"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. Uhhh...no...not 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, Uhhh...no...not 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. But...no. 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?