Friday, February 12, 2016


Yes, I still remember, only weeks ago, Smilin' Jerry get max mileage out of JFNA's public opposition to the intolerant public statements of Israel's Ashkenazi Chief Rabbi David Lau's attack on Israel's Minister Naftali Bennett's visit to a Schechter School. JFNA's position on our behalf was better stated at the time by Board Chair Richard Sandler, when he wrote:
"I was puzzled and chagrined to read of Chief Rabbi Lau’s recent comments regarding Minister Naftali Bennett’s visit to a Solomon Schechter school while in the United States. This kind of dialogue is an unfortunate example of how we build barriers within our own community. Instead, I urge us to seek opportunities to work together with an eye toward engaging our young people and ensuring our future as a people, according to Jewish values."
Yes, Sandler spoke for all of us when he wrote that emphasizing that it is JFNA that must speak out toward "ensuring our future as a people, according to Jewish values."  So, this encouraged us to believe that when Jewish values were next challenged by intolerance that threatens Israel's democracy, JFNA would again speak out. exactly.

A minority in Israel among the Jewish community, have been engaged in a growing number of acts of extreme violence condemned by the Government, and by a number of North American Jewish leaders. In fact, JFNA would have you believe that ut too has spoken out, exactly. On its Website Home Page, JFNA directs us to a Jerusalem Post op-ed by Susie Gelman. "Chair of Federation (that's what JFNA calls itself, "rebranding" as if the federations themselves) Initiative." It's an excellent op-ed; it would be great if JFNA could have written it itself. Here's how Susie is identified in the Post: "The writer is a past president of the Jewish Federation of Greater Washington, a longtime community leader and the mother of an Israeli citizen." Not quite JFNA or "Federation."

At one and the same time, the apparently extremist Israeli Justice (in terms of what she has now proposed "Justice" may be the wrong description for her role entirely) Minister, Ayelet Shaked, has proposed and the Knesset has preliminarily endorsed, something "branded" the Transparency Bill -- legislation that would require only "Foreign-funded NGOs" -- those non-profits that receive more than 50% of their funding from foreign governments to so note, formally, in official publications. As reported in Haaretz: "In practice, the legislation would affect left-wing organizations almost exclusively." Former Ambassador to the United States, Michael Oren, noted that Shaked's bill represents "one-sided exposure." The Washington Post denounced the legislation as "A Danger to Israeli democracy." And Chemi Shalev, in a devastating January 4 opinion piece in Haaretz -- "The great betrayal: American Jews stay silent as Israeli democracy withers" -- demanded opposition to this legislation which so clearly is intended to suppress free speech in Israel:
"By staying silent, by refraining from the kind of forceful, game-canting protest that the current situation warrants, American Jews are not only abandoning like-minded Israelis, they are betraying Israel itself. They don't owe it to Israeli liberals to come to their aid; they owe it first and foremost to themselves." (emphasis added)
Further, the emboldened fundamentalist attacks on Free Speech reflected in the New York Times front page article Culture Wars Shift in Israel to Art Realm, on January 30, 2016, are but further evidence of the harsh turn for too many against democratic values. It's past time for our institutions to speak out.

Yes, we all recall JFNA's pride at its public, institutional response to Rabbi Lau -- under the circumstances, an easy target for JFNA. Yet, JFNA's silence on this matter is both shameful and typical. Here, unlike the instance of the Iran Deal, even JCPA summoned the courage to speak out against the so-called Transparency Bill...but not JFNA. Chair Richard Sandler called out Rabbi Lau's outburst as antithetical to our Jewish values. This Shaked legislation is certainly worse. Which makes the silence from JFNA even more pathetic.

We should be defending Jewish values everywhere they are threatened...we aren't. We are, once again, silent. But, remember, we did go after Chief Rabbi David Lau, didn't we? And wasn't that special?



Bob Hyfler said...

Your are right Richard. The Shaked bill is an abomination as is, in my opinion, the Nationality law and a host of other Israeli policies, existing and proposed, that do not comport with my Jewish, American and left of center sensibilities. And Chemi Shalev is correct that American Jews cannot absent themselves from the debate. However is my local Federation and JFNA the appropriate vehicle to air our discontent? Two summers ago I opposed the notion of JFNA and Federations taking a stand on the Iran deal.
I did so to protect the "specialness of Federation as a sanctuary for programmatic and philanthropic collaboration within diversity", and a "comunity table where all can feel welcome and political and theological differences are left at the door". So I would once again I advise caution and suggest we first have the discussion as to when and on the basis of what criteria Federations and JFNA should enter the fray. Perhaps that would be an interesting and well attended conversation to hold at a GA.

Anonymous said...

Richard doesn't believe in caution. Better to come out with both barrels blazing.

Anonymous said...

Why should JFNA be in the "statement" business at all? Why not leave that to ADL, AJC, JCPA, etc, for whom issuing statements is a core practice. One will never be able to "fix" JFNA until there is some level of consensus as to what it is and what business it should be in.

Anonymous said...

Yet I remember in the G.O.D. of CJF before every GA there was vigorous debate at a CJF committee level about resolutions that were subsequently sent to all federations to be discussed internally and ultimately to be acted upon at the GA. Most of the resolutions originated at the national level but I recall that federations could also submit resolutions for consideration. The general understanding was that the federations were predominant organizations that represented the largest constituency (about 1 million donors and "representation" of about 4 million Jews) and that if there was consensus on a resolution it should go forward. I don't know for sure what size of a group any individual organization "represents" but it likely can't compare to the population in those days and probably not even based on today's diminished number of donors to federations.

Anonymous said...

I remember those days too ... but, guess what? Not many others do.
We're not the same community that we were 20 (or more) years ago. You can blame JFNA for a great many things, but to blame JFNA for not fulfilling the same role that was (badly, at times) held by CJF in a completely new era is pretty much the definition of not understanding how times have changed.

RWEX said...


All of these Comments have struck a chord but I am particularly struck by last. Not that what you have written isn't correct, but think about it -- what kid of an organization have we (yes, I thin I know the answer to that question) if in 2016 we no longer have a voice on the very values we still like to claim sustain us as a Jewish People?

It is all so very sad.

Anonymous said...

Thank you. (7:51 here). We DO have a voice. Truly. But you seem to be blaming JFNA for something much wider and much deeper. I too have many complaints about JFNA - but this isn't one of them. And your continual attacks on Jerry, JFNA and the like undermine your credibility when you continue to throw in all kinds of issues (like this) which aren't their fault.