The Jewish Federation vs. Zionism

When the Los Angeles Jewish Federation stopped me from speaking last month, I said that Zionism was not welcome at the Jewish Federation. I didn’t know just how right I was. Last week Lori Lowenthal Marcus, the U.S. correspondent for the Jewish Press, reported that “in what has been described as ‘a closeted and cowardly move,’ the Jewish Federations of North America last week rejected the inclusion of the term ‘Zionism’ in a major system-wide planning document.”

According to Marcus, “Richard Wexler, former chair of the Chicago Federation and national chairman of the United Jewish Appeal in the late ‘90s, revealed yesterday, July 26, that JFNA’s leaders have rejected the inclusion of the term ‘Zionism’ in their Global Planning Table Work Group Report because the term ‘is too controversial.’”

“I am beyond disappointed and upset,” Wexler said. Marcus explained, “The rejection of Zionism by JFNA leaders was described by Wexler in his blogpost and in comments to The Jewish Press, as a continuing trend by Federations to distance themselves from Israel.”

This is the most mind-numbing and sickening news. Despite their carefully crafted half-denial, this is an attempt to distance themselves from Israel. And that is suicidal. The Jewish people are Israel. It’s like saying that I want to distance myself from myself. Or I want my heart removed from my body. I don’t want it anymore.

But in response to Marcus’s article, Jerry Silverman, the president and chief executive officer of the Jewish Federations of North America, issued a statement: “On July 27, 2012,” Silverman said, “Lori Lowenthal Marcus wrote accusing the Jewish Federations of North America of moving away from its support of Israel and Zionism.  Nothing could be further from the truth. The ongoing support of Israel is fundamental to Federations and to JFNA. Our system sends hundreds of millions of dollars each year to Israel to support the vulnerable, to assist in education programs, to help new immigrants, to assist in job and skills development, and to provide concrete expressions of solidarity during Israel’s darkest hours. We connect American Jews to Israel and Israelis by supporting birthright and other youth and young adult programs, community and national missions to Israel, and innovative partnerships between our communities and Israeli communities. We are proud to be holding our 2013 General Assembly in Israel, where we will have an opportunity to highlight the important work we do with our partners in Israel.”

This is not Zionism. The Federation’s statement is clearly a deflection. Helping Jews throughout the world including in Israel is altogether different from Zionism.

I asked Marcus about this, and she pointed out that Silverman’s statement doesn’t say anything about the central claim of her article: that the Federation rejected use of the term “Zionism” in its Global Planning Table Work Group Report. She told me: “I stand by the story exactly as written -- as written, some have not read it carefully and misreadings on both sides have blurred facts. It’s regrettable the JFNA folks chose not to respond to my queries and only issued a non-responsive statement after the article was already published.”