Opinion |

For Jewish Federations: Left-wing on Israel Bad, anti-Muslim Radical Right Good?

What 'communal consensus' does the JFNA reflect when it blocks donations to anti-occupation causes but welcomes 'pro-Israel' right-wingers who traffic in Islamophobic hate speech?

Russel Neiss
Russel Neiss
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Brigitte Gabriel, head of what the SPLC calls “the largest grassroots anti-Muslim group in America”: Welcome at the White House, welcome at your local federation?
Brigitte Gabriel, head of what the SPLC calls “the largest grassroots anti-Muslim group in America”: Welcome at the White House, welcome at your local federation?Credit: Twitter screenshot
Russel Neiss
Russel Neiss

For the past several months, local federation lay leaders, Jewish professionals, and young Jewish activists throughout the country, have all urged the Jewish Federations of North America to take a stronger stance against the policies and appointees of the Trump administration that many see as dangerous to the Jewish community, our values, our allies, and our communal priorities.

JFNA’s response, when they have responded, has been to say that they need to remain neutral and maintain communal consensus on these issues.

But the truth is that JFNA can’t even manage to keep itself internally coherent.

In early February JFNA published their 2017 policy agenda. Amongst promises to protect Medicaid and Medicare, and advocate for dollars for the prevention of “cyber-attacks,” the document promoted “supporting a two-state solution with Israel living in peace with a demilitarized Palestinian state.”

According to the Jewish Federations, the ‘American Jewish consensus’ on Israel means: There's no such thing as being too far to the right. Credit: Twitter screenshot

Less than one month later, Richard Sandler, Chair of the JFNA Board of Trustees, lent his support to David Friedman to serve as the American ambassador to Israel. This is of course the same David Friedman who in addition to calling progressive Zionists “worse than kapos,” is on record supporting a one-state solution as his favored outcome to the conflict.

If this was a one-time slip-up, perhaps we could take JFNA at their word, that this merely represented Sandler’s “personal view,” and was only intended to “encourage discussion.”

But while JFNA claims to support a policy of neutrality and consensus building on politically sensitive topics, the truth is they and their affiliates often have no problem aligning themselves with radical right-wing views, speakers and organizations, while simultaneously diminishing voices on the left under the guise of “communal consensus.”

Take for example recent reports of local Federations in San Francisco and Los Angeles that have refused to direct dollars from donor-advised-funds to left-leaning organizations.

The JFNA say they're neutral and consensus-based. But the Chair of their Board of Trustees lent his support to David Friedman.Credit: YURI GRIPAS/REUTERS

In San Francisco, a donation was denied to an organization that worked to save Jews in WWII because a portion of their work today is devoted to human rights of Palestinians, and includes advocacy of divestment of corporations active in the occupied territories. This apparently ran afoul of guidelines that the head of the San Francisco Federation described as “our community’s sincere and hard-won consensus on ensuring a safe space for a broad range of responsible views from left to right.”

In Los Angeles, the Federation forbid a donation to IfNotNow, deeming their tactics too “disruptive” and “hostile” to the Federation.

Despite blocking these donations to left-leaning groups, both of these Federations (and many others around the country) continue to distribute monies to right-wing organizations that the both ADL and SPLC have deemed to traffic in hate speech.

Of particular note, (since we’re talking about Los Angeles allegedly banning donations to “disruptive” groups that are “hostile” to Federation) is Pamela Geller’s American Freedom Defense Initiative. This is a group that upon being blocked from sharing their hate speech from within the Jewish Federation’s Board Room, protested outside. Geller called the Federation’s actions "craven capitulation to Islamic supremacist Jew-haters," adding that, "We expect that from kapos."

Her organizations continues to receive monies through federation donor-advised-funds.

But Geller is by no means the only one. Brigitte Gabriel, founder of ACT! For America (also on ADL & SPLC’s lists), has spoken at more than a dozen Jewish Federations throughout the country. Tuesday she celebrated on Twitter her invitation to meetings at the White House.

Following an instance when the head of the Nashville Federation spoke alongside a representative from the hate group at a pro-Israel rally, William Daroff, JFNA’s senior vice president for public policy, was asked if JFNA thought it was appropriate for local federation executives to speak at events with known hate mongers. His response was that, “[The Federation] didn't co-sponsor. End of story.”

Perhaps he hadn’t yet achieved “communal consensus” on whether speaking out against pro-Israel Islamophobic racists was acceptable or not.

And while that last statement is perhaps unduly harsh to Mr. Daroff, it points to a deeper truth about our alleged communal consensus on Israel -- there is no such thing as being too far to the right.

What other conclusion are we supposed draw when JFNA leadership can endorse individuals who slander progressive Zionists without repercussions or any mea culpa from the organization, while simultaneously barring Jewish individuals who speak out forcefully in defense of Palestinian human rights?

What other conclusion are we supposed draw when funding from Jewish Federations can actually pay the salaries of convicted right-wing Jewish terrorists, while JFNA continues to refuse to work with many Muslim American organizations because of unproven but alleged ties to the Muslim Brotherhood?

What other conclusions are we supposed to draw when local federations wholeheartedly endorse legislation that makes no distinction between Israel and the occupied territories, while simultaneously remaining silent when LGBT Jews in their community are kicked out of their Jewish campus organization because they participated in a fundraiser for LGBT refugees that an organization that supports the boycott and divestment of Israel also participated in?

What other conclusion are we supposed to draw when hate groups are welcomed by our federation system under the guise of pro-Israel advocacy?

Is this really the communal consensus that reflects our desires and our values?

Russel Neiss is a Jewish educator, technologist, and activist based in St. Louis, MO. He is the creator of PocketTorah, the viral Stl_Manifest bot among many other Jewish educational technology initiatives. Follow him on Twitter: @russelneiss

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