I draw your attention to the speeches -- the Prime Minister's, along with the Q & A which followed, and Silverman's -- speeches that began the First Plenary, Jerry's, and closed the last Plenary, Bibi's. These events said so much about the sorry state of JFNA.
Jerry never disappoints -- from the cliche/jargon-driven approach ("deep dive," "longitudinal" and on and on --to a litany of challenges totally unsupported by even one JFNA initiative that would focus JFNA to, in Silverman's words to "...take on the tough issues of the day." When Jerry spoke of "no room for small dreams" he was really pointing to a JFNA where there is apparently plenty of room for no dreams. Jerry's address was all the more disappointing in its reiteration from prior speeches of "goals" like -- reduce the cost of Jewish affiliation, and free Jewish pre-school for all, etc. -- goals never followed up with any plans for implementation whatsoever. I would say that there should have been great disappointment and challenge, but this is Jerry's JFNA after all.
And, as the GA ended, the Prime Minister appeared on the big screen and offered himself as the PM of all Jews everywhere. It was Bibi at his best and,then again, not so much. At the close of the Prime Minister's brief remarks, Richard Sandler had the opportunity to question him. Sandler led off with a "as you know, we passed a Resolution" on the Kotel, asked Bibi what he would tell those in our communities who sense that they are not welcome in Israel. The Prime Minister responded with an almost total distortion of the history related to egalitarian access to the Kotel. Everyone in that audience knew that the Prime Minister had built his response on a false set of "facts."
Sandler's response to Bibi: "Thanks for the clarification." THANKS FOR THE CLARIFICATION!!!! And that was it -- given the chance to respectfully challenge the Prime Minister, Sandler could not, would not bring himself to do so for us...for us. Here was an opportunity for our leader to raise the serious questions about the impact on the Israel-Diaspora relationship raised by the Prime Minister's unilateral breach of the Kotel agreement and he could not/would not bring himself to do so.
As I watched and listened I had the sense that the puerile questions that Sandler then posed were given Richard by the Prime Minister's Office: Iran, Israel's strengths and the ultimate: "what makes you most proud?" Uri Blau and Jonathan Liss, writing in Haaretz, observed: "Sandler's...questions were equally as fluffy and non-confrontational, and avoided challenging the prime minister on topics of key importance..."
The "questions" were followed by thanks and a standing ovation and we'll see you in Tel Aviv for GA 2018. What a lost opportunity. Does anyone, including Sandler, believe that the Prime Minister's respect for our system and its leaders was enhanced by Sandler's refusal to raise serious issues?
Look, I would have loved it if for the moment Richard Sandler were Shoshana Cardin who, we all remember, as our Chair spoke truth to power when she challenged President George H. W. Bush for his suggestion that American Jews were a "fifth column." Instead, we stand by our Resolution -- that's all we need to do -- in silence and shame.
A fitting ending to GA 2017
and to JFNA.