what happens next? That's certainly not leadership.
Aipac and company have gotten rolled. They were cowered into not attacking the agreement when it was being negotiated. Once negotiated they were cornered by Obama with a fait accompli. Folks, we've been out-maneuvered. The PMs slow dance with the GOP and poking his finger repeatedly in the eye of Obama has come back in spades. Yes, even if you oppose thedeal, it is smart to be thinking about the day after.

Anonymous said...

Come on, Richard, Anon4:34 a.m. is just Paul Jeser posting anonymously.

Anonymous said...

To Anon 7:47.
"Elected boards and leaders"?

Anonymous said...

Richard, Did you read the article today in on your community member, Alan Solow's sad endorsement of Obama's anti-semitic tropes in defense of the Iran Deal. I used to have respect for Chicago -- but nit if it produces so-called leaders like Solow, Court Jew.

RWEX said...

To the last Anon (at 5:06) -- I have known Alan Solow for two decades -- he is a committed Jew and a committed Jewish leader. To associate Alan in any way as "an accomplice to anti-semitism" is beneath contempt. I also consider the source.

Anonymous said...

I am opposed to the deal and at the same time I don't see how federations are representative of their communities. If only they were! Only a handful of insiders (handful can be hundreds or thousands depending on the community) feel they are represented by federation.
I know federations desperately feel they need to be to preserve their franchise (the same everything-to-everybody but nothing distinctive franchise that's actually killing them in the marketplace).
I'm curious what the impact on the debate has been of the federations who have announced opposition.

RWEX said...

To the Anonymous Commentator who wished to use this Blog to personally attack Michael Weil -- your Comment has been rejected.

Anonymous said...

Mr. Wexler, Alan Solow may be a friend, a colleague, an acquaintance of yours, but he really has earned the hostility that some of us feel by his use of "vengeance tropes" much like the Obama Administration to which he appears to be so attached that he could write an op-ed in JTA that reinforces the sense many of us have that if you oppose this Deal, you are the enemy. Any Jewish organization that offers this guy a leadership role after his diatribe ought to be ashamed. Maybe he can serve on the Board of the Obama Library.

Bob Hyfler said...

Kol hakavod to Michael Weil and the proud and resilent NOLA community.

Sisters and brothers, it is time those who value community start paying immediate attention to the ways we can continue to work together and live respectfully with each other even as we pursue partisan political ends. When the heartfelt passions of the moment abate millions of Jews will still need each others and the communal structures we have painstakingly created over the past century.

(Note to Anon 5:31: In all good humor, if you are keeping a list, please let us know where we can send our names. Some of us might hate to be left off.)

Bob Hyfler said...

My last comment Richard was directed not at you but Anon 8:02. Sorry