Silencing, Censoring, Hosting, Choosing

censored

An opinion piece by J.J. Goldberg appears in the Forward under the headline, Silencing of the Liberal American Jew. Reacting to a synagogue's cancellation of a speech by Congresswoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz, Goldberg writes, among other things:

Determined campaigns by noisy minorities or threats by a handful of major donors regularly silence voices deemed controversial...

The disinviting of Wasserman Schultz takes the stifling of free discourse into a new and alarming realm...

[Jews] have long been an important voice for justice. It’s a pity that they let their voice be hijacked, diverted or cut off from allies by an unrepresentative minority.

[Emphasis is mine.]

A few weeks ago, when the 14th St Y canceled a Jewish youth group's planned event to discuss a partial boycott of Israel, a leader of the group said:

“This is consistent with other issues we have seen in Jewish institutional spaces, when Jews who have tried to express opinions that are not of the status quo about Israel are censored". (Emphasis is mine.)

There are two questions here which must remain separate: first, how broad is the discourse that the Jewish community chooses to host, encourage, and/or facilitate? And, second, is failing to host, encourage, and facilitate a discussion the same thing as censoring it?

It seems to me that broader discourse is usually good. Politics matter and carry both moral and religious weight, so both liberal and conservative voices should be heard in our shuls. The Jewish community includes a large spectrum of opinion about Zionism, so a strong case can be made that Jewish communal institutions should welcome a broader spectrum of discourse about Israel than they currently do.

At the same time, I would ask all those who use these terms like censorship, silencing, stifling, etc.: is it really the case that choosing not to host, encourage or facilitate every kind of conversation is censorship? Isn't it within any institution's right to choose its own boundaries and norms? Is it really the case that the membership of an institution is being somehow denied the chance to take part in the discussion, when any member can, at any time they wish, join or attend another institution at which the discussion does take place? Did the 14th St Y somehow lock Young, Jewish and Proud out of the city of New York entirely, preventing them from holding an event at any other venue? Did they lock the doors of anyone's radio station or smash anyone's printing press? Is Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz of the United States Congress now suddenly lost in the wilderness, bereft of microphones, now that the mighty Temple Israel of Miami has slammed its doors to her humble plea to speak her mind?

We're not talking about anyone facing any actual sanction, danger, penalty, or obstacle for voicing an opinion -- we're talking about institutions making choices about whom they will give a platform for voicing which opinions. Those choices are important, and they merit a real debate, one from which I certainly would not ask Mr. Goldberg, nor Jewish Voices for Peace and its youth affiliate, to back down. I would only ask: isn't it possible to make a strong argument for broadening the discourse within Jewish communal institutions without resorting to spurious (and therefore counterproductive) accusations of censorship?

(Browse BJPA for Discourse and Dialogue.)

UPDATE (June 25, 2012): Right-wingers can play this game too.

Reinvent Yom HaAtzmaut?

Robbie Gringas makes a case:

Yom Ha'atzmaut is currently far from being an event through which the Jewish community "celebrates itself". While Chanukah, a festival marking momentous events in the land of Israel, is celebrated in the home and in the community with comfort and ease, Yom Ha'atzmaut, another festival marking momentous events in that far-away land, is neither comfortable nor homely. Chanukah has become a festival that is 'owned' by the local population, no matter where in the world they live. Yom Ha'atzmaut is and has always been owned by Israelis...

Nor, for example, is St Patrick's Day to those of Irish descent what Yom Ha'atzmaut is to Jews... St Patrick's Day has now moved far beyond being an Irish Catholic event. The largest St Patrick's Day Parade now takes place in Chicago not Dublin. The slogan throughout the States, "Everyone's Irish on St Patrick's Day", marks its ecumenical, non-ethnic intentions, as the festival celebrates more the sale of Irish-style goods (mainly great beer) than the promotion of Irish life and authentic culture. Despite this gradual draining of the festival's content, St Patrick's Day nevertheless celebrates a more authentic, less complicated sense of exilic longing, than does Yom Ha'atzmaut for Jews...

The time may have come for us to begin draw inspiration not from other nationalisms, nor from other ethnicities, but from our own. We need to begin to see and develop Yom Ha'atzmaut as a Jewish holiday: a chag. Paradoxically, because Yom Ha'Atzmaut is such an established yet unclaimed festival in the orthodox world, we may find ourselves with a great deal of room for maneuver. We may draw from religious wisdom without committing to its authority: we may refer to religious constructs without commenting on their essence...

Each chag has a narrative and a theme that express themselves through a designated experience, structured reflection, and symbolic action...

We would suggest that Yom Ha'atzmaut should mark the following theme: להיות עם חופשי בארצנו – To be a free people in our land. This would allow us to focus on the four areas of Zionism that together would suggest a unique aspect to Jewish existence...

For Chag Ha'atzmaut it might be tempting to reach for the Declaration of Independence, or for one's Tanach, to find the specific megillah appropriate to our Chag Ha'atzmaut. But before doing so it would be useful to increase the breadth of our options. Perhaps a piece of literature from beyond the Tanach might be equally appropriate? What might the story of the Golem of Prague reflect on Israel's narrative of sovereignty, power, and tradition? How could a biography of Albert Einstein – an individual, Diaspora-dwelling, light unto the nations, almost-President of Israel – comment on Am Chofshi b'Artzenu? Must we choose only one text?...

As we have stated, there may be value in drawing on Jewish 'traditional forms' of ritual so as to lend - not necessarily authority - but contextual familiarity to our Chag Ha'atzmaut rites of passage. One such form might be the Seder Plate, as applied to the four principles of Chag Ha'atzmaut... one might raise and drink a glass of water to mark the life-giving simplicity of להיות , to cut open a pomegranate to mark the unified and diverse nature of עם , to eat a wild sabra fruit to mark the prickly yet sweet ambivalence of חופשי , and to light a vial of olive oil to mark ארצנו .

More information...

Download directly...

There are  several worthy observations here, but color me skeptical about any attempt to create a really meaningful ritual celebration intentionally and all at once. Isn't it possible that the ancient festivals are so rich with meaning precisely because no one human individual (or, God save us all, committee) designed them? Do we really want to perform rituals born in a brainstorming session and tailored to express themes X, Y, and Z, as defined by seventeen bullet-pointed specifications? Aren't the contradictions and opacities and confusions of the classic Jewish holidays a significant part of the reason we'll never exhaust the ways they can be meaningful? It's not that I disagree with Gringas that Yom HaAtzmaut ought to develop further, but perhaps it will best do so if we let it do so in unexpected and unplanned ways.

1947: Discrimination Against Shoah Survivors, and the Need for Zionism

J-Vault logo

Today we remember between five and six million Jews whom the Nazis murdered, and look to the survivors still among us to bear witness to what they saw.

Of course, concentration camp survivors (and others who ended up in DP camps following the war) were not always accorded such honor and reverence as they often are today. In the immediate aftermath of World War II, the image of the DP in sectors of the American public was too often an image of the pitiful victim, the uncivilized wretch, or the sneaky criminal. Today's installment of the J-Vault provides a glimpse into this larger topic, among numerous others.

Special J-Vault for Yom HaShoah: The Psychology of Jewish Displaced Persons (1947)

The title to this article is a bit deceptive. Its primary resonances today are less in relation to the human psyche, and more in relation to group issues of socioeconomic classes, race relations, and the need for Zionism.

American Jewry today has little or no understanding of the Jewish Displaced Person. By and large, our ideas of the Jewish "D.P." are built up entirely on descriptions of horror and hunger portrayed by fund raising appeals or on the contrasting stories of "black marketeering," "continual demanding," and "unwillingness to work" in blanket generalizations by newspapermen who often have interviewed some official who himself has little understanding of the Jewish Displaced Person or of what makes him act as he does.

It is easy to understand the point of view of the American, British or French army or UNRRA official who condemns the Jewish Displaced Person. Usually that official is an ordinary citizen who is part of the stream of thought and philosophy of his country, and he measures those he meets by the standards of this background... He tends to forget the fact that some people were more discriminated against than others, and being more deprived, may exhibit the results of the more difficult lives they have experienced, in behavior which will not make for peaceful living, quiet, and cleanliness. It is difficult for such an official to understand (and emotionally accept the idea) that those who exhibit such negative behavior are those who need the most patience and help. More often, instead, the Jewish Displaced Person is characterized as ungrateful, unclean, lazy or unambitious...

It must be understood that that which may have helped a person survive concentration camp does not necessarily help him in his future adjustments after liberation. By and large, these abilities may retard his after liberation adjustment. The Jewish group attitude, except in occasional instances, was opposed to the "law and order" of the Nazis. "Law and order"—after liberation—continued for many to be something to oppose. It is difficult, for example, for the Jewish Displaced-Person who is so close to hunger, to realize that it was good for him to black market and do anything else that would oppose authority (under the Nazis) but that now, under an Allied power, he is to accept freely whatever limitations they see fit to set on him...

Another aspect of the Jewish ex-concentration camp inmate's attitude is his resentment of the general population in the nearby and surrounding towns in Germany and Austria. Most of the general population represent to the Jews their oppressors and supporters of the oppression against them. That they should be treated theoretically on an equal plane with the general population after their years of suffering only adds to their resentment of the authority which imposes this policy. It is difficult for them to see why people who have had full rations, their families complete, their household furnishings, their positions and comparative security, should be given equal treatment with those who have lost everything. That the Jews should be restricted in movement when the non-Jews are not is also a basis for resentment. In general, the Jews from concentration camps do not look to the Allied or local authorities with any great degree of acceptance...

The British point of view is the most difficult for the Jew to understand. His attitude of treating all persons alike (an antithesis of the Nazi philosophy) has often been referred to by Jewish intellectuals as "pseudo liberalism." The Jews feel that it is naive to treat emaciated, harassed victims with the same amounts of food, clothing and other materials as their oppressors. The British attitude is reminiscent of the Abraham Lincoln story of the wife who came upon the scene of her husband in life and death struggle with a huge bear. The wife, feeling she had to do something, said "Go it husband! Go it bear!" The Jew and anti-Nazi similarly want to know on whose side Britain is — the former Nazis or those who were their victims...

The longer Jews have to remain in lands where they can plan no future, the sooner will all Jewish behavior in these lands become more uniformly aggressive and difficult to work with. As time goes on without a bold and decisive plan, more and more insecurity will develop, and with it can be expected hostilities between native residents and Jews, selfishness, rivalry, suspicion and all the behavior expected in cases of severe dependency. With these, and aggravating these conditions, will be the daily increase of ill health, unsanitary conditions, ignorance due to lack of educational facilities, and unemployment with all its depressive characteristics...

Actually, even if all of the possible facilities for social adjustment of Jewish Displaced Persons were available in the occupied zones, (and this would be difficult to secure so long as Allied political aims dictate the general national internal policies), adjustment of the group in the occupied zones would be doomed to failure. There the D.P. is unwanted by the populace, and he faces daily risks of having physical harm done him, when and if the Allied forces are withdrawn. There he daily faces open and veiled discrimination in finding a job, getting a place to live, getting a business license, or even a telephone. Few, if any, of even the highest authorities are interested in seeing that he gets equal opportunity to build an individual economic and social existence. The recent measures of leniency to Nazis, loans to Germany and Austria, and granting of greater autonomy to local governments by the Allies are pretty clear indications of the future of the Jew in these countries...

In work with most of the small handful of immigrants who have already arrived in the United States, the same problems which displaced persons have exhibited in Europe have been found, but in aggravated form. The same techniques which they developed in the process of self-preservation in the concentration camps are often their main "standbys" of behavior in the new environment. Since these techniques have little or no application to life in America, they become useless appendages which do not help to "make friends and influence people."... His seething hostility against a Nazi government (tied up with a general resentment based on his deprivations) is transferred to the new world about him. The Americans, in turn, cannot understand him. They are indifferent to the problems of Nazism, which they prefer to consider distant and of the past...

America and other lands are reluctant to open their doors to such a group. To sit idly by and philosophize on the sensibility or justice of this or that plan is only to draw out the daily growing problem. The greatest number of the group have expressed the wish to be resettled in Palestine. They have learned of the failure of colonization projects in forgotten and little populated parts of the world. They fear the growing anti-Semitism of lands such as Argentina.

Their behavior continually voices the question, "whom can we trust?" They have been able to trust few in the past, except for people who have seen and understood the meaning of their experiences. They want to be among their own, and instinctively express the feeling that only in Palestine will they have people to come to, who will receive them and want them and give them security. In Palestine, the readjustment of the Jew is within the realm of possibility. In the occupied zones, it is not. Here the Jewish Displaced Person can build and work for the future and feel that it is permanent. In the cooperative farms and groups, he gains a feeling of group belonging, so akin to the need for family life and security. Here, he can find understanding of the problems and experiences he has faced, because many of the Jews of Palestine are themselves refugees from the concentration camps and seek the adjustment of the new refugees as an ideological goal...  Here too, he can work out his need for authoritarian leadership learned in the concentration camp, and gradually learn participation and democratic methods within the working group...

Never before in the history of social work has it been necessary to plan for so large a group of disturbed people. Only by introduction of wholesome group life can any progress be expected. As it stands now, every day away from such a therapeutic atmosphere is a day of further regression. Eventually, and not too far in the future, it will be too late.

More information...

Download directly...

J-Vault logo

Special Reader's Guide: Iran

In case you haven't seen it yet, check out our special Reader's Guide on the Iranian nuclear threat.

Iran Guide

Click to download.

Prophets and Protectors

Posted at the Shalom Hartman Institute.

The discourse about Israel – that conducted by those who see themselves as Israel’s friends -- seems to come in either of two varieties.

One variety of Israel-related discourse focuses on Israel’s shortcomings, usually entailing mistreatment of one or another group – women, immigrant workers, Reform Jews, Conservative Jews, and, most prominently, Palestinians, both those who live within the Green Line (once known as, “Israeli Arabs”) and those who live in Gaza or the West Bank (the “real” Palestinians).

The other variety of discourses focuses on Israel’s moral virtues in the context of its struggle for peace and security. This variety emphasizes Israel’s claims to democracy, progressive social values, industriousness, ingenuity, sensitivity and respect for human rights in the midst of a protracted, existential struggle. Often, in this discourse, Israel is compared with other Western democracies, the Palestinians, and the Arab or Muslim worlds.

Why do these two types of discourse -- both conducted by Israelis, Zionists, pro-Israel Jews and their non-Jewish friends and allies – seem so dissonant, so disconcerting, and so mutually distasteful?

I’m reminded that I am not the first to take note of the disparate discourse on Israel. Almost 30 years ago, in September of 1982, during a temporary lull in the (first) War in Lebanon, and just before the massacres at Sabra and Shatila, Leonard (“Leibel”) Fein wrote these words in Moment:

There are two kinds of Jews in the world.

There is the kind of Jew who detests war and violence, who believes that fighting is not ‘the Jewish way;’ who willingly accepts that Jews have their own and higher standards of behavior.  And not just that we have them, but that those standards are our lifeblood, and what we are about.

And there is the kind of Jew who thinks we have been passive long enough, who is convinced that it is time for us to strike back at our enemies, to reject once and for all the role of victim, who willingly accepts that Jews cannot afford to depend on favors, that we must be tough and strong.

And the trouble is, most of us are both kinds of Jew.

Although Leibel later partially re-thought or re-canted (having developed doubts that most of us had both sorts of Jews within us), the distinctions are still resonant.

Thirty years later, these two kinds of Jews are alive and living, and they have been with us for some years, if not centuries. And the destiny of the Jewish nation has been at the heart of the contention between the two camps. One camp speaks with Judaism’s prophetic voice; the other primarily acts out of protective concerns. Both draw upon a wellspring of Jewish moral values and both see themselves defending the interests of Israel and the Jewish People.

The historic (if fanciful) images of Yochanan ben Zakkai and Simon bar Kokhba come to mind. Faced with the Roman oppressor, the former counseled surrender in 68 CE; 70 years later, the latter led a rebellion that was crushed. (Truth be told, history has judged some Jewish Protectors far more kindly than bar Kokhba.)

Nearly two millennia later, Jewish Prophets and Israel’s Protectors emerge once again, loosely associated respectively with Labor Zionists and Revisionist Zionists. In the last generation, we saw them denoted as, “doves” and “hawks” or, more broadly as the “Peace camp” and the “National camp.”

And today? The pro-Israel world is still divided between a more Prophetic and more Protective camp. Among the former, loosely speaking, we have: the New Israel Fund, J Street, Ha’aretz, Jewish Democrats, and Israel educators who call for “hugging and wrestling” with Israel’s complexities. Among the latter: ZOA, AIPAC, the Jerusalem Post, Jewish Republicans, and the Israel advocacy industry who see advancing Israel’s cause in the public arena as a moral imperative.   

The lines may be blurry, but the impulses are still present. The two camps feel thoroughly justified and deeply worried. And the more they raise their voices, the more the other side feels vulnerable, if not defeated. Protectors see Prophets as doing grave harm to Israel’s image and security: Who needs Israel’s friends – let alone its enemies – reading stories alleging sexism, religious intolerance, human rights abuses, fascist tendencies and racist motives?

For their part, Prophets see Protectors undermining Israel’s security as well. They ask, how are Israelis ever to confront the hard and fateful decisions to make risky concessions for peace (or at least more security), if they are told that 1) all is right with them and their leaders,  2) that the world is uncaring to unsympathetic, and that 3) the other side is inherently hostile, untrustworthy and fanatical? And, in the interim, how does the Protectors’ discourse reeking with self-righteousness motivate  Israelis to avoid committing the most egregious abuses in several spheres – and in particular in conducting the Occupation – abuses, that are wrong morally, and harmful politically?

Reconciling Prophets with Protectors is not in the cards. But perhaps each can begin to see the value of the other – or even draw upon the sensitivities and world views that each bring to the pro-Israel discourse.

Defining Distancing

Matthew Ackerman's post "The Silent Young Jewish Majority" on Commentary's Contentions Blog argues against an "accepted point of Jewish communal debates in recent years that young American Jews are 'distancing' from Israel." The post prompted this response from BJPA Director Prof. Steven M. Cohen.

As one of  the leading progenitors of the "Distancing Hypothesis" (along with Prof. Ari Kelman, now of Stanford), I must say that we have been consistently misinterpreted in two respects. One misinterpretation entails the defintion of "distancing," and the other entails its cause. We said very clearly that distancing is about growing apathy about or disengagement with Israel. It means not thinking about, talking about, or caring about Israel. It does NOT mean opposition to Israeli government policies or criticism of Israel's policies, both of which are signs of closeness and attachment, and not distancing and detachment.

Second, we stated that the prime mover in promoting distancing was intermarriage -- the Jewish children of the intermarried and the Jewish spouses of non-Jews are VERY distant from Israel. Hence, surveys of skewed samples of engaged Jews with high rates of inmarriage or in-married parents cannot serve as a test of the distancing hypothesis. Distancing occurs among Jews who are hardly visible in Jewish life. Not the ones who conduct surveys, write articles, and post comments.

Podcast: Jewish Values, Jewish Interests

Ruth Wisse

This was easily our most provocative event to date.

On Monday, December 5th, Prof. Ruth Wisse and Rabbi Joy Levitt joined BJPA Director Prof. Steven M. Cohen at the NYU Law School for a wide-ranging, passionate, broad discussion of how the Jewish community should relate to the outside world.

After a brief ceremony honoring Gail Chalew for her 20+ years as editor of the Journal of Jewish Communal Service (the digitization of which on BJPA was the impetus for the event), Rabbi Levitt spoke of her decisions, as Executive Director of the JCC in Manhattan, to reach out to non-Jewish poor and minority communities, as well as the Muslim community leaders affiliated with the Cordoba Center / Park 51 "Ground Zero mosque" now known as Prayer Space. Prof. Wisse spoke of Israel under attack and an American Jewish community lacking in moral confidence, and judging Judaism based on liberal standards instead of liberalism based on Jewish standards. Our fearless leader, Prof. Cohen, acted as moderator, but without setting aside his own positions on the issues.

Click here to listen.

The Israeli Ad Campaign and Some Essential Truths

(Cross-posted at Makom.)

The imbroglio over these videos should not obscure some essential truths.

One is that massive numbers of American Jewish people and families are indeed being lost to the Jewish People, both through cultural challenges and to the downstream impact of intermarriage, as it seems that less than 10% of the grandchildren of marriages between Jews and non-Jews identify as Jews.

Second, the Israeli Jewish public is convinced that high levels of assimilation characterize American Jewry.

Third, that perception is a matter of national pride among Israelis, one rooted very deeply in the classic Zionist ideology that undergird the Yishuv and then the State in its early days.

There’s a flip side. American Jews are convinced that Israelis exhibit tendencies that are anti-democratic, super ethnocentric, excessively nationalistic, and borderline theocratic (some Israelis would agree). For their part, Israeli Jews take offense when American Jews give voice to their critique of Israeli society.

In short, (many) Israeli Jews think American Jewry is excessively universalist and cosmopolitan. And (some) American Jews think that Israeli Jewish society is excessively particularist and parochial.

A good and honest dialogue around these issues would be helpful and healthy. We Jews, despite our cultural penchant for discourse and disputation, haven’t quite figured out how to conduct that dialogue.

UN Votes for Palestinian State(s)

J-Vault logo

Today, November 29th, is the 64th anniversary of the United Nations General Assembly's decision to partition the British Mandate of Palestine into a Jewish and an Arab state, laying the groundwork for the declaration of the State of Israel the following year.

Six and a half decades later, with the American Jewish community still of multiple minds about the ifs, whys, hows, wheres and whens of a Palestinian state, it is worth looking back at the concerns of the same community before and after the historic vote for partition that took place on this day in 1947.

In this special installment of the J-Vault: the Practicalities of Statehood.

Both of the publications below were printed in the Jewish Social Service Quarterly, a predecessor to the Journal of Jewish Communal Service.

Partition of Palestine and Its Consequences. In March 1938, nearly a decade before partition became reality, Maurice J. Karpf spoke before a Jewish communal gathering in Minneapolis. Karpf was President of the Faculty at the Graduate School for Jewish Social Work in New York, and a Non-Zionist Member of the Executive of the Jewish Agency for Palestine (as it was then called).

"It is the customary and gracious thing," he began, "to say, when a speaker begins his address, that he is very glad to be here. I trust I shall not be considered ungracious when I tell you... that I am not very glad to be here now." He explained:

 ...the subject of Palestine is in the emotional realm. People are unwilling to reason about it. They feel about it, and you~can't reason with them. They approach every subject relating to Palestine with a bias-either in favor, or against. If the speaker agrees with them, or happens to express what is in their own minds and hearts, he has done well-they agree with him. If he does not, if he happens to speak on the other side of the fence, regardless of what he may say, and how well reasoned and how well substantiated his argument may be, there is neither logic, nor force, nor truth in what he says...

...It will be my aim to present to you the situation facing Palestine, and facing the Jews of the world, as a result of the proposed partition, as I know it. I shall not argue either for, or against partition. I shall try, in the time allotted me, to give you the arguments for and against both sides.

Karpf went on to describe in fascinating detail the positions and machinations of Arabs, pro-partition Zionists, anti-partition Zionists, and non-Zionist Jews. Click here for more.

Overseas Relief Needs in Light of United Nations Decision on Palestine. "[W]hat could one expect from the UN?" asked Nathan Reich, an economics professor, in September 1948. "Spelled backwards, it reads NU. Well, NU, NU, what of the decision?"

The decision was perhaps not of the kind anticipated by some of the nations of the world; it was not anticipated by some Jews. It is reported in the unofficial chronicles of the UN Assembly that a wise, pious Jew, after observing the futile debates and procedures of the UN in its dealing with the Palestine problem, remarked rather sadly: The Jews will get Palestine in one of the two ways possible; through a miracle--if Great Britain should hand over Palestine to the Jews, or through the natural way--Meshiach vet kumen. Well, the decision took neither form.

Reich summarized the state of Jewish relief needs, especially in Europe, concluding:

The establishment of Israel will not for some time to come reduce the scope of relief needs. It will, however, introduce clarity, direction and purposiveness in the operation of relief programs. Like a flash of lightning, the act of May 15 illuminated the Jewish scene and opened new vistas and new horizons. This is Israel's significance to the problems of Jewish overseas relief needs.

Click here for more.

J-Vault logo

A Nonprofit Leader Who Really Did Shut It Down

Ephraim Gopin, writing for eJewish Philanthropy:

I read with great interest the point-counterpoint by Robert Evans, Avrum Lapin and Seth Chalmer featured on eJewish Philanthropy recently. As someone who has recommended to a nonprofit Board to cease operations, I feel I have a unique perspective on the issue...

...There are too many nonprofits and institutions in Israel. I firmly believe that merging nonprofits with similar missions will create a more stable, vibrant sector where long term well-being and strategy are dominant, as opposed to the pettiness of “kavod” – honor – taking center stage...

...Israel has 40,000 registered nonprofits – 5-10,000 of which are active at any given time. We all know that a great percentage of them depend on overseas funding for survival. With the world recession and federations keeping more funds at home, we should be REDUCING the number of nonprofits here seeking funding overseas.

I am well aware of the dangers of merging – job and salary slashing being the worst. However, we should encourage this behavior because the alternative is worse: nonprofits who are debt-ridden, can’t pay salaries or suppliers, may have to shut down. In that case, everyone is out of a job. Donors and foundations should be pushing similar mission-oriented nonprofits to merge, as a means of survival if nothing else.

Lest you say I talk the talk but don’t walk the walk, here’s my story: I recommended to the Board of a nonprofit I headed to cease operations.

When I settled into the CEO chair and began looking over the financials, I was shocked: the organization was in major debt. When I sat with the CFO, we tried every which way to avoid the “cut, slash, burn and trim” method of nonprofit management. To no avail; the pit was too deep.

Finally, after all options had been exhausted, I sat with the Board and told them unequivocally: We need to cease operations immediately, declare bankruptcy and try to find another nonprofit to take over operating the facility... In this manner, we hoped to save as many staff jobs as possible and work on an arrangement where the nonprofit who takes over would repay the debt to suppliers.

I know there are too many nonprofits, too many institutions in Israel. Some are in debt, are behind in paying staff and suppliers and yet they refuse to shut down. I also know that upper management would never “fire themselves.” But something has to be done because, when a recession hits, the whole sector suffers enough. The problem is compounded when, in reality, a little forethought would have made the sector stronger, not weaker.

Gopin's perspective and unique experience is a welcome addition to the conversation, and a welcome reminder that waste and redundancy truly are present and problematic.

It's worth noting that the nonprofit sectors in Israel and the United States are quite different. The American combination of unprecedented commitment to private charity along with a comparatively meager government social safety net makes the US nonprofit sector rather a different beast from its counterparts not only in Israel, but really everywhere else, at least in many ways.

For the Jewish nonprofit sector in particular, it is also of great import that in America, voluntary associations, congregations and nonprofit organizations constitute the entirety of Jewish communal expression, whereas in Israel the very State itself is a Jewish organization.

These two differences -- in the relationship of nonprofits to the State, and in the relationship of Jewishness to the State -- are bound to affect the ways in which each country's Jewish nonprofit sector conceives of itself, and is likely to affect questions of efficiency, redundancy, ideological diversity, and more.

For more reading on charitable sector leaders intentionally putting themselves out of a job, I suggest reading up on the AVI CHAI Foundation's decision to spend down and sunset itself.

Remembering Rabin

Rabin

Today marks the 16th yahrtzeit of Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin.

May his memory be for a blessing.

The Obama-Sarkozy "Gaffe" Proves Obama Strong For Israel

Just assume the mic is on.

The global media are all aflutter over two lines of an overheard dialogue between Presidents Obama and Sarkozy.

"I cannot bear Netanyahu, he's a liar," Sarkozy told Obama, unaware that the microphones in their meeting room had been switched on, enabling reporters in a separate location to listen in to a simultaneous translation. "You're fed up with him, but I have to deal with him even more often than you," Obama replied, according to the French interpreter.

The lede in coverage has been, naturally, that Sarkozy called Bibi a liar, and that Obama sympathetically implied that Bibi is an enormous pain. Just as naturally, many Zionists see this gaffe as an embarassment, and many American Israel activists see the affair as a sign that President Obama is less supportive of Israel in private than he is in public. (Leftist Zionists may interpret the matter this way with much wringing of hands, and right-wingers the same way, but with purrs of contentment.)

But the real story isn't these two lines. The real story is how the subject came up in the first place, and how the subject came up demonstrates conclusively that President Obama is working behind the scenes to advance Israel's interests.

During their bilateral meeting on November 3, on the sidelines of the Cannes summit, Obama criticized Sarkozy's surprise decision to vote in favor of a Palestinian request for membership of the U.N. cultural heritage agency UNESCO. "I didn't appreciate your way of presenting things over the Palestinian membership of UNESCO. It weakened us. You should have consulted us, but that is now behind us," Obama was quoted as saying...

...Obama told Sarkozy that he was worried about the impact if Washington had to pull funding from other U.N. bodies such as the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization and the IAEA nuclear watchdog if the Palestinians gained membership there. "You have to pass the message along to the Palestinians that they must stop this immediately," Obama said.

The full story, in other words, is this: Obama approaches Sarkozy to say, you shouldn't have supported the PA UN membership bid. Sarkozy responds, But Bibi is a liar. Obama counters: I don't like him either, and still I'm telling you this statehood bid was a bad move.

Whether Obama's sympathetic response to Sarkozy's complaint was genuine or merely a sympathetic nod to build rapport hardly matters. In either case, our President's message was that, irrespective of the Israeli Prime Minister's personality, Israel's preferred course of negotiations rather than unilateral UN recognition of Palestinian statehood is correct.

In this light, Obama's personal disdain for Bibi strengthens, not weakens, his pro-Israel bona fides. First, it shows that Obama's analysis of the situation genuinely favors Israel's position, rather than being a concession to a friend. Second, since the President would never have said such a thing knowing a microphone was hot, it demonstrates that Obama's private views of this matter match his public pronouncements. To hear Republicans talk, you'd think an unguarded moment between these two leaders would sound something like: "I wish I could have stood with you, Nicholas, but I need Jewish and Christian Zionist votes." Or, "I'm glad you took that stand. I couldn't, but just for political reasons." Or, "At last, my fellow mujahid, our plan to assert Shari'a law over all the world is coming to fruition."

Instead, what we heard was: Bibi's a pain, but "You have to pass the message along to the Palestinians that they must stop this immediately." As an American Zionist who cares much more about Israel's geopolitical position than about Bibi Netanyahu's personal dignity, I certainly like what I hear.

It nearly need not be said that everyone (and not just politicians) would be wise to assume that every microphone they ever see is presently on and recording. It should be added that the wisest course of all is simply to assume that at every moment such a microphone is present, whether or not one is visible, but that may be asking too much of most people. In any case, when these gaffes appear, they are indeed revealing. Let us have care, however, to discern what is really being revealed.

[The obligatory caveat: BJPA is apolitical. This post represents my own analysis, not the organization.]

David Elcott on Interfaith Mideast Peace Work

Prof. David Elcott discusses the decline of interfaith work on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. (Part of our Office Hours series.)

Negotiating with Terrorists: Shalit May Be Coming Home

Gilad Shalit

Jews worldwide are doubtless thrilled to hear that Gilad Shalit may be on his way home soon. The prayers of millions may be on the verge of being granted.

Amidst the elation, however, many are doubtless also wondering how and why it is that Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu has agreed to swap prisoners with the terrorist group Hamas, apparently breaking, bending or changing Israel's long-standing policy: you don't negotiate with terrorists.

[W]e - Israel, the legitimate Palestinian government, the Arab world, and the entire international community - cannot afford to appease or reward Hamas.  (Tzipi Livni)

 Israel has never, nor will it ever, negotiate with Hamas, as long as it refuses to accept the three principles set forth by the international community. (Ehud Olmert)

No country can be expected to negotiate with a terrorist organization sworn to its destruction. (President Obama)

 Yet PM Netanyahu has just run afoul of all three of these pronouncements from leaders who can hardly be accused of being more right-wing than he.

Questions upon questions present themselves. Will the Israeli public be so ecstatic to have Gilad back that they approve of this deal? If so, how will they respond the next time international leaders demand that Israel sit down with a Palestinian Authority leadership team that includes Hamas? How then could anyone simply say, we don't negotiate with terrorists? Is there to be an exception for hostages, and if so, what if this causes Hamas to take more hostages? Or what if they don't? Could it not be said that every Israeli and every Palestinian is already, in a way, a hostage to this war?

These are not easy questions, and they deserve a conversation beyond easy responses. It would be useless simply to declare that this deal proves that nations should always be willing to negotiate with terrorists who murder civilians, and equally useless to dismiss this particular deal in this particular situation out of hand, merely because it cuts against the grain of a general principle. Geopolitics is chess, not checkers, and the search for an answer that works in every situation is a search destined to fail.

Yet this kind of simple-minded attitude, it seems to me, generally characterizes American Jewish discourse about the Middle East. Either you're an Israel-booster, eager to refute any criticism, eager to show that Israel is always right, and that the answer to all provocations must be strength, or you're a peacenik convinced that Israeli military action is always wrong, and that all violence is one simple, easily comprehensible "cycle of violence." The missing voices are the voices of nuance and complexity -- voices held hostage within our minds to the natural desire of all of us to fit into a pre-packaged political camp.

This development -- a hardline Prime Minister negotiating with Hamas and agreeing to a deal that releases a thousand Palestinian prisoners -- may turn out to have been brilliant, or it may turn out to have been disastrous. (Only time, and perhaps an enormous amount of it, will tell.) Either way, I think this news should upend our habits of knee-jerk reaction in dialogue on Middle East questions. It should remind us to examine each question in its particulars, and not just in its abstractions.

And either way, if and when Gilad Shalit returns to Israel alive and free, it should be a cause for enormous celebration.

David Elcott on Interfaith and Interethnic Coalition-Building

For the latest installment in our Office Hours series, Prof. David Elcott discusses his experiences working with leaders across boundaries of religion and ethnicity to build meaningful interfaith and interethnic coalitions.

 

More Entries