Peter Beinart’s Disdain for 'Jewish Leaders' Is Misplaced

American Jewish leaders not only enjoy the support of hundreds of thousands of U.S. Jews, but they are also critical to a functioning and diverse Jewish communal life.

Michael Adler
Michael M. Adler
Michael Adler
Michael M. Adler

Peter Beinart is right: “The only ‘leader’ who speaks for American Jews on Iran is Barack Obama.”

That’s the title of his recent opinion piece lamenting the many recent headlines that imply there’s a conflict between the White House and the American Jewish community when it comes to Iran. In reality, there is no serious conflict, as Beinart accurately states, pointing to surveys that find high approval ratings among American Jews — many of them, including me, who are in leadership positions — for the president’s policy on Iran.

While some Jews disagree with Obama on tactics — a divisiveness that could, as Beinart says, affect institutional Jewish life — there is a strong consensus that the president must succeed in his policy to eliminate Iran's nuclear military capability. And, Beinart is additionally correct: When Obama speaks on Iran, he is speaking for American Jews — and for every American.

Where Beinart is wrong, I’m afraid, is in his disdain for Jewish leaders.

The leaders he references — the ones who run the major American Jewish groups — represent hundreds of thousands of American Jews who join those organizations precisely because they support the organizations’ missions and because they want to ensure that Jewish voices are heard in the White House and the halls of Congress.

And, those organizational members comprise the vastly diverse community of American Jews — whether politically liberal or conservative, religiously observant, secular or in between — who make the phone calls, write the letters, send the emails and sign the petitions spurred by those very leaders.

We can argue about just how representative some of these leaders are of their respective rank and file – the Jews in the pews – but there’s no arguing that like members of every constituent group, faith-based or not, they want their concerns to be heard.

But Jewish leaders aren’t just found heading the largest and oldest Jewish groups that address the depth and breadth of issues facing us in America today. They also are found in synagogues, in federations, in youth groups and in senior citizens’ groups. And, they are creating innovative nonprofits with an entrepreneurial spirit.

Leadership development is a key feature of the very organizations that Beinart criticizes, and leaders are being nurtured in independent organizations such as the Wexner Heritage Foundation, in programs tied to local federations and synagogues, and in national programs sponsored by the alphabet soup of Jewish communal organizations. These programs are critical to the future of the American Jewish community.

A Jewish leader isn’t solely someone who has a significant following of other American Jews. Leaders also are defined by what they have accomplished and how they have contributed to their communities. Peter Beinart may not know all these leaders, but they are known in their respective communities.

The American Jewish community as a whole has been successful because of its myriad organizations and the lay and professional leaders who guide them. The appearance of divisive tensions within the community on Iran is overstated. We should be proud of the diversity within Jewish organizations both in the United States and around the world and recognize and respect that this diversity is our strength.

I am proud to call myself just such a “Jewish leader.”

Michael M. Adler is chairman and chief executive officer of Adler Group, Inc., one of South Florida's largest real estate companies.

U.S. President Barack Obama waves after speaking at the AIPAC convention in Washington Sunday, May 22, 2011.Credit: AP

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