Jewish Organizations Are Failing the Jews
Sometimes running a blog can seem a lot like hosting a web gathering place for political lonely hearts -- particularly running a right-leaning site in very left-leaning Massachusetts. I regularly receive emails thanking me for my site and lamenting the loneliness and seeming futility of it all. With the recent uptick in anti-Semitism, people walking the streets in our hometowns with signs comparing Jews to Nazis, and a perceived anemic reaction on the part of an organized Jewish community we've come to expect so much of, the calls have been coming even more frequently than usual.
Here's one recent cri de coeur:
I've been growing increasingly concerned about the Boston Jewish community's reaction, or non-reaction, to anti-Semitism. I recently learned that the coming week is "Israel Apartheid Week" with demonstrations planned at UMass, Ruggles T stop, and Boston College. [There was a lot more than that. — MS] As far as I can tell, nothing has been planned in response. Unless there is something I don't know about, the lack of response to these distortions is like failing to move from an oncoming train. But when I express my concern to friends and family -- even my husband -- I'm met with shrugs and a "what can you do?" attitude. Am I the only one to feel that the organized leadership is not doing its job here? I'd love to have some input beyond my relatively small circle.
Dear Increasingly Concerned:
No, you are not alone in feeling organized leadership has been asleep at the switch. I know quite a few local grassroots activists who feel the local mainstream orgs are next to useless. They're so focused on shmoozing behind the scenes, playing politics, and dabbling in leftist politics unrelated to Judaism that they seem to have lost the thread. I recently did an analysis of email alerts sent out by our local Jewish Community Relations Council (JCRC -- an agency of Combined Jewish Philanthropies, with branches across the country and the agency most expected to get involved in coordinating street-level activism) that found that fully 37 percent of Boston JCRC action alerts have nothing to do with Jews or Israel. That 37% involved such important Jewish issues as global warming, tuition discounts for illegal aliens, immigration issues, affordable housing, labor issues, opposition to tax cuts -- you get the picture. They're all issues upon which reasonable people may disagree, but certainly nothing that people who think they are giving money to help the Jewish community in a time of crisis would expect their money to be going to -- and I was generous when deciding my metric for deriving that 37% number. It could easily have been worse.
The "mainstream" orgs just don't seem to feel that anything near the street matters. As long as the governor's office picks up the phone when they call, they feel like they are successfully justifying their salaries. Someday they're going to discover that after all that high-level backslapping they've had the rug pulled out from under them. So Governor Deval Patrick shows up at a pro-Israel rally -- success! He shows up shortly after at a forum sponsored by the Muslim American Society (a branch of the Muslim Brotherhood and the group behind the new Boston mega-mosque) -- silence. The orgs are moneymaking operations. What will appeal to the elderly Jews who might put CJP in their wills? That's what the leadership asks themselves.
Is Super Sunday (the big fundraising day) more important than survival? Is "Israel" just a marketing tool to perpetuate big salaries and generous perks while these same pitchmen work assiduously behind the scenes to undermine the work of the smaller organizations and local activists who actually fight? Would the fundraising glad-handers rather make nice with representatives of the Muslim Brotherhood and curry relations with non-Jewish groups than cooperate with Jewish groups that happen not to share their definition of what constitutes "social justice"? (Say, wasn't that the name of Father Coughlin's rag?) Can you imagine groups whose public priorities are purported to be Jews and Israel actually being ruled by fears of appearing too "particularistic"? Believe it.
They think that, as per the traditional model of political give and take, maybe some of that global warming advocacy or union pandering is going to buy them something down the road, some karma chits for later cashing. Maybe that was enough in the past, but it's getting thinner and thinner ice to put all your weight on. It's a political Ponzi scheme that will eventually melt down. The other side is working bottom up; the big organizations are working top down. In a democracy, the other side's is the longer-term plan.
The big national groups are little better. ADL has been pretty good of late, but a few years ago Abe Foxman actually said our biggest threat was the Evangelical Christians! (They "want to save us!" Imagine.) At least he hasn't repeated that mistake. The AJC (American Jewish Committee) is normally pretty good, but the former local Boston rep is one of Boston's biggest dhimmis -- a complete shill for the people running the Boston mosque (the MAS).
The local orgs are never out in front on these things and have to be pushed by unpaid local activists, leaving those same activists wondering how it is that they're being left holding the bag by the people who supposedly collect some sizable salaries to do what others are doing for free in their spare time.
Let's face it, though: it's not all the orgs' fault. They reflect the malaise and cluelessness of us, the community, including the rabbinical community and the donors. Hating on George Bush excites them. Iran and just about anything else can be rationalized away -- and I mean anything else. I think all that has to happen is that someone says, "This is what good liberal Democrats think," and they'll sell Israel and their religion right down the river. That's one reason I do cut the orgs some slack -- they can only go as far as their donors will travel along with, even if some of the leadership "gets it."
I think a lot of people know the era of "Jewish power" has a limited shelf life. The community is fighting a demographic and money battle that it sure looks like they're destined to lose, and a lot of people are -- whether they realize it consciously or not (and I think many are conscious of it) -- preparing for the day when they are undermenschen/dhimmies/powerless again. "Please don't hurt us. We were good to you!"
The locals need to do a much better job of fighting back on the streets and in the meeting halls -- demonstrating, counter-demonstrating, asking questions at "enemy" events. You can't shut people up -- this is America -- but you can stop letting them have the floor unopposed. You can let people like yourself, Increasingly Concerned, feel better that, yes, there are others out there ready and willing to fight back -- for morale purposes if nothing else.
There's a systemic problem. The Jewish community is a victim of its own success. American Jews would rather write a check to one of the alphabet soup groups and "let George do it" than pick up a sign and stand out on a street corner. Let's face it: in our society, "regular people" just don't do that. We have jobs and families, while the other side has college kids, paid non-profit staff, and various lowlifes with nothing much else to do. If there's one thing the far left is good at, it's standing around on street corners with signs shouting slogans.
None of that is any excuse for the organized community and their full-time paid staffs to be asleep at the switch when it comes to the day-to-day street battle.
As Americans we are complacent in our freedoms. It's inconceivable that the day will ever come when individual Jews receive a knock on the door from the jackboots looking to prevent the free private practice of their religion. But the right to express oneself as a member of a public community -- whether at home or as a political polity in Israel -- is something that must be consistently fought for on a number of fronts, including with visible, street-level activism so that even those without big checkbooks can see there are others out there fighting on their behalf.
You wouldn't think that with all that organizational funding floating around you'd be feeling so all alone, and you're not. It just seems that way sometimes.